Update Nov.‘20: The sector is not only growing—but expanding and incorporating other markets! I’m maintaining a “what is coliving” on coliving.community which provides a somewhat more succinct summary.
Given the widening variety of spaces using the term, I think it’s helpful to understand how spaces can be classified (with simplification), both as a user (guest/visitor/member) and as an operator (developer/manager/host)…
So I’ve identified three core models of coliving space operation based entirely upon duration (with variants):
- long-term monthly contract
targeting local professionals
- mid-term ad-hoc
targeting the location-independent
- short-term retreats
targeting all, with wide variety
It should go without saying that the fundamental approach outlined on coliving.org should apply to all of these. «Shared housing supporting a purpose-driven life; valuing openness and collaboration.»
It should also be noted that whilst I primarily consider an operator perspective, the models can be self-organised by users co-operatively however the model in such cases is not a driving factor (instead the purpose or intention of the community is). In such cases it would be worth identifying motivation, which might simply come down to a distinction of commercial or intentional. And whilst community intent is incompatible with a profit intent (exception being community interest corporations/social enterprise), a spirit certainly can.
The terminology I use here is not a norm nor am I proposing its use, but is solely to differentiate and identify offerings and models. (I talk about defining better terminology in another post.) There are some writings and works by others that may also assist in understanding the movement and its market:
Before I get into the models, it’s important to realise that very few spaces exclusively follow a single concise model, and that each of the core duration models has its own community behaviour:
- For users short and mid-term stays improve the community diversity and serendipity, whilst long-term increase continuity and stability. Both at the expense of each other unless mixed.
- For operators, long-term stays give more revenue predictability, whilst short-term give higher revenue potential (if balanced against demand).
There are thus many variants, but within these there are still common approaches.
Where a space’s core model is either either contract or ad-hoc, the additional overhead of having only one or two rooms of the other duration is not significant for some potential balance. A variable stay model is thus the best approach for community (providing both continuity and dynamism), but at scale is significant additional complexity, thus uncommon.
Ad-hoc spaces may offer longer-term stays but without advertising and only upon request. They might in any case provide long-term accommodation for at least a community manager, thus supporting some community continuity with that role.
Many long-term spaces may have a minimum stay of only 1 month however this does not meet the need of the location-independent (many of whom stay a couple of months or more in a location) unless availability is sufficiently fluid and wait lists are not significant, which is not the case except at significant scale.
For a long-term model, offering short-stays as well also allows long-term move-in dates at any time as vacancies may be filled by short-term bookings.
Contrary to traditional hospitality offerings, coliving operators in the upper segments might discount short-stays to avoid vacancy risk and increase dynamism, as attempting to price short-stays higher to offset risk as with hotels can only work in locations with adequate demand (whether supplemented by tourists or otherwise). This would however have to be restricted to members if the pricing is overly competitive with tourist offers.
Examples: Roam (for members no minimum, 30 days+ discounted ~10%), Sun and Co (7 day minimum and 30 days+ discounted ~20%), CoCoHub (no minimum, 30 days+ discounted up to 30%), Outpost (1 month minimum), …
In this variant regular tourists and business travellers are also targeted. This may be used as an interim approach especially for new spaces with low and not yet developed location-independent demand. This can be disadvantageous if unduly relied upon as such visitors are usually short-stay only and thus not engaged in the community and detract from it.
Exclusively short stay
This model does not exist within the scope of coliving, and any model based upon it is actually closer to a guesthouse, hostel or hotel — with no community stability and continuity due to high guest churn. This is why the short-stay model I’ve cited for coliving is retreats because they define a short-lived but stable community managed by the hosts and usually a single group of people for its entire duration. This said, some hostels are small enough and do embrace a more sustainable community-orientated approach even despite primarily targeting shorter stay guests (examples: Podshare, Podstel, …).
For adding value to the community through increased dynamism, the addition of an open-access workspace offers this without over complicating the accommodation offering — i.e. exclusively mid/long stay accommodation with an open-access coworking space. In more accessible urban areas this can also provide a revenue stream from local professionals.
This model can be short-stay only (and operators are exploring this) as it has a coworking space it still falls within the theme of collaborative facilities—with some community stability provided by the local professionals in the workplace, even if the living arrangements alone are not. However these might again be classified as complimentary facilities, not coliving.
A core tenet of coliving is shared purpose, therefore almost all spaces targeting the location-independent have such workspace, however arguably this type of offering is a very distinct classification. I talk more about this in my post on the positioning of location-independent coliving.
a. Long-term monthly contract
The contract model meets the needs of professionals working in a fixed location and is thus quite self-explanatory.
Users benefit from access to shared spaces, better communal facilities and events — albeit in the case of commercial operators, at a higher cost than a typical (but more socially isolated) independent rental or flatshare.
Versus other coliving models operators maximise revenue with little operational overhead and vacancy risk, as users are usually required to stay and have move-in dates that fall on a fixed day (e.g. 1st of the month). Furthermore such moves are usually planned by users with advance notice. Costs and management are however higher than normal rentals, especially at small scale with the cost of community management and events.
With the exception of variants, the contract model shares some aspects with cohousing —targeting those who work and live in a single location for a fixed or unlimited duration. The notable differences being the financial commitment (monthly rental for contract coliving; purchase or part-ownership for cohousing) and layouts (for coliving a single property is shared; for cohousing independent properties may have shared facilities).
These have typically been spruced-up town houses, or large-scale real-estate developments and always in locations such as the dense metros or their outskirts where long-term work is. Increasingly however operators are using mid-size properties (15–20 rooms) rooms that fall outside these two extremes.
