Co-Living Meets Co-Working
By Sam Barry
You could say the headline of the early 2010s in hospitality was the Icarus-like ascension of disruptor Airbnb. In five short years, Airbnb went from a start-up to the world’s largest hospitality operator—without owning a single room. Airbnb proved travelers are willing to take control of booking our own lodging. What’s more, we actually like the experience of finding a space that fits our individual aesthetic sensibilities.
But Airbnb doesn’t stop at providing shelter: They curate our trips, giving us the low-down on places that allow us not to feel like a stranger in a strange city. Suddenly, we’re insiders, privy to the cool spots frequented by townies, not tacky tourists. And when we Airbnb showed us the world beyond the hotel bar, we confidently strode forth into uncharted terrain. Today, we can even book reservations at that hip new spot for those “in the know” through the Airbnb app.
What Airbnb did to hospitality, co-working is now doing to the office. It is estimated that as much as 40% Americans participate in the so-called gig economy. Many of these individuals choose to office in co-working facilities. The largest is WeWork, which now boasts over 10 million square feet of space in 243 locations in 56 cities around the world and an astonishing market valuation of $20 billion. Find the nearest WeWork, drop in, plug in and work with all the amenities of Class A office space (and then some: free beer on tap, anyone?).
WeWork currently counts over 20,000 companies as members. The fastest growing part of that customer base is companies with 1,000 or more employees—companies such as Facebook, Pinterest, Microsoft, Salesforce, Spotify and Starbucks—companies that previously might have leased 20,000 square feet to accommodate those 1,000 workers. And WeWork has confidently taken its next steps forward, managing buildings owned and occupied by the likes of IBM, Airbnb and Amazon.
But WeWork fancies itself as more than just a commercial office landlord. Last year it launched a housing product called WeLive. This year it added a lifestyle component: Rise, a gym concept that offers memberships for $180 per month, and WeGrow, a school that aims to teach the next generation of entrepreneurs. WeWork has defined the new lifestyle equation: live, learn, work and work out.
Co-working opportunities for individuals or micro-businesses are perhaps even more inventive. For example, New York City-based Spacious links gig economy workers with restaurants. While kitchen staff prep the evenings gourmet offerings, gig workers grab a table and enjoy a nice venue, free wifi and a little service. Restaurants drop a few extra bucks to their bottom line. All for the affordable monthly price of $95.
Croissant, a service similar to Spacious, moves beyond New York and beyond restaurants, offering workers in nine U.S. cities the chance to hand-pick a coworking space. Offering over 150 total locations in those cities, Croissant’s service ranges from $25 a month for 10 hours to
$185 a month for 120 hours. Croissant is the perfect side dish to a main office, or for a worker in a city temporarily for a project. Just log in, see how many desks are available at the locations near you, and make your reservation. Productive, focused work time is but a shared bicycle ride away.
The latest stage in the evolution of co-working and co-living are spaces that combine the two. Picture this: As you head to a new city to work, perhaps with one or two coworkers, you book space with living and working quarters. NomadLife, Outsite and CoWoLi are destinations: travel, stay and work in one setting. Opportunities range from a destination work spot in Nicarauga (NomadLife), where you can work, live and play with other co-work/co-live adventure enthusiasts, to the more typical rental where you and your team can stay, meet, and break off into individual, focused-work settings. And of course, Airbnb has adjusted as well. The company has announced the development of a new apartment building concept, dubbed “Niido powered by Airbnb,” in Kissimmee, Florida. Here, residents can rent their apartments through Airbnb for up to 180 nights a year.
With the rapid rise of this new co-working, co-living, community concept, it’s easy to understand why WeWork, Airbnb and others are scrambling to gain advantage and leave competitors out in the cold. How we live, how we work, and how we travel may all candidates for redefinition, and we may writing that new definition right now.
Sam Barry is a former principal with Gensler, where he led a Brand Design studio in Washington, DC and a Lifestyle (retail and hospitality) studio in Atlanta, and former Director of Marketing for Shaw Contract and Shaw Hospitality. Today, Sam and his wife Kelly own Innovatude, a brand and marketing strategy and design boutique focused on innovation in the built environment. Sam’s focus is on helping product manufacturers, developers and building owners navigate turbulent times to find points of leverage to forge competitive advantage and significant growth. Sam lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.