How and where we work is introducing a new form of work-life balance, writes Tim Mahlberg, of the University of Sydney
In the past two weeks I’ve met two people who introduced themselves as global nomads. By “nomads” they mean someone who moves from place to place with no fixed address, other than their email address. They consult wherever they go, and are enabled through technology to live and work from anywhere.
This new thinking about what and where work is performed is starting to influence thinking on where we live, offering an entirely new take on work-life balance.
Earlier generations had a job for life and lived close to the factory or office; work and life supported each other symbiotically. Today, while many people still co-locate near their primary employer, for others the “office” is anywhere with a reliable internet connection.
Working differently allows us to live differently. This thinking is what’s behind the “co-living” trend. Combined work and residential space is aimed at the flexible worker, the itinerant entrepreneur, the tech-fuelled millennial.
How it works
The idea is simple enough. A network of residential offerings provides semi-independent living across multiple locations; be it in one country or across many. Members pay a subscription and register in advance to secure a place, usually for at least a month at a time. In the early days, many operators are also allowing more short-term access of a few days at a time.
BASE, operating in Melbourne, Australia, aims to bring together young creatives in a co-living experiment. It incorporates a co-working space and regular events.
There are plenty of other co-living examples across the US in particular. Many appear to be driven by millennials eager to find new ways of bringing their work and life together. There is a theme of purpose-driven living that most if not all share.
While the majority of these offerings are centred on bringing together smaller communities, the emerging larger operators in this space include roam.co (previously Caravanserai). It has offerings in the US, Spain and Bali, with the UK and Argentina imminent. Nomadhouse.io boasts 18 locations across Europe, Morocco, Southeast Asia, the US and Colombia.
A new way of living
Recently, the world’s largest co-working space operator, WeWork (last year valued at $USD10 billion), launched a new co-living spinoff, WeLive. It has two spaces in New York and Washington DC co-located above existing WeWork sites.
WeLive operates on a monthly subscription basis. It provides everything that you would expect from an Airbnb, with a dose of community that co-working members come to expect from WeWork, including its famous “unlimited beer and coffee”.
A WeWork games area in New York City’s Soho district could almost be a residential space. Photo: WeWork
WeWork is betting big that its co-living model will be a hit. Leaked financials late last year reveal WeWork was expecting demand for WeLive to coincide with increasing co-working membership demand. In fact, WeWork expects income from WeLive memberships to increase to more than US$600 million in 2018, representing 21 per cent of the company’s total revenue.
WeWork is opening its doors in two locations in Sydney shortly, but we don’t yet know if it has plans for WeLive in Australia. In an increasingly saturated local co-working market, the first challenge will be for it to gain traction in co-working.
Working alone together
Australia has seen rapid growth in co-working spaces, with more than 160 now operating. These cater to growing numbers of entrepreneurs, small business owners and, increasingly, corporate commuters looking for a change from the standard office environment.
Increasingly, too, these spaces are being recognised for their innovative potential by corporations interested in and working with emerging startups, such as Fin-tech hub Stone & Chalk in Sydney, or in building deeper relationships with customers, like The Village by NAB in Melbourne.
Seeking a tribe? Inquire within
Living in share communities is nothing new. We’ve been co-living in various forms for a long time.
Many of the communes of the 1960s and 70s are still with us, albeit segregated from mainstream society. Kibbutzim have formed an important part of modern Jewish history. Share houses, dorms and fraternities have been rites of passage for many through university and early professional life. And the final co-living destination for many is the retirement village.
Are recent co-living “experiments” only for millennials who want to live an Airbnb lifestyle, or is this the start of a bigger shift in the way we live and work, and the continued blurring of any remaining line between them?
If recent research on the impact of co-working spaces is anything to go by, being part of a co-living community appears to have clear benefits. One recent global co-working survey found 70 per cent of co-workers felt they had become physically healthier as a result of their membership; 70 per cent strongly felt a sense of belonging and 74 per cent experienced greater productivity in their work life.
It is this last statistic that may reveal the dark side of co-living projects such as WeLive, warning that the line between life and work may be all but gone for younger generations who pursue “efficiency in life” at all costs.
In a world where life and work continue to dance around each other, our need for purpose and belonging remains. Co-living ventures like WeLive may inspire us to rethink our relationship with work, and refocus on becoming a part of our local community. Or, perhaps, the gloss of the startup and entrepreneur life will start to fade, and we’ll realise there really is no place like home.
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