Large developments can’t easily provide a sense of belonging and town houses may not always be sufficiently large to provide an interesting community (without external engagement). Thus without active community management this model can fall outside the optimum for the kind of serendipity that is desirable in a dynamic community.
I’m not including cooperative projects here as they do not use the term coliving themselves, however it is worth noting there is a huge variety of grass-roots, government-supported and non-profit efforts that have no cohesive manifesto, model nor identity.
This is an upper-market subscription model, in which the operator offers movement across multiple properties, often with premium services and higher standards. This market positioning means that the location must already be desirable to the segment. Examples: Roam, …
Many more real-estate developers will add ‘community space’ to capitalise on densely packed micro-apartments, but with limited effectiveness as it scales unless long-term community management is invested in.
I believe the location-independent variant can enter the lower end of the market with multiple locations around much more affordable towns and rural spaces. Purchase and operation with such a model could also be done borrowing an aspect of cohousing by offering members permanent buy-in on a basis similar to timesharing (whether cooperatively at-cost or commercially for profit).
b. Mid-term ad-hoc
The ad-hoc model meets the needs of the location independent travelling to a new location for 10–90 days, with no specific timetable except from a space’s own availability as such users are much more flexible.
For a user it offers immense variety without the effort of rental contracts, plus the benefits of not arriving in a new location without knowing anyone, as one is immediately welcomed into the space’s community.
For operators, versus the contract model it introduces higher churn and vacancy risk, with a higher operational overhead and without the profit ratio of a hotel, thus needs high occupancy to achieve profitability. However given the limited availability in the market and strong lower-mid market demand the ability to develop new locations does not present a notable burden except on cashflow.
- Mid-market—average location-independent freelance professionals and nascent entrepreneurs. Operators tend to have been one themselves, often running spaces as a lifestyle business rather than with a profit driver which in turn limits to affordable locations. Difficult to scale due to the limited revenue and operational overheads, and because charges cannot be increased without loosing the target users. Examples: CoCoHub, Coconat, …
- Higher-end—successful location-independent entrepreneurs and salaried professionals. With a more costly offering comparable to hotels (even longer stays), properties in more expensive and convenient locations become operable, and higher standards can be delivered. However the higher the positioning the more other hospitality offerings may compete. Examples: Roam, Zoku…
- Lower-end—budget constrained freelance location-independent workers. Overlaps more with the hostel or paying-guest model when operated commercially, and proving to have demand in Asian markets. Some mid-market and even higher-end spaces also offer bunkrooms to cover multiple segments. Examples: Construkt, …
Townhouses, villas and large apartments are typical, sometimes also dedicated conversions such as from commercial space. For lifestyle operators, pretty much anything is a candidate however ensuite villas are favoured for their existing ensuite layouts. Similarly for commercial operators, buildings that had a previous use in hospitality such as old hotels and boarding houses are ideal as they reduce investment.
Because it is coliving and community that principally attract users, location is not significant except with respect to climate, however ease of access and variety in neighbouring facilities or environment increase desirability.
As the market grows to include a more diverse group of remote-workers, some spaces will start to cater more to the needs of specific groups exclusively. Contrarily spaces could have more diverse offerings, for example premium rooms to better serve and generate revenue from their more successful higher-end users in addition to bunkrooms for the lower-end, supporting a dynamic and diverse community.
c. Short-term retreats
These meet the needs of participants with a particular interest in a theme or social group, for a fixed duration of usually a week or two. These are not coliving in a wider sense, but do provide the same values and types of spaces—only as transitory communities, with little or no turnover of members during the coming together of its members for a defined period.
For users this offers interaction with a group of aligned people, some of the potential from serendipitous encounters, and with a negligible commitment.
For an operator there is a low initial investment as existing short-term commitment rental properties are typically used, and timing can fit around availability. Indeed attendees are flexible so off-season discounts can be leveraged. As the value-proposition to the user is higher for an infrequent occasion of this type (versus a recurring ‘rent’ cost), the return is also potentially correspondingly better than coliving alone. However there are overheads and risks if the operator is not usually in or familiar with the location (to handle planning) or the proposition (activities, location, community) has limited demand.
There are a main few types, but in reality this is a spectrum:
- Camps—location and dates are set by the organiser, costs are for little more than accommodation, participants must look after themselves and collaborate with their community if they desire.
- Programmed—usually led by a host, being curated or themed (even if only generically such as being for ‘entrepreneurs’) with semi-inclusive pricing, scheduled activities (e.g. morning yoga), communal meals and other events throughout.
- Coworkations—a variation on all of the above in which users utilise a mixed-use space (coliving+coworking), but arguably can simply be classified as a programme with work as the primary activity.
Typically more rural or suburban villas and larger old buildings from the rental market. Sometimes utilising coliving properties that fall into the ad-hoc space model above, where capacity and availability match. Unusual and standout properties are especially appealing for the higher-end retreats, such as boats or mansions.
Sometimes multiple individual apartments or smaller properties may be employed, yet with collaboration intentionally occurring primarily at a coworking space there is nonetheless a purposeful community.
These are retreats or programmes that reoccur, or occur at multiple sequential locations over a longer time. This enables users to have the longer-term continuity with the variety from travelling. For operators, it maximises brand loyalty and revenue. Examples: Remote Year, Nomad Cruise, ….
More camps having a serendipitous nature—operators of these can make a markup on properties they find to promote, with little overhead for the complexities of managing programmes. Users gain an interesting location with a group, but at significantly less cost than a full programme.
Operators may look to acquire and utilise property for their own retreats to better capitalise, this has already been done for a retreat’s coworking space (e.g. Remote Year in Croatia) but not yet accommodation.
Resort properties in tourist locations may start to include coliving and coworkations as new positioning for their offers.