Coliving Foundations - Recognizing Destructive Cycles
Let’s start at the foundation— there’s consensus that community is at the heart of colivings; therefore, there’s no coliving if there’s no community. However, most managers’ major obstacle is the complexity involved with community design and the grunt work to keep it healthy, not for the faint of heart.
The subject is so broad that many books have been written about it, people are pursuing their PhDs on the matter, and there’s even a well-designed community canvas, a framework to help you build meaningful communities, which I advise you to study.
Coliving’s community design is so important that it should take at least 30% of your efforts when designing your space. After the design is finished and you’re operational, all processes, KPIs, and any decision-making must consider its impact on the community.
A community manager faces countless situations. I’ve already covered territoriality and diversity in other articles, so today, let’s shift focus to the cycles your coliving with go through. I’ve done a quick Google search on the topic, and everything I’ve found is about bicycles which, mind you, is not what I’m talking about here.
A Community’s Foundation
There’s something interesting about starting a community that you must be aware of: your first members become the community’s DNA, and it’s hard to change that once set. Therefore, the initial designing process and the subsequent kickoff must be taken seriously because once you build momentum, course correction is nearly impossible. Like a ship sailing out of port, your community must not be heeled on launch.
Even assuming your community had this perfect launch, expect it to change over time. That can be good or bad depending on multiple variables.
Several things are critical in every scenario:
- Remain aware of your community’s health status
- Utilize relevant metrics to determine what can be improved
- Set protocols in place to correct situations
- Train your staff (and yourself) to recognize them in the future
Coliving Cycles – Recognize Energy Triggers and Apply Solutions
Let’s first define a community health cycle. It’s the continuous change in the perceived energy of the community. It has constant highs and lows. Some events that trigger a change in the energy of the community are:
- Trigger: A group of long-term guests leaving: You’ve learned to love them. Their relative weight on the community is so strong that your space now feels empty.
Solution: Just remember it’s temporary, and can take some time to return to the high point again. Some other factors to keep in mind during these “lower” transitional periods:
o If the new guests stay a very short time, they won’t return the lost energy, and you will need to practice patience.
o If new guests are not a 100% fit for your culture, your DNA might change. Be mindful as this can have lasting negative consequences. Don’t risk a quick fix.
- Trigger: Too many guests at once: You will have a major shift in the way the energy is perceived. It could even make a change in your culture.
Solution: Sometimes this change is different but positive as long as you’re mindful of your community’s DNA, and what it needs to stay healthy. This depends largely on your selection process and you should have ways to identify this change before it becomes irreversible.
- Trigger: Long-term guests developing unhealthy attachments: You might think a large percentage of long-term guests is good, but not always. These guests may get territorial, and if most of your colivers signed up for an extended stay, you might face mutiny events.
- Eight long-term members of your 16-bed coliving became very good friends and suddenly realized that for what they paid combined they could rent a large house for themselves. They leave your space without warning, and suddenly you have a big problem.
Solution: Accept that they are free to leave your space in a group, but implement the right set of tools to ensure that you get a notice in advance, that is, with legal contracts and maintaining a good, trust-based relationship with your guests. Sometimes events like these are good as they allow you to reset your culture, but also consider that if large groups leave your space like this, it might be that your value proposition is not strong enough. Sometimes it’s just part of the expected natural process; if you stayed more than six months at Startup Embassy, you probably got most of what we could offer as a soft landing in Silicon Valley. It was natural that you left, but be ready for it if it happens in large groups. Unexpected mass-exits can hurt your community.
- One day, you recognize a large group of long-term colivers are exhibiting unhealthy behaviors, endangering your community values. Maybe they drink too much alcohol, for example. You then decide to implement a new rule: no alcohol on-premises.
Solution: To avoid problems like this one, make sure you set the right expectations. Before guests arrive in your space, they must understand and agree that rules might change in an effort to maintain a safe, productive environment.
