Can co-living and co-working spaces bring us together as tech pulls us apart?
Priya Wadhwa
10x Industry

Can co-living and co-working spaces bring us together as tech pulls us apart?

The real estate trend is undeniable, but can it live up to its promise?

We crave closeness, yet are immersed in the glass silos of technology; looking at a world that could be. But do we have it in us to make moves in the offline world to foster a true community spirit?

Ever since Cityscape, this question has been on my mind. Emaar and its likes are pushing with co-living properties, such as the Collective, Collective 2.0 and Socio at Dubai Hills Estate. The sales in this segment have also been strong.

On the other hand, tech giants provide an alternative to public spaces: e-commerce players such as Amazon, noon, and Namshi, to malls and shopping centres, e-grocery delivery platforms to supermarkets and corner stores, as well as Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ to the cinema halls and public theatres. Moreover, Amazon Go and Bodega (startup) from the US are removing the need for human interaction even from physical stores.

Capgemini Research reported that in 2018, 53% of people bought a device powered by a voice assistant. It estimates that nearly 3 in 4 consumers will start using these devices, such as Echo and Alexa to replace going to a store or bank in the coming 3 years.

They are increasingly making it unnecessary to go out in public, or interact with people.

Co-living in Dubai

Now, co-living spaces are not a new phenomenon in the world, even though they are arguably new to Dubai. WeLive, Common, Ollie and many others have been catering to this rising demand for spaces that are more economical, have communal spaces to foster interaction, while being hassle-free when it comes to internet bills, furnishings, maintenance, and more.

Why I say they’re not as ‘new’ to Dubai, is because we’ve had serviced apartments as well as residential buildings in Dubai Marina, JBR, and Downtown, which provide many of the same benefits, since more than a few years now. Most of them boost of gymnasiums, swimming pools, business centres, and more spaces where people can interact. And they’ve done very well, in spite of being on the pricier side.

Property Finder wrote in July this year that co-living spaces are “likely to be cheaper to rent than a regular apartment.” However, considering many of these new co-living properties are built by Emaar, and are located in areas less connected by public transport, price is highly arguable.

The hook of community

More than lifestyle amenities, co-living spaces often also provide co-working areas, with a marketing hook of fostering the "community spirit" or as great alternatives to freelancers and entrepreneurs who enjoy the freedom to work from home and build their business; which is a growing trend.

For new expats, co-living spaces are definitely attractive. From the rent to the potential of making new friends, these spaces are designed to bring people together like dorm rooms that facilitate interaction to pupils new in the city.

The question remains, are spaces designed to bring people together, really bringing people together?

In some instances, definitely; in many others, sadly not.

We spoke to a few people in residential towers and serviced apartments that have access to communal spaces. The general agreement was that they choose the place they are living in due to the facilities and common areas where they could meet new people and make friends. But the novelty wore off when interaction was limited and communal spaces didn’t see many people coming in.

However, few did say that they met people in gyms and other dedicated public spaces. But the factor that led to many of these interactions were intentional actions taken to communicate.

Naturally, property developers can only develop spaces designed to foster interaction. But to take advantage of these spaces and develop a community spirit, there needs to be either an open culture of communication, or facilities management that boosts interaction.

The reality is that the interest in co-living spaces is growing, which indicates a desire for human connection as well as cheaper and hassle-free property options. As e-commerce and technology remove the need for chores, or even cooking for that matter, they do remove the interaction one can have at many of these public places. However, as a result of these innovations, tech companies also allow more time for connecting with others.
Humans are interested in connecting, spaces facilitating this are present, but the reduced experience of interaction is fostering a hesitation. Will you take an action to break this cycle?