Is co-living the new Airbnb for millennial nomads? | Money

My housemates don’t hang around for long in the seven-bedroom loft I’m sharing in Brooklyn, New York. Matthew MacIntosh, a 44-year-old digital copywriter from San Francisco, leaves three days after I arrive on a miserable wet Saturday afternoon in November. Two twentysomething Americans who work in marketing and social media respectively wheel out their suitcases just 48 hours later. There’s no mouse problem, or squalid living conditions and, on this occasion at least, it has nothing to do with my washing-up skills. Instead, this revolving door of housemates is the norm at Outsite, a co-living company aimed at remote workers, freelancers and entrepreneurs – or to use the more frequently used but slightly nauseating term – “digital nomads” – those who aren’t restricted to a physical location and can stay just for two nights or for as long as three months.

With more people working remotely in roles varying from software developer to photographer, co-living is on a rise, with this kind of fluid house share cropping up in all corners of the world, whether Miami, Dublin, Bali or Berlin, and catering to those who want to mix up their backdrop while they work – and, let’s face it, play as well.

Outsite Bali

Outsite has homes internationally, including this one in Bali. Photograph: Nic Morley/Outsite

So after staying with friends in Brooklyn, I lug my suitcases over to Outsite’s Williamsburg outpost, a one-floor white minimalistic loft with seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an open-plan living space with everything your modern millennial may desire: a coffee machine, blender, rooftop, silent washing machine and dryer, and of course, fast wifi. My room Boerum Hill (all rooms are named after Brooklyn neighbourhoods) is spacious, clean and screams Ikea, with a small white desk, chair, white rail and bedside table. Prices start at about $500 (£357) a week.

Sitting in the open living area, it’s not long before I’m surrounded by folk from around the globe who, like myself, often take off for spells abroad, or move from one exotic location to the next. There’s Chris, a Canadian who runs a tequila brand and bases himself at Outsite when he’s in New York; Kat, a 28-year-old software developer from Peru working on creating a platform for finding wellness classes; and Alison, in PR, from Washington. Apart from bumping into people while they’re sorting out their washing or cooking dinner, Outsite organises social activities to create a mini community – even if people are there for only two days. During my stay there’s a cheese and wine night and a friends-giving dinner. The upshot is that if you’re in a city where you don’t know anyone, co-living gives you a gang to hang out with (well, that’s if you like them, of course).

Another benefit is the skill sharing, which kind of just happens naturally. One evening when I mention an issue with my website, Andres Cajiao, a Columbian who works in marketing, jumps on my laptop and within minutes is fixing the problem. I return the favour by pouring us large glasses of red wine. And Matthew, even after he’s left, emails me some work advice and adds me to useful Facebook groups.

This is the result envisaged by Belgian Emmanuel Guisset, 35, who set up Outsite, which now has 17 properties in cities such as Lisbon and Los Angeles. “I was staying in Airbnbs but it wasn’t great for consistency in terms of experience, or getting good wifi,” he says.

“If I stayed in hotels, some were impersonal and expensive for extended stays and there was a feeling of loneliness. A lot of hostels were not my vibe. Then I discovered co-living in San Francisco, and it felt like a community.”

The Outsite spaces vary widely in size with 25 bedrooms available in its Lisbon property while New York offers the lowest with just seven.

MacIntosh, who has become nomadic since March after living in California for 12 years, says he was inspired to stay at Outsite after meeting a digital nomad from Germany who raved about its Venice Beach outpost. “I tried to go in without many expectations, but I was hoping to connect with interesting people doing fascinating things with their lives,” he says.

“When I first moved in, there wasn’t much social interaction – people were mostly out and about – but toward the end of my stay new people arrived who were more interested in connection. I’ve been told that the Brooklyn location isn’t as social as other Outsite locations because there are fewer rooms and a lot of people are in New York for meetings, but I think there’s some randomness to it all. After all, the house is constantly in flux.”

Admittedly, some parts of the set-up don’t work for me. As someone who lives on their own, sharing with seven people living and working from one loft can feel slightly claustrophobic at times. Some of my housemates like to have loud conference calls from the sofa or think nothing of having conversations on loudspeaker. For someone who requires some level of quietness when working, having just one communal table to work from which is both next to the kitchen and close to the TV makes it hard to concentrate.

Suzanne Bearne stayed at the Williamsburg Outsite

Suzanne Bearne stayed at the Williamsburg Outsite in Brooklyn Photograph: Suzanne Bearne

Sometimes I take my laptop into my room but it’s no quiet haven either. It is of course New York, the city that never sleeps, and I soon discover that I too do not sleep. Outsite is located on a very busy main road, and my room is next to a set of traffic lights, and at times there’s unbearable honking traffic.

The other downside is that we each have only a small section in the fridge, meaning I have to limit myself on groceries. As my shelf is only about 15cm high, when I spend the evening knocking up a butternut squash soup and leave it on a shelf it can fit on, the next day I discover that it has disappeared.

By the time I check out, I have mixed feelings about leaving. I’ve met and swapped details with a bunch of interesting people from around the world that I wouldn’t have had the chance to engage with. Would I do it again? Yes, but I’d be tempted to stay in locations and spaces where the living and working space wasn’t squeezed on to one floor – and of course, ensure that this light sleeper doesn’t have a room next to a busy road.

Suzanne Bearne was a guest of Outsite

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