At various speeds, it seems the world is easing into the requirements of social distancing. In PBSA and coliving, environments and communities have been crafted specifically to optimise living with others. If the assumption is that the commonality between PBSA and coliving is communal facilities, what learnings can be shared about adapting to this new situation? Gui Perdrix, Founder and CEO of Coliving Diaries, is compiling stories from a worldwide network of coliving operators and offers his expertise on the benefits of shared living in recent weeks.
What has been the practical impact of social distancing on shared spaces in coliving communities?
At its core, coliving is a housing environment in which residents share common spaces, such as the kitchen and/or the living room. It’s not enough to simply have a shared rooftop for residents to count as coliving: what counts is that the space itself is optimized for “together-living” and hence counts on sharing daily compartments.
In the current situation, social distancing is a crucial factor in order to fight the coronavirus epidemic. Coliving operators can encourage this behavior in different ways: from closing certain “non-crucial” common areas such as gyms, rooftops, and swimming pools; but also through organizational measures. For example, the residents from Oka Coliving in Brazil organized themselves to have one person dedicated to cleaning and another one to cooking. This allows residents to not be confined together in common areas, while at the same time still benefit from the coliving residence and support each other during the crisis.
While coliving spaces will have a harder time to implement social distancing, and hence offer a higher risk in terms of health, we should not forget that coliving spaces also offer a fundamental benefit, namely human support. I personally believe that residents of coliving spaces will be better off through the crisis, which includes social distancing and confinement, than being by themselves. At least now, they can count on a group of people that can support each other, mentally and physically.
We should not forget that coliving spaces also offer a fundamental benefit, namely human support. I personally believe that residents of coliving spaces will be better off through the crisis.
How are coliving players adapting? What have been the smartest moves you have seen so far in mitigating the risks and maximising the benefits of shared living?
Coliving operators have had similar approaches, each of them with their own flavor. Most operators have communicated extensively with their residents on best practices during the crisis, including social distancing. Some went the step beyond and cared about mental well-being, offering tenants virtual sports courses to remain fit and healthy during the time of confinement.
Some great examples of operators are shared on Coliving Insights, a blog that showcases interviews from coliving founders and preventive measures that are being taken.
- Colonies’ #PitchYourTalent Campaign
To support freelancing professionals whose work has been impacted, the #PitchYourTalent campaign asks freelancers and small business owners to submit a video highlighting what talent they could teach Colonies’ tenants in a live online session. Tenants vote on what they would like to learn. The chosen freelancer will then conduct an online session, where tenants can ask questions and interact. Freelancers are paid 100EUR for their session.
- Cohabs’ Quarantine Challenge
Cohabs is organizing a house quarantine challenge, where tenants are given fun assignments such as creating a work-out station with homemade equipment or creating a house handshake. All contestants need to submit their photos by the end of April and winners will receive a bar tab at a local café.
- K9’s Buddy System
This initiative was put into place to support those who may become ill. As part of the procedure, the buddy system calls for its community members to first record if they have symptoms of being ill. Once this is recognized, the other community members help them by bringing them food or making trips to the pharmacy on their behalf.
Coliving’s flexibility in allowing both short term and mid- to long-term rental leases has attracted attention as a resilient business model. While the jury is still out on the long-term impacts of this crisis, do you anticipate coliving players will rethink their business models? If so, what changes can we expect to see?
The current situation poses a threat to several industries: the travel and the short-term lodging industry have been hit at an unprecedented rate. Let’s first make clear that the majority of coliving spaces are meant for long-term: most coliving operators are located in urban environments, offering six to twelve-month leases to their tenants. Those operators will therefore not be hit by the crisis the same way that short-term coliving spaces will be: the latter ones include coliving spaces that target mostly remote workers or travellers, which will have to reinvent themselves during the time of crisis.
One of my personal predictions is that the demand of housing will not go down; rather, we will witness a separation between “needed” housing offerings – those that offer housing at affordable prices – and “high-end” housing offerings, which are chosen by a minority and which are highly impacted in times of economic recessions.
How will operators reinvent themselves? That is to be seen. Whether it is through the creation of virtual communities, or simply reinforcing the current trend of becoming either very asset-light or development-oriented – the future will tell. It might also be that operators will not reinvent themselves in the current moment of survival time. Rather, we will see how operators are going through that time with struggles and differentiate themselves in the post-corona-crisis time, once time and financial capital for new initiatives are available.
Once travel restrictions are lifted, which lasting lifestyle shifts may influence coliving?
Travel restrictions will eventually be lifted and the entire coronavirus crisis is bringing in a fundamental shift towards the remote workforce: the majority of companies are now obliged to work remotely, and some of them will remain with the newly adopted practices even when being able to work at the office is allowed.
My guess is that coliving will, therefore, be even more needed after the crisis: the remote workforce will be larger, the desire for people to travel again will reemerge, and we will see an even higher need for flexibility in housing.
If you were a tenant of a coliving facility, how would you make the most out of this situation and what would you suggest the operators do to make your experience as positive as possible?
As a tenant, my main priority would be the overall well-being of our community. That would go through stepping up and assuming individual responsibility for the situation, including taking on group responsibilities such as cooking or cleaning. The next step would be to support the community through alternative routes, whether volunteering my time for online webinars or starting a colivingradio. My main advice: focus on what you’re good at, and try to serve others.
For operators, there are two concerns: the health of the company, and the health of the community. While both go hand in hand, the focus is on different aspects of the business. First, I would make sure to be able to financially sustain the coliving operation: by renegotiating and contacting landlords, by taking emergency loans if needed, and by learning from other operators on how they are handling the crisis. And second, I’d make sure to stand strong and close to the actual tenants: in times of crisis, over-communication is crucial in order to remain united and knowledgeable. Offering ways for the community to be engaged and kept up to date would be the main priority, followed by making sure that every tenant is doing well, not only physically, but mentally as well.
Moving forward, how can coliving operators share best practices in uncertain times of Corona?
With Coliving Insights, we recently launched a dedicated blog that showcases interviews from coliving founders and preventive measures that are being taken. We also created a Coronavirus Information Center with updates news and information from the crisis at the intersection with real estate and coliving. You can find out more on www.colivinginsights.com/corona.
With Co-Liv, we are going to host nation-wide virtual meetups, creating a space for coliving operators to exchange knowledge and best practices. Virtual meetups will happen for different countries, including France, Germany, United States and Brazil. You can register to all upcoming virtual meetups at www.co-liv.org/events.