What does it mean to ‘feel at home’?
With the way that we use and value the space around us continuing to evolve, this is a question that numerous innovative businesses are bringing into the centre of their work – converting human comfort into profit. But why?
Airbnb is an obvious example of an organisation that has disrupted their industry with new thinking. Managing to blur the line between exploring an unknown, faraway place and still ‘feeling at home’ is no small feat, but they’ve pulled it off brilliantly. Now, the function of an anonymous hotel room with an almost-double bed, standardised window and mini toiletry bottles is not always what we’re looking for. Especially when the alternative is to temporarily ‘live’ in and really feel like we’re a part of the place that we’ve chosen to be our destination. Airbnb’s slogan ‘Belong Anywhere’ says it all, promising something far beyond Instagram attention and an average night’s sleep.
This is just one example of how the sharing economy has taken another leap forward, stepping up from simply providing services to sharing personal and private space as well…
…and it’s not confined to the places we travel to either. In recent years the notion of office space has completely shifted from photocopiers and watercoolers to slides between floors, bike racks in meeting rooms and beer on tap in the kitchens. Though Google might have been one of the first companies to build an environment for its workers that inspired innovation (and probably longer working hours) it’s caught on and not going anywhere. Better still, you don’t have to be a tech giant to have fun wallpaper anymore. With the boom of start-ups, emerging concepts like WeWork are catering to small businesses who still want the space they sit in from 9am-5pm to be comfortable, creative and part of a community of people who think like they do.
And that’s not all they’ve come up with…
WeLive is WeWork’s answer to rising rent prices, unreasonable landlords and the roulette of risk that can be SpareRoom. Instead, for a fixed monthly rate you can enjoy amazing living spaces, a month-on-month contract and a readymade community of like-minded people to welcome you into their way of life. With organised socials in communal areas and an online forum to meet other people in your building, as well as those in different locations across the globe, it’s reminiscent of glorified student halls for young professionals.
What these three business models have in common is the way that they appeal to our desire to ‘belong’ through the unique spaces that they engineer. It’s no coincidence that ‘We’ appears in both of WeWork and WeLive’s names – the feeling of ‘togetherness’ and that you’re buying into something ‘bigger’ than yourself is what they woo you with, not comfy sofas and sparkly kitchens. As with Airbnb, both slogans for the ‘We’ concepts appeal to people’s sense of self, with ‘Be the Founder of Your Life’, ‘Do What You Love’ and ‘Love Your Life’, all challenging individuals to seek more out of the sq ft they’re renting than they ever have before.
I think the main future-facing point here is that sharing economy services cater brilliantly to a tech savvy cohort of younger consumers – gens Y and, in the future, Z. But part of the reason for this might be because they are independent for longer – not tied down by mortgages/children/careers/existential doubts about their compromised existences. Maybe they never will be (a lot of people my age are all but giving up on the idea of owning their home) but for others these are all things that will just happen later in life.
So as the meaning of age has changed and will continue to change in the future (see graph below), it is creating a whole new definition of space along with it.
Bricks and mortar have never had to deliver so much. In terms of what is to come in the future, it’s fair to say that the traditional rule book has been thrown well and truly out of the window.