How can coliving apps support community building & community facilitation?
As explored in depth in The Community Facilitation Handbook v1.0, creating an engaged and authentic community experience is one of the most critical yet challenging aspects for any coliving operator. As with all other aspects of a thriving coliving business, technology can play a very important role.
This article outline the business case for a strong community, some of the main community-building challenges and how app solutions can help overcome these to facilitate thriving coliving spaces.
Originally written as a submission for Coliving Insights No5- Co-Tech: Innovating Coliving with Technology, this article has been re-purposed here as a Conscious Coliving blog post.
It draws on information gathered through desk-based research, demos of software platforms, conversations with coliving operators and tech providers, and the Coliving Mobile Apps Survey sent out to 30+ coliving operators around the world.
And for further exploration on coliving software, apps and technology make sure you explore the Coliving Apps & Tech Guide.
Let’s dive in!
Benefits/Business Case of a Strong Coliving Community
A strong community offers a myriad of social, economic and environmental benefits for everyone involved. Perhaps some of the most pertinent benefits for an operator are the ones related to the business case/cost savings of a thriving community. These include the following:
- Increased length of stay / less turnover of residents: The more positive the community experience is in a coliving space, the happier a resident will be, and the more likely he/she will stay longer. This means less marketing costs and less time spent looking for new tenants.
- Reduction in maintenance costs: A strong community creates a sense of ownership amongst members which means they are more likely to take better care of the place: they consider it their home, and therefore are more incentivised in keeping it safe, clean and well maintained.
- Higher quality products and experiences: Coliving operators that create better communities have a superior product and can financially benefit from higher demand and greater willingness to pay.
Investing in a strong community has clear benefits for coliving operators. Unfortunately, this is no easy feat, as detailed in the next section.
Community Building Challenges
Authentic community building requires time, effort, care and buy-in. Some of the most common challenges that coliving spaces face in regards to building community include:
- Conflict Among Residents: Most residents in a coliving space come with a unique background, upbringing, set of values and social experiences. As such, clashes between the varying needs, interests and wants of different coliving residents is unavoidable in any community. Perhaps one of the most common sources of conflict relates to the cleanliness of shared spaces.
- Safety Concerns: For a community to thrive, its members need to feel safe. A lack of appropriate security features can make residents feel nervous, or in the worst case, become victims of robbery or other crimes. The onset of COVID-19 has led to other safety concerns, leading some coliving residents to isolate themselves and in many cases leave the coliving community altogether.
- Low Engagement: A thriving community is one where its members actively engage with one another through rituals, events, shared spaces, meals, activities, etc. Attaining high engagement in coliving spaces can often be difficult because a) the community lacks an effective way of communicating when events or activities are happening, and/or b) organised events/activities do not align with the interests of residents.
- Challenging Dynamics Between Residents and Staff: Transparent, caring and effective communication between staff and residents is critical for smooth operations and relations within any coliving space. Miscommunication, mistrust, impatience and other challenging dynamics can often occur if a) there is not a good communication channel, b) maintenance issues are not solved quickly and/or c) there is a lack of transparency with rent payments.
In the next sections, we will highlight how app solutions can help coliving operators and residents address these challenges and more.
App Solutions For Facilitating Thriving Community
This section of the article will highlight five main areas where app solutions can help facilitate a thriving community of residents that feel safe, comfortable and connected to each other, the staff and the local community.
These five key areas are:
- Understanding Resident Needs
- Homeyness and Safety
- Connection Between Residents
- Connection between residents and operator staff
- Connection with the local and global community
Understanding Resident Needs
The key to a thriving community is having a high percentage of its members’ needs met. In order to co-create the most fitting services, events and resources, the community first needs to understand what the needs of its members are in the first place. This can be relatively easy to do if the community is small. But beyond 20 or so members, this task can become quite labor- and time-intensive if done manually or in-person.
This is where tech can come in!
