As I write, countries are closing their borders to “flatten the curve” and avoid the worst of the Corona Virus. Italians cannot drink their espresso at their corner bar, cyclists can get fined in Spain, and even the London marathon has been postponed. In Belgium, my country, you can still go for a jog, but the schools, bars, and shops are closed. This is surreal, and it looks like it’s only the beginning.
Following the US administration travel ban last week, we had our worst ever week on record. Our cancellations outnumbered our new bookings.
However, we’re not closing our co-living spaces. This may seem counter intuitive considering these are shared living spaces, and upon visiting any Outsite, you’ll find a diverse group of residents from all over the world. Why would we continue to provide a space where infection may well take hold? Is this irresponsible?
In the last survey we conducted with Outsite Members, we found that 42% of them were permanently living in short-term leases, like Outsite or an AirBnB. Anna Svedberg, a Health Coach and Entrepreneur from Sweden said ‘When I decided to start my own business, I gave up my apartment back in Copenhagen as I wanted to travel and work from different places.’
Anna isn’t the only one. Jessica, originally from Arizona, is the Managing Director at SCG Consulting. ‘Personally, I made the decision to base my travel primarily around work. Given that I'm often traveling for contracts and/or conferences, I love knowing that there's a purpose for my travel while I also get to explore and enjoy the cities I visit’, she said.
Outsite Members are not necessarily ‘travelers’, but they’re also not residents. They work, and they tend to stay in one location for a few months at a time (57% of them, according to the last survey).
While the ‘Stay at Home’ messaging works for those with a permanent home base, a family close-by, or perhaps a tight-knit group of friends in one neighborhood, it does not work for a digital nomad. To stay at home is to stay where they are. If we were to close our locations right now, these people would lose the place they know to be home.
The definition of home changes from person-to-person and culture-to-culture, but when you look it up, you’ll usually find that it’s associated with family. It should come as no surprise that in 2020 the definition of family has changed, but the innate want for human connection is still there. This is where co-living will make a difference.
When questioned about her experience with the spaces, Anna said ‘I've made incredible lifelong business and personal connections through this community. While traveling for work, Outsite provides spaces that I know will be centrally located in the city, have a great, safe space and offer the workspace I need at an affordable price. I love knowing that no matter where I am in the world, there's likely to be an Outsite that I can easily book and feel confident in so I can concentrate on what I'm there to do’.
In a time where our Members are feeling nervous, or they’re in a place where they don’t speak the local language, it seems to us that the real irresponsible thing to do would be to remove them from the place they're considering to be home during a crisis.
In the past week, we’ve rolled out measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in our spaces, but the Members living in-house had already started looking after one another. I’m in most of our local WhatsApp Groups, which means I get to see a lot of the in-house chatter. In Lisbon, house mates have been picking up thermometers for one another.
In Tahoe, not only are they dealing with social distancing, but the snow means it’s hard to get out. House mates have offered to pick up groceries for one another, and while they wait, they’re building a mini ramp at the back of the house to make up for the closed ski resorts.
In Los Angeles, someone shared an app that reminds you to wash your hands, and another shared a poem to calm your nerves. In every group, you can see light-hearted reminders to stay safe when going about your daily routine.
This type of conversation isn’t just happening in our Spaces. All Members are part of one big Slack channel, regardless of where they are. They exchange information on dealing with travel bans, the country regulations you might not see on the news, which airports have the worst screening queues.
Whether it’s someone sharing a positive piece of news, an invite for an in-house coffee break, or simply someone checking in on you to check you’re OK, the sense of community co-living provides is needed now more than ever.
There’s an implicit trust if you share a house with friends or family, but not everyone shares that luxury. If you’re living in New York or San Francisco, you may have experienced room mates before. It can be a long and complex quest to find a house in the right neighbourhood, with the right room, sharing with the right people - and even if you’ve mastered that, you may have difficulty with your landlord.
At Outsite, we’ve been able to reduce all of these stressors. Everyone is vetted. There are professional cleaning services. There’s a community manager if you have questions about how things work, which has been hugely beneficial for those traveling in this period. All of our spaces have less than 25 rooms, and most of our spaces have less than 10. We stock kitchen essentials, cleaning supplies and toilet paper (this may well be our new USP, after this week).
By all means, control the spread - we have our own tactics for doing this, too. But we won’t stop operating during this time.
We’ll continue to operate for as long as we are able to provide a home to our Members, knowing that there will be a silver lining to this. When it’s over, we’ll see spikes in travel, a new audience for remote work, a stronger team, and more importantly, a more united world.