Co-living — the Future of Remote Working?

Leon van der Vyver
4 min readJul 13, 2021


In 1980, the American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton released the song 9 to 5, an ode to the life of the ordinary American office worker. In it, she describes a morning routine on the way to the office, singing “Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin’/ Out on the streets, the traffic starts jumpin’/ With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5.”

How distant those days seem now.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

In between then and now the world has gone through two transformative events that changed the way we work and live. Firstly, and most significantly, the internet became widespread and seeped into almost every crevice of human life, making remote working possible. Secondly, the world has faced a deadly pandemic that has made physical proximity highly undesirable, making remote working mandatory in some countries and leading to the largest ever study as to the viability of remote working.

Now that vaccines are starting to be rolled out on a mass-scale, the question has arisen about whether we should, or how we should, return to the office.

Many companies have decided to keep some form of remote working indefinitely. Read the thinking behind the decision for Spotify and Quora. For the company, it saves money on office space and utilities while also allowing them to hire the best global talent. And for some employees, it removes time-consuming commutes and allows them more flexibility and less restriction on their physical location.

But remote working comes with its fair share of challenges, such as isolation and losing the inspiration that comes from being surrounded by like-minded people. The natural community that is shaped by spending eight or more hours in the same room with people working towards the same goal is suddenly stripped away.

Some of the most popular shows of the last decade were based on the workplace dynamic. Shows such as Mad Men, The Office, Veep and Parks and Recreation all chronicle the daily functioning, and often dysfunction, of life in the office. There is still a need for those relationships.

Addressing this phenomenon has released a new ecosystem of start-ups and businesses.

Co-working developers have created ad-hoc office spaces for those who still want the office experience, but work for a company without such a space, or with an office located somewhere you would rather not locate to. Generally working on a hot-desk month-to-month basis, these companies provide flexible office spaces. Arguably the most (in)famous co-working company, WeWork, offers designer spaces around the world while focusing on community instead of merely a desk.

Co-working goes some way in addressing the problems caused by remote work, but what if you could take it a step further? A new concept is gaining traction in creating a holistic community of remote workers — co-living.

Co-living developers create apartment buildings, houses, or even luxury villas where residents share communal spaces such as lounges, kitchens, dining spaces, fitness centres and workspaces, while having access to their own room. The emphasis is on community living — residents share in each other’s lives and form a like-minded social circle. This all helps combat that all too familiar feeling of urban loneliness, especially when arriving in a new city without pre-existing social contacts. The appeal is a soft landing pad and an instantaneous new network.

The rentals are usually short-term and month-to-month, allowing residents to move regularly and not be caught in long-term leases. Similarly, the rooms are generally furnished, avoiding large moving costs or getting locked down by possessions if you want to move around.

Co-living is hardly a new concept. At universities, boarding houses are an integral part of the experience in many countries. It can be argued that, in some ways, the type of co-living that is making the news is simply a rebranding of a concept that has existed for decades. However, this rebranding has a clear appeal to many global workers. In addition, the hospitality world and investors have noticed.

WeWork had branched out into their co-living concept, WeLive. Roam, as the name implies, had locations around the world that combined co-living and co-working. They had locations in San Francisco, Miami, London, Bali and Tokyo. They sold a global jet-setting lifestyle for the wealthy remote worker. However, as my next post outlines in more detail, both these brands have since largely ceased operations.

Other players in the coliving space include Starcity ($51 million raised), Common Living ($113 million raised) and CoHive ($38 million raised). Naturally, there are thousands of smaller, single property living solutions.

Co-living shows promise, even more so in the aftermath of the pandemic that the world has endured for the past two years. The tide towards remote working is strong and many companies, especially start-ups, don’t even have offices anymore. And yet, that sense of community still needs to be created.

In my next posts, I dive deeper into the success factors of co-living — the consumer experience, and whether co-living can make financial sense for investors, and cities.