One way tech can facilitate understanding residents’ needs is through a mobile app which can send out polls and push notifications. Polls and alerts can ask a variety of questions regarding residents’ food preferences, desired activities, suggestions for improvement, etc. The answers can then be gathered and analysed by staff and members to make more informed decisions on how to best meet the needs of everyone.
According to the Coliving Mobile Apps Survey we conducted, 50% of respondents said that their residents currently use an app to partake in polls, and this bumps up to 78% when it includes those who have this feature on their wishlist.
Spaceflow, a tenant experience app that connects buildings with their occupiers, is an example of a platform that includes mobile polls to survey tenants. Glynk is another community platform that operators use to facilitate community member involvement in key decision making through the use of polling.
Homeyness and Safety
“Homeyness” is defined by the Free Dictionary as “having a feeling of home; cozy and comfortable.” The wellbeing of a community is strongly associated with the degree to which its members feel safe, comfortable and “homey”. According to The GoodHome Report, comfort accounts for 25% of the emotions that explain how happy we are with our home, and safety accounts for 10% (other emotions include identity, pride and control). Much of what makes a place homey depends on the spatial design, surroundings and “vibe” of the other residents. Mobile apps that simplify tasks such as laundry can help create spaces that support a feeling of comfortable convenience that residents appreciate.
Apps that enable digital access to rooms, spaces and motion-sensor lighting, for instance, can go a long way in creating a sense of comfort and safety within the building. If there is a high level of insecurity or ambiguity around safety, it can be difficult for members to relax and share spaces and resources. Ideally, all residents living together will share common values, such as trust and goodwill. However, the larger the community gets, the more anonymity there is and the higher the risk of insecurity.
Currently, 43% of the operators who responded to the Coliving Appy Survey said that they use an app that enables digital building and room access, and 72% includes those who responded that they would like to have this as an inbuilt app feature in the future. One example of an app solution that offers this is SALTO Systems, which provides cloud-based access control with digital keys for every member of a coliving space.
Finally, COVID-19 has brought with it its own safety concerns, in particular regarding cleanliness and transmission of the virus. Apps that offer clear communication around cleaning schedules, up-to-date information on COVID-19 and tips on how to reduce transmission have played a key role in many coliving spaces in the last months. For example, the software platform res:harmonics allows residents to use an app to choose the regularity and thoroughness of housekeeping – such as weekly cleans of frequently used surfaces – while housekeepers can alert guests about cleaning times.
Connection Between Residents
An authentic community cannot exist without members proactively engaging with one other. This does not mean that everyone in a community has to engage or be active in the same way, especially since people vary greatly in terms of their levels of introversion and extroversion, as well as other interests and socialising preferences. However, it is important that residents have consistent access to channels and opportunities for communicating and connecting with one another. It is these spaces of connection that enable the creation and nurturing of the relationships upon which communities thrive.
Apps can be designed to facilitate authentic connection through features like:
- Chat and private messaging
- Resident-led groups based on interests
- Resident-led event creation and promotion
- A marketplace that allows for exchanging, buying, selling of skills, services and items among residents
According to the Coliving Mobile Apps Survey, 60% of the coliving residents in the spaces surveyed use an app for private messaging with other residents, 28% make use of a digital marketplace among residents, 34% use a marketplace to buy services from the operator, 65% use an app for community groups and 53% for resident-led events. The respective percentages that include these features on the future wishlight are as follows: 84.4%, 81.3% 63%, 93%, and 87.5%.
One of the platforms that offers comprehensive features in this area is the community-building platform called Sowebuild. Their app’s features include a community newsfeed, groups, private chat and marketplace.
Connection Between Residents and Staff
In The Community Facilitation Handbook v1.0, co-authored by Art of Co and Conscious Coliving, we talk about the importance of building community from the bottom-up; for example, where residents take on an active role in the operations, experience and flow of the coliving space. However, in most coliving spaces, the operations staff continue to play a predominant role in almost every aspect of the community. As such, having positive and healthy dynamics/relationships between the staff and residents is critical to ensuring smooth operations. Apps can facilitate this by:
- Simplifying and making payment processes transparent
- Offering easy access to the latest announcements and notifications
- Keeping track of maintenance issues for quicker follow up and resolving
Currently, 43% of the coliving operators who responded to the Coliving Mobile Apps Survey use an app that enables residents to pay for rent and other bills. A majority of respondents (75%) use an app for announcement and notifications, and 78% for keeping track of maintenance and other issues reported by residents. As we can see, this is the area where most coliving spaces are currently already leveraging the use of an app. Moving forward, there is a similarly high level of interest in these features (75%, 90%, and 90% respectively).
