Comparing the coliving industry with coworking is causing more harm than good at this point. It’s time to change this trend and understand why it’s becoming an issue.
We’ve seen the emergence of a few articles that make that comparison. Forbes published an article in April 2019 (“Is Co-Living The New Co-Working?”) and coliving space Outsite published a piece on their blog (“Why Co-Living Is The New Co-Working”).
There is nothing speaking against comparisons and I believe that there are similarities between the two industries. I also believe that it can help newbies metaphorically understand the idea of coliving.
But by putting coworking and coliving next to each other, one associates aspects of the coworking industry to the coliving trend, which brings in misconceptions that hinders the development of the coliving industry.
Here are the 4 misconceptions and consequences from comparing coliving to the next coworking:
First, putting coworking and coliving next to each other brings in buzzwords such as “millennials” and “remote workers” into the coliving scene.
While it is true that many coliving spaces target millennials, the current aspiration of coliving is to become more inclusive.
As long as the conversation does not include non-millennials, families, and senior, investors and institutional players will continue seeing coliving as a smaller trend and not fully investing their time and energy into the market.
We need to stop to say coliving that is the new coworking. The business models are totally different, as go for the interest of investors, users, and operators. Business is not made the same way and for the same reasons." says Marie-Suzanne Locqueneux, who pushes in favor of diversity in coliving and to create an offer that reflects the wider population at Nexity.
"Moreover, we have to stop to limit coliving to the young, hipster, tech trend that only focuses on the 5% population of 20-35 years old. Coliving is for a wider part of the population and has been existing under different concepts in time, such as senior service residences."
Whether young or old, people of any age share the same needs in terms of affordability and human connection. I believe that it’s time for decision-makers in both public and private sector to understand that coliving is not a millennial-only trend pushed by the desire of no-ownership and a fanatism for tech startups - rather, that coliving is a solution for a wider population.
While needs are different for each generation, the fundamental ones of security and belonging remain shared across all demographics.
When reading Outsite’s article, one passage stroke me:
“The [coliving] idea began as “hacker houses” in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, where exorbitant rent made it difficult for aspiring entrepreneurs to afford a place they might only inhabit 4–5 hours per day.” (Source: Outsite)
The second big problem is namely to explain that coliving is emerging from the coworking scene.
On one side, it’s true that back in the years 2005-2010, coliving was popularized in the press by startup-related places such as StartupHouse in San Francisco or smaller "hacker houses". Moreover, this was one of the first time for a service-based shared living model to target a professional population.
On the other side, it's not the first time that has existed in history. Articles quoted the emergence of coliving back to the 1930s with London's "Isokon" project. In a blogpost earlier this year, I wrote on how coliving models have existed and evolved across history. For example, student homes and senior housing has existed across time, and certain coliving spaces targetted the same population as of today’s coliving spaces. Two of those were boarding homes in the 1950s, which appealed to new city arrivers, and socially/politically motivated co-ops that flourished in the San Franciscan hippie years.
One of the reasons why people associate the two is also due to WeWork’s popularity, which eventually launched its coliving branch WeLive.
It seems therefore natural that coliving followed coworking. Yet as seen above, coliving has developed independently (and potentially earlier) than coworking.
For those who mention WeWork and WeLive, it is legitimate to show it as an example of how the two industries share similarities. Both partially target remote workers, customers are open from workspaces might have the need to live in a (cheaper/more communal/more practical) place.
WeWork and Commons (US) share part of their business model, such as to rent or lease spaces instead of owning them and to target remote spaces solely to "digital nomads" might, which might suffer from a financial crisis or seasonal low periods. On the UK side, coliving space The Collective is considered as the possible "WeWork" of coliving, sharing similar approaches on higher-end branding, data analysis, and operational excellence.
Moreover, the current trend is that more coworking spaces entering the coliving space market.
As mentioned in the Coliving Cocktail newsletter of this week (my weekly coliving analysis 👉 check it out), some coworking spaces use their audience to successfully launch coliving spaces. For example, Ziferblat (UK) is now going to open its first 15-people coliving space, giving residents access to all its coworking spaces. Others in that domain include Dojo Coworking (Bali), Studio22 (Phillippines) and Station F (1000-startup coworking center in Paris).
Nevertheless, business models can also be very different.
For example, the Collective owns the majority of its real estate: two buildings in New York, one land in Ireland, while it's also waiting for the acquisition of its Old Oak site. The Collective's business model is there heavily based on its activities as a developer, while the operational entity is run as an independent company (with the benefit of having no foreign investment up to date).
We also need to keep in mind that the opposite can be true. Living spaces such as Selina started to develop coworking spaces afterward and Urban Campus launched its own coworking spaces (including an incubator dedicated to food startups) after opening its first coliving residency.
Once we understand the history of coliving, we realize that it is separate to coworking - and hence, a statement like the following one needs to be put into its context:
“In reality, co-living is still focused on co-working. It just allows those using the space to sleep, eat and hang out among others who share a similar lifestyle.” (Source: Outsite)
Nevertheless, other spaces such as Pure House in Brooklyn or my very own Evolve coliving space in Bali were promoting a culture of connection, and coworking does not have to be a central theme.
Moreover, there are certain key distinctions between the two industries.
The biggest one is that coliving has a wider target audience than coworking. While one needs to be able to work remotely in the coworking case, coliving only requires the desire to share communal areas. This can apply to locals who want to live more affordably, families who want shared resources, or even healthy senior desiring a stronger sense of community.
The biggest problem to associate coworking and coliving is the limiting connotations it brings.
While both industries have a common ground - namely the values of sharing, that both can appeal to remote workers and millennials, that customers are seeking community, and that some coworking spaces offer coliving and vice-versa - they are very distinct in their historical development, their potential market size, and the needs they cover.
Coliving has the potential to be a bigger industry than coworking - mainly because it appeals to a wider demographic. For now, the association with coworking makees coliving a very “millenial-only” trend, which discourages investors and the public sector to take coliving seriously.
As Jeff Bergman, author of the Forbes article, closes his own article:
“For co-living to escape the label of a trend and mature into a permanent category in the residential vernacular, it's going to have to prove a broader customer base, overcome the aging out of its primary demographic and survive the vicissitudes of economic cycles.”
And that starts with dissociating coliving with the coworking industry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I'm Gui, a coliving operator, facilitator, and industry builder with one mission: to make coliving the best experience one can have.
I founded Art of Co, a global resource platform and consultancy to create transformative coliving spaces, wrote the 📘 Art of Coliving book , and am the director of Co-Liv, the global association of coliving professionals. Come engage with other passionate coliving builders in my 👉 Telegram community or join the 👉 Coliving Cocktail newsletter, where I send out recaps of everything that happens within the coliving world!
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