Instant community: WeWork challenges conventional apartment living
Apartment rental service combines full-service accommodation on short-term leasing – with a nod from college dorm concept
United States co-working space provider WeWork was right on the money with its model for grouping like-minded people into a hub where business aspirations could be shared and nurtured.
Since start-up in 2010, WeWork has grown to claim a presence in 39 cities around the globe, including two locations in Hong Kong, and an estimated worth of US$16 billion.
But can the premise upon which it is built also apply to living environments? If peers are happy enough to co-work with strangers, might they be prepared to cohabitate as well?
WeWork’s founders are testing the waters with WeLive, an apartment rental service, combining the raison d’etre for serviced apartments in cities – providing furnished, full-service accommodation on short-term leasing in popular business districts – with a nod from the college dorm concept thrown in.
At the WeLive launch in two pilot US cities last year, company co-founder Adam Neumann argued for the sense of instant community such as model premises, and which certain Hong Kong serviced apartment providers are leaning towards as well.
“WeLive challenges conventional apartment living by creating homes within a community that are designed to bring people together,” he says. The success of WeWork has shown that “we are all much stronger and happier when we are together,” Neumann continued, adding his view that “this mentality and lifestyle shouldn’t end when we go home”.
So in addition to furniture, linen, internet and utilities all ready and waiting, communal facilities beckon togetherness. “Members can grab a drink in the mailroom, play ping pong while their laundry dries, and enjoy a potluck dinner in our state-of-the-art chef’s kitchen,” Neumann says.
The company won’t be drawn on whether a Hong Kong co-living version factors into its thinking, but Pilar Morais, CEO of boutique serviced apartment brand CHI Residences, can see some merit in the concept. “Bringing the social aspect to the environment of a property is somewhat of a trend around the world, and one that Hong Kong should embrace too,” she says. Indeed, CHI is in the process of implementing a co-living component into its business model. Its ideas are likely to include a community lounge and open kitchen “as share space and connection between everyone”.
Morais believes domestic sharing has a place in our changing world. “People tend to work across different time zones and thus work varying hours,” she says.
“At the same time we are seeing a shift towards consultants who work from home or who can work from anywhere and like to have a flexible work place. So the changes I believe we are about to see in the serviced apartment sector are somewhat user-driven.”
The concept is not new to our part of the world. Living and working in a shared community was integral to the socialist teachings of Mao Zedong, and a 2014 Nielsen survey suggests that mindset persists. It found that 94 per cent of Chinese would participate in a share community – the highest of any group surveyed, and more than double the 43 per cent of North Americans who said they’d be willing to do likewise.
Last year, Xinhua news agency reported the emergence of shared living residential communities in mainland China’s big cities, noting the growth of You+ International Youth Community as one of the first providers.
Some estimates even claim that China’s incarnation is growing faster than the US – that millennials eager to live away from their parents, and with each other, are fuelling the boom.
But although the You+ model is designed for China’s younger generation, offering a place for them to live, start a business, and make friends, company founder Liu Yang has found that the occupants mostly keep to themselves.
In China, Liu says, young people do not often communicate with their neighbours since they are busy working so hard. That’s not to say that the same might also be true here. The view expressed by many expats – that a vibrant social life is one of the perks of living in Hong Kong – is supported by the Global Index of Well-being, which finds that, for individuals to thrive, they need to be members of communities where others are thriving as well.