A good example of an app that facilitates these features for coliving operators and residents is the Coliving Property Management Software, TheHouseMonk. This platform features an integrated automated invoices and payment collection system, as well as a virtual help desk to manage facilities using ticketing features that automate complaints and escalations – all of which are also accessible via an app.
Connect with Local Community
While a coliving community can flourish on its own, strong connections to the surrounding local community can help it become even more enriched. Coliving spaces also have the potential to be neighbourhood hubs – places that exchange, deliver and contribute a multitude of different ‘community capitals’, such as economic, social, cultural, human, natural and political capital. App solutions facilitate this through a number of ways, including:
- Offering an easy space to access local tips, news, events and ways to volunteer
- Facilitating food and other delivery services
- Enabling win-wins with local businesses through perks and discounts
- Timebanking: facilitating the exchange of services and skills between residents and local businesses / community groups
According to the Coliving Mobile Apps Survey, 25% use an app for residents to find out about local tips and 35% to read about local news and current events. When including the respondent who would like to have these features included, the percentages are 90.6% and 59%.
District Tech is a platform which offers a range of these features, including events, news, articles, maps, guides, promotions, discounts, and F&B menus. Tulu, an in-building smart platform and ‘Library of Things’, provides tenants at OurDomain with ondemand access to appliances, grocery staples, micro-mobility devices and more. This is also another relevant article about how Spaceflow uses their products to help communal spaces integrate with the surrounding world.
In terms of time-banking, Echo is an innovative platform that promotes an “Economy of Hours” in which users trade and do business in time and skills, earning 1 unit of Echo currency for every hour they put in. While Echo does not currently work with coliving operators, this kind of platform has a lot of potential for the coliving sector.
In the next sections we will explore a few additional benefits that app solutions can offer from an economic, wellbeing and environmental sustainability lens.
Additional Benefits Of App Solutions For Coliving Operators
Financial Benefits of Apps
Financial Benefits of Apps: App solutions offer quite compelling financial value for the coliving operator. Two of these are listed below:
- Monetisation and additional revenue streams: Coliving operators can use tech to create additional sources of revenue, such as the monetisation of services. One example of this is the Asian coliving operator Hmlet, who recently started to offer furniture rental services.
- More time for business development: There is no doubt that apps can reduce the amount of time it takes for operators to carry out certain tasks and services. This efficiency grants operators more time to spend on other things like business development, finding leads, understanding customer insights, marketing, community building and business expansion.
