I’ve been having some very similar conversations with friends and business associates lately.
Not that they’re ever exactly the same – and not all of them are about Brexit!
But whatever sector we’re talking about, whether its recruitment or education or – heaven forbid – hospitality, there’s a movement happening as a follow-on from a decade of austerity and the rise in technology and automation. And that’s a movement towards co-living, co-working, and growing communities around shared values and shared space – literally!
We hear incessantly about Millennials, who are soon to make up 50% of the workplace, but, having spent their formative years post-financial crash, tend to be short on assets, generally unlikely to own property for some years, and looking to shake off the screen-led isolation of their early twenties by forming communities around mental wellbeing, shared experiences and flexible work-life balance.
We’ve often written about so-called digital nomads on our newshub site. Connectivity has led to the chance to work from anywhere, as long as one can work around time differences and communications. And there was a definite move in the last decade towards fixed-term contracts for employees rather than full-time permanent placements, in turn leading to some of the rise in our sector for corporate relocations and long-term rental accommodation.
Likewise, austerity certainly played a part in the rise of the sharing and gig economies – zero hours contracts may not be popular when they’re abused, but for many struggling businesses they provided a lifeline when looking to employ, while not being sure what next week would bring.
And the same form of flexibility was often equally appreciated by those they employed.
This week I’ve been hearing about a number of new developments where part of a building is planned as serviced apartments, while the rest of the building encompasses other aspects of community living. Gyms. Cafes. Communal lounges. Even creches. And that all-important co-working element.
The move towards working/playing/living in one community has its roots, surely, in student life. And most of us who experienced that will probably look back with a certain nostalgia for the ‘everybody knows your name’ community, living behind a front door that was not at the end of a garden path and probably a locked gate beyond that, but inside your own part of a larger community. Probably not dissimilar to many of these new developments. Inside your own small private apartment or flat, with private facilities – at the very least, your own bathroom, if not kitchen – but with far more communal space to enjoy and minimal maintenance to worry about.
And that kind of mixed use certainly has advantages to developers. It’s flexible should trends change, and is more likely to receive planning approval if there’s an element of community advantage. Gyms and bars, for instance, open to both public and residents, and bringing them together in friendly spaces.
Strangely, though, it feels as though somehow they’re bridging the gap between student halls of residence and care homes! But for those who can’t currently afford to buy, or in areas where there’s no chance of finding property anyway, these types of developments make perfect sense.
So why are we talking about this now? Only because they’re not simply an idea people talk about, and we write about as happening in far-flung places. They’re very real, and happening all over the world – including our own back yards – right now.
And if there’s one thing we know in our industry, it’s to take note of trends. How people are choosing to live will have a bearing on how we will need to respond to their need for short, mid and longer-term rentals in the future.
I genuinely believe that the sharing economy will one day have run its course. For all its pros and cons, there will come a day when cities globally won’t be able to tolerate any more foreign investors buying up property that might otherwise be lived in by residents, simply to make money from transient guests who will never become full-time residents themselves – as there won’t be anywhere to buy, or to build.
In the meantime, let’s watch this fascinating rise of communal blocks leading to real communities, and work with them to ensure everyone’s real needs are met, locals and travellers coming together for real ‘live like a local’ experiences.