4 The ins-and-outs of shared living communications

Communication skills for integrating into a co-living community

Shared living communities can be complicated places to live, and therefore require certain guidelines for how to communicate and share responsibilities amongst one another. This holds true for everyone who is part of the co-living community, including the operational staff of the space itself. Placing a strong importance on having balanced communications amongst residents and between residents and operational staff is crucial for creating an unforgettable shared living experience.

Community facilitators have an important role in identifying and applying different communication techniques into the shared living experience of each of the residents living in a specific co-living space. Implementing ideas from helpful resources such as Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, Mind Tools’ The 7C’s of Communication, Colin Craig’s conflict resolution Iceberg Model, and Kim Scott’s Radical Candor feedback tips can go a long way in ensuring residents can effectively resolve conflicts, give constructive feedback and respect one another on a daily basis. The potential for storytelling in social work has also been widely supported, so much so that strategy guides for grantmakers have been published that give advice on how funders and nonprofits can use storytelling for needs-and-strengths assessments, community organizing, public education, and program evaluation. These storytelling and communication skills can be used to provide a deeper community experience within a co-living space, but can also help operators expand their brand in a way that is coherent and attractive for investors.

An important part of integrating these ideals into the community experience starts with the onboarding process. From the beginning of their experience, new residents need to understand certain guidelines and manifestos that are curated by co-living operators themselves so that they behave with a sense of accountability and respect, and possibly even adhere to a certain set of shared values. PUREHOUSE LAB’s Communication Research Forum Coordinators, Xavier Cazard and Valérie Decroix emphasize the importance of setting the appropriate expectations from the first entrance, and propose offering new members “Personal Co-living Experience” style guides, chances to present themselves in front of the rest of the community (through a pitch session, for example), orientation nights, buddy systems with established residents and clearly clarifying shared values from the beginning. Cazard and Decroix reference Swedish co-living operator TechFarm, and their set of strong values around ‘conscious co-living’ and ‘entrepreneurial problem solving’, which include remaining curious, courageous, communicative, committed and compassionate, among other values.

Once a resident feels like they are integrating into their co-living community successfully, there are also a few communication techniques that are important for maintaining strong relationships and connections with their fellow community members. When asking Base Commons founder Al Jeffery about these sorts of techniques, he referred to one in particular, circling, several times:

“Circling is a group meditation/sharing process to allow groups to explore any given topic and allow open dialogue around it … Purpose of these is to create space for openly sharing. Important that these are facilitated carefully as to allow vulnerability to be shared and the undercurrent of group dynamics to rise to the surface.”

Power of Five: Curating our Tribes Intentionally sharing circle (Source: Returning to Base)

Jeffery also emphasizes the importance of group agreements (such as the ‘Blueprint of We’ model) and forming an evolving document for all residents that outlines the operating principles of the space. These principles must be upheld by community members, but also staff, and according to Cazard and Decroix the staff has a responsibility to keep a strong level of engagement with residents and respect each of the members’ ideas, feedbacks and projects that align with the set of shared values defined by the operator and/or group.

These communication skills, storytelling techniques and onboarding guidelines are crucial elements of assuring that co-living spaces respect a set of shared values and that the residents within the space respect one another. So much so that even the larger scaled co-living operators such as The Collective in London have created a specific ‘Community Facilitator Fellowship‘ program in order to produce a framework for communication skills and community experience for their current and future spaces. Creating a sense of accountability within the community leads to powerful community engagement that contributes to an increase of leadership and empowerment within residents of a co-living space, which ultimately has the potential to diffuse into local neighborhoods and on a citywide level.

 

The impact and importance of external communications

As noted above, co-living operators often use storytelling methods such as co-living testimonials to market their spaces to the outside world and attract new residents. Since co-living is still a relatively new concept, people unfamiliar with the concept may be curious to hear and see what it is like to live in a co-living space. For example, The Collective has recently launched their We Are The Collective photo and video series, and other spaces have similar series to showcase their space and introduce experienced co-livers from their communities (see also Sun and Co.’s Meet The Colivers, People of Roam and Cohabs’ Meet a Member series). These are valuable tools to use in order to market a space and the co-living phenomenon to potential residents and also to create a sense of value and connection amongst current members, making them feel like they are part of something new and innovative.

External communications are an important tool for marketing and sales, but it also helps in the realm of investments and developing an attractiveness for city planners and potential partners. Marketing tools help demonstrate the social and cultural capital that exist in co-living spaces, making them an important measurement for impact investments, for example. This can also help traditional real estate developers wanting to enter the co-living market get a better understanding of what these spaces offer to residents. Additionally, these tools give co-living spaces visibility to city planners and policymakers who could be interested in co-living spaces in terms of territorial marketing strategies, in order to highlight them as innovation spaces that contribute vibrant dynamics to the social, cultural, human and economic capital in their cities.

Cohabs in Brussels, showcasing the opening of one of their new spaces on their Facebook page (Source: Cohabs Facebook Page)

These external communication tools, combined with the communication skills needed to integrate members and to foster environments that encourage dialogue around resolving conflicts are integral aspects of the co-living experience. Similarly to other aspects of co-living spaces, such as the design, communications amongst members and the staff is usually more effective when they are made collectively through group agreements. Although co-living operators must enforce operational codes and health and safety regulations, there are other types of group agreements that can be made around shared values, onboarding and responsibilities that are done through more participatory approaches. By integrating certain communication tools and skills that are used for participatory community building and shared living (some of which have been suggested in this chapter), co-living operators can provide residents with a sense of autonomy through decision making powers. These elements of empowerment add to an authentic shared living experience that inspires individuals to become engaged and participative.  The Latin and Old French origins of the term communications stem from the ideas of community and fellowship, and without strong communications there is no community!

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