Apps for Enhancing Wellbeing
While living in a healthy community already does wonders for one’s wellbeing, apps can offer additional support for coliving residents. We list a few of these ways based on three wellbeing indicators taken from the European Social Survey (ESS) that we believe correspond closely to coliving: these are increased vitality, emotional stability and positive relationships
- Increased Vitality: Vitality can be measured as “in the past week I had a lot of energy”, and apps can help enhance this through the following ways:
- Promoting exercise and body movement (i.e. via yoga apps such as Yoga Studio or Asana Rebel, fitness apps such as ClassPass, Fit Bolt, and Seven and bike-sharing apps such as Mobike, Ofo, and Lime Bike)
- Helping people to eat healthy and locally (i.e. Nutrients, MyFitnessPal and Farmer Direct)
- Encouraging good rest (i.e. sleep tracking apps such as SleepScore)
- Emotional Stability: Emotional stability can be measured as “in the past week I felt calm and peaceful”. Apps can support emotional stability through a myriad of ways, including:
- Encouraging the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Examples of apps for this are Insight Timer (a crowd-sourced meditation app featuring workshops, guided meditations, music, courses and celebrity speakers), Headspace (probably one of the most well known wellbeing apps offering visualisation techniques, mindfulness and meditation and guidance), and Calm (offering audio recordings, imagery, music and mindfulness techniques)
- Offering mood boosting techniques (i.e. via apps such as Happify and ThinkUp)
- Tracking emotions and moods especially regarding anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder (with apps such as Daylio, Moodkit, Worry Watch and eMoods)
- Positive Relationships: Positive relationships as an indicator can be measured by “there are people who really care about me”. Apps can help foster positive relationships by:
Apps for Sustainable (Co)Living
Apps can make it easier for residents and staff to become more conscious and responsible citizens of the planet. In particular, apps can do this through enhancing connectivity, simplifying the process of energy monitoring and offering creative approaches for shifting people’s behaviour towards improved sustainability. A few examples of these are listed below:
- Connectivity and Energy Monitoring: A powerful way of boosting sustainability efforts in any coliving space is through increasing connectivity and tracking energy consumption. An example of this is Glide, a connectivity solutions provider which offers sub-metering capabilities for electricity, heating, water and gas, allowing for better measuring and implementing of energy efficiency strategies. Other energy consumption saving apps include EnergySaver, EnergyTracker, OhmConnect, CodeGreen and Nest
- Behavior Change: Changing behaviour and developing new habits can be challenging for most people. However, there are many app solutions that can support coliving spaces to nurture more sustainable behaviour. One example is the integration of “Sustainable Stays” features offered by Innovation Lighthouse, such as a water-saving shower timer and sensor. A few other examples are included below:
- SDGs in Action: This United Nations app helps users learn about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The app offers detailed information about each of the 17 goals, including targets, explanatory videos, key facts and figures. It also allows users to list relevant actions and events that others can join.
- Refresh Go Green: This app offers 52 tips and useful information for users to make daily changes in their personal health and the health of the planet. It offers different levels of challenges and encouragement for every achievement, as well as indications about each person’s diet, health or daily habits.
- Oroeco: Oroeco allows users to calculate their daily carbon footprint based on transport, food and leisure activities and electricity consumption. The app also encourages community action by allowing users to share and compare with friends and neighbours to encourage everyone to become a climate hero!
- Joule Bug: JouleBug allows users to discover new ways to go green and share improvements and tricks with other users through videos, games, action-packed challenges and impact, etc. With JouleBug, coliving residents can connect with friends, neighbours and colleagues to check their progress and see who is the greenest!
In this article we have highlighted that focusing on community in coliving makes business sense because of reduced turnover, reduction in maintenance costs and a higher willingness to pay.
Challenges of community building for operators can include safety concerns, conflict among residents and low engagement.
We explored how app solutions can overcome these challenges and drew on answers from the Coliving Mobile Apps Survey to understand how coliving operators and residents are currently using apps, and where there is room for improvement.
Apps can facilitate a thriving community by helping understand resident needs, enabling a sense of comfort and safety and facilitating ways for residents to feel connected to each other, staff and local community. We also see that apps can be used to enhance the wellbeing and sustainable behaviour of a community.
While there may not be one perfect app that meets all of these needs, it is encouraging to see the role of app developers and other technology providers in supporting the industry. Many are coming out with new and open APIs that will allow for more integration between apps, reduce complexity and create a better experience for residents through a single interface.
It is also clear that there are many inspiring app development roadmaps. We strongly believe that the willingness of app developers, technology providers and coliving operators to collaborate will help enable the coliving sector to thrive!
You can continue to explore coliving apps, software and technology in the Coliving Apps & Tech Guide, coauthored by my coleagues Matt Lesniak, Juan Ortiz and myself.
This article has been authored for you by:
Transformational Coach and facilitator. Trainer in mindfulness, sharing circles, and how to live and lead more consciously. Co-author of the Community Facilitation Handbook and the Coliving Apps & Tech Guide. Facilitates community engagement strategies.