A Co-living Brainstorming Session at Sun and Co.

By our members @SunandCo_Javea (an operator based in Javea, Spain), COCONAT @workationRe (based in the countryside of Berlin, in the village of Klein Glien) and Matt Lesniak, member and researcher of the co-living phenomenon.

A Co-living Brainstorming Session at Sun and Co.

Sun and Co. (co-founded by Jon Hormaetxe and Eduardo Diego) hosted a co-living brainstorming working group in June with Julianne Becker from COCONAT and Matt Lesniak, member of PUREHOUSE LAB. Amongst the beautiful weather, beach volleyball, lighthouse expeditions, kayaking and rooftop yoga sessions, we had a lot of exchanges about the trends and challenges of the current co-living market, specifics about operational and technical aspects of running a co-living space and how to define and categorize co-living typologies.

We decided that the focus of this post would be about questioning the current co-living definition and different typologies of co-living spaces (based on the ideas brought up through our discussions during this working group). With all the different co-living initiatives currently established (and launching) around the globe, it is hard to feel like one co-living space’s model can be grouped with another one under the term co-living. That is why we decided that rather than trying to redefine the co-living term altogether (or even renaming it), we chose to outline several distinctions of different co-living typologies, in order to clarify what we as co-living operators and industry experts see is occurring in this evolving co-living phenomenon.

Before going into these distinctions, we did feel like there was a consensus on a few aspects of the term and the phenomenon; first that co-living is currently acting as a more community-oriented alternative to serviced apartments as co-working did to business centers about a decade ago. Additionally, we agreed that the type of guests staying in co-living spaces are quite consistently flexible professionals that are working and living differently and these spaces are a magnet that accommodate these workers’ desires and willingness to share space, knowledge, resources, skills, ideas and experiences. However, our brainstorming sessions also led us to a few major distinctions based on activities, guests, location and community.

Activities that foster community or professionalism (or both)?

When we thought about the principal activities of some co-living spaces, it led us to distinguish between two major perceptions of the origins of the word co-living: one that comes from a derivative of co-working, and another that comes from communal living. While almost all co-living spaces have a co-working area included in their space, we questioned whether some spaces are focusing more on their community activities over their more professional co-working aspects. A thriving co-living space usually has a balance of both of these things, however, we noticed that some spaces may have more of a tendency of building community over professionalism, or vice versa.

Remote workers, travellers or isolated urbanites?

Another important factor of co-living spaces are the profiles of the residents living and working in these spaces. Sun and Co. has a few requirements for their application process to stay there, focusing on people who have well-developed businesses that are able to work remotely while gaining a reasonable salary. The idea of letting travellers stay at Sun and Co. is tricky, because Edu and Jon encourage that the people coming through are serious about their work and not just there to visit Javea for recreational purposes. In the case of low occupancy, however, some co-living spaces may have to adapt their business model to accommodate both remote workers and travellers, which adds to the above argument about what kind of activities end up occurring in those co-living spaces.

On the other hand, in a more densely populated urban area, the residents tend to choose co-living spaces to alleviate themselves from a sense of isolation that occurs in urban areas, but are still seeking the flexibility of being able to stay for shorter periods of time compared to a traditional lease. While there are certainly more profiles than just these three, these are the tendencies that we identified according to our professional experiences operating and researching these spaces.

Destinational or residential co-living spaces?

Sun and Co. is located in Alicante, a beautiful Mediterranean region in the Southeast of Spain. This location makes Sun and Co. attractive because of its weather, beaches and gastronomy. This is what we called a ‘destinational’ co-living space: somewhere remote workers tend to gravitate towards because of its attractive location and environment and whom tend to stay for relatively short periods of time or according to seasons (spaces such as Sun and Co., COCONAT, ReStation, Roam Bali, Swiss Escape, and more recently, Lime in the South of France). What then differentiates a destinational co-living space from a typical hospitality service is that these spaces facilitate interactions and offer a social dynamic that includes a strong community and specific values (productivity, creativity, collaboration, entrepreneurship).

‘Residential’ co-living spaces have a longer temporal aspect then destinational ones; their residents stay there from anywhere between three months to two years (compared to several weeks or a couple of months in destinational co-living spaces). They are typically in urban areas and are of greater size than destinational co-living sites (The Collective, Common, Founder House, Embassy Network). Rather than going there because of the surrounding mountains or forests, co-livers stay in residential co-living spaces because it is a flexible option —mostly in terms of rental agreements — that permits them to access a fully furnished room with additional services, amenities, common areas (both recreational and professional) and communal activities. The main differences between residential and destinational co-living spaces are the length of stays (very short term versus short-medium term) and location (usually rural versus urban).

How far can your community expand?

When talking about how to build community within our co-living spaces, Edu and Jon admitted that Sun and Co. has more of a global community than a local community. This led us to think about the different scales of community some co-living spaces have. Being a destinational co-living space, people staying at Sun and Co. tend to travel according to the seasons and therefore their ‘alumni’ are very nomadic. That being said, their community is expanding to different continents around the world where their previous guests are referring to Sun and Co. in cities in countries around the world (which can be seen as a marketing tool).

Other co-living spaces focus on their connections with local communities and building strong partnerships with local innovators and entrepreneurs. For example, COCONAT has partnerships with co-working spaces in Berlin to accomodate the co-workers of those spaces at their countryside co-living/co-working space. This allows them to have a more local and/or regional community presence.

The tools for building a local community are different, and sometimes individuals who are stopping by for a relatively short period of time don’t demand this of their experience (compared to residential co-living guests who know they can potentially have longer-term interactions with local actors). Co-living spaces can build different scales of community — internal, local, regional or global — depending on the requests, persistent engagement and self-organization of their guests (and the need of the operators to build partnerships with actors in their local territories).

Are we trying to redefine co-living?

We wouldn’t go that far; our goal of this post was not to impose any jargon or terminologies but to recognize tendencies within the sector. These ideas came from a 2-day work session and each of us also recognize that there are other terminologies and typologies of co-living spaces that exist. For example, PUREHOUSE LAB has been using a slightly different set of co-living space typologies in their past projects. The growth of the co-living sector is coming quick, and this post exposes our analysis of the state of co-living in mid-2017.

We do feel, however, that co-living spaces should genuinely abide by a set of values that end up facilitating interactions, productivity, communal activities, sharing and transformational growth. We do believe there is a difference between a shared office space and a co-working space, and the same logic applies to co-living spaces; there is a difference between just sharing space and saving on monthly costs and sharing advice on business plans, genuine experiences, personal thoughts and innovative ideas. As Jon puts it when meeting other innovators in the co-living sector: “We are building Sun and Co. by giving out hugs, not business cards”.

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