Set a culture where your community understands that although open and flexible, your coliving is not a democracy. At least, not for major issues that affect the business model and the control you must have to guarantee those core standards will be met.
Unless of course, if you have designed your coliving as a democracy, but good luck with that.
I know cases of well-known colivings, quite large, where they faced mutinies from a large group. Unfortunately, they discovered their community was stronger than their management team and weren’t able to enforce a new rule. You don’t want that.
Be aware that managing a coliving community means that you will deal with strong friendships and subcultures. You are not dealing with a tenant association. You’re dealing with a family.
- Trigger: You get puneeted. I’ve previously defined what it means to be puneeted but to refresh your memory, it’s the act of being screwed by a long-term guest that becomes territorial, becomes a cancer in your community, and has the potential to kill it from the inside. You can imagine how a situation like this can significantly and negatively impact your community and your DNA.
Solution: Have a robust selection process, an ironclad Code of Conduct, and a Length of Stay protocol. If you want to understand why, please read my “don’t be puneeted post.” This ensures a heavy filtering process for potential guests, and if a Puneet does slip by, you have protection built in to keep your community safe.
- Trigger: Adjusting to a new House Manager. For us, at Startup Embassy, the House Manager is the person who takes care of the community. They are the core and glue of everything, and it’s the most important member of the team. House Managers must have very strong emotional intelligence and are key to measure and maintain the culture of the coliving space. Whenever you change the House Manager (and we do it every three months), you have a disruption on the energy of your space.
Solution: Plan for there to be a little unrest during these times. It’s unavoidable, but can be mitigated with a great onboarding system. If your colivers see the new House Manager doing well, they’ll adjust to their presence faster.
Other countless situations will crop up in these life cycles. They might start as nothing serious, but if you don’t identify them early enough and solve them, you could end up with an unhealthy coliving space. This, combined with having a large group of long-term colivers, can make it challenging to recover.
More real-life scenarios include:
- A doorknob is loose, and nobody fixes it for months.
- A toilet leaks, but it’s fixed poorly and cheaply, thus causing a longer, more aggravating experience for all involved.
You get the point.
Listen to your community. Address every situation that is easy to fix as if it was serious. Have the right tools to allow your community to report a broken bulb or anything that might interfere (even if mildly) in their quality of living and fix it. Take it very seriously, and show them you do.
These situations start as nothing important. Your community loves you and understands that sometimes shit happens. But after some time, concurring with the fact that some members might be already territorial, it will be the match that lights the fire you don’t want to have.
How to Maintain Balance
Think about the energy of your coliving space as the ”health” or “immune system of your community. Situations that bring the energy to low marks must warn you to be more careful as they are the exact cases that put your community at risk.
In any case, if your coliving energy is low, take precautions with events that might change your DNA as it’s when your community is more vulnerable.
The conclusion of all this is that some events will lower the energy of your coliving space, but that is not necessarily wrong as they won’t have a negative impact on your DNA culture. Some events will impact the energy and will change your culture a bit. That’s also OK if that change in your DNA is positive and something you agree with.
But some events will have a negative impact on your energy and on your DNA that will be destructive and potentially can kill your business in the long run. You must be on a constant watch for all these events. Whether they are good or bad, even if it’s a temporary low energy event, you must understand that your community’s immune system needs attention in all cases and be prepared to address each type individually.
Trying to represent it visually, I came with a graph like this:
Of course, it’s not perfect, and I’m thinking about ideas on how to improve it.
Essentially, some negative cycles will correct themselves and just need to be monitored. Tampering could make those times worse. Every coliving needs tools and processes to discern if you are in a conjunctural cycle and will recover or if your community’s DNA is changing for the worse. Ideally, I envision a dashboard with KPIs measuring this in real-time and offering notifications when there’s danger and suggestions on how to react.
Seems like a lot, right? Don’t worry; I’ll address easy ways to understand and conquer these issues in part II!