How to build a strong residential community — Chapter two of The Ultimate Guide to Running and Scaling Thriving Residential Communities
Welcome to chapter 2 of the Ultimate Guide to Running and Scaling Thriving Residential Communities. While in chapter 1 we focused on what you can do to build your community before opening your doors, part two will be a deep dive into how to bring your community to life, once your residents move in.
This chapter is structured into 3 main parts:
- Part 1 — General principles when building residential communities (this part)
- Part 2 — Tools and frameworks that can help you activate your community
- Part 3 — Tips and tricks to help you activate your residents
Special thanks to everyone that has helped to set us on the right path, in particular to Bass Akkermann (Hive Coliv), Brian Welsh (Nido Student), Marta Wheeldon (UKO), Javier Caro (CBRE), Williams Johnson Mota (B-Hive Living), Eddie Sit (Dash Living), Florian Färber (The Base), Matthew Lesniak (Conscious Coliving), Connor Moore (, Aitana (Spatial Experience), Jan Keck (Ask Deep Questions), Gaetan de Dietrich (Independent Advisor), and Cate Maiolini (Salto KS), Christian Schmidt (Coliv) and Salto KS), Tim Buffing (Habyt), Robert Birch (Gravity Coliving), and Andres Nieto (WeVLC).
Remember: whenever you get stuck, or your community is not really getting off the ground, I warmly encourage you to go back to chapter 1, to see if there is something in the foundations of your community that you should fix first.
And finally: Keep in mind that the business you are in is not real estate, nor is it hospitality or an event planning agency; You are in the business of building personal relationships. This is essential as personal relationships form the basis for any later engagement, and determine mpt only resident satisfaction, but also if someone will extend their stay with you or is likely to drop out.
Let’s dive right in and start with the 10 general principles to bring your community to life
When building your community, there are some general principles to keep in mind. 10 of the most important ones are outlined here:
#1 — Spark the fire, then let it burn
As the community host, your role is to help people ease into the community that you are building by connecting them with each other, introducing them to other relevant members, and also making sure that they have what they need to let their guard down, as authentic relationships really start developing once everyone can see past the high-gloss social personas of each other. Important to keep in mind that while you can orchestrate the fire, and light the first sparks, your role then becomes to find other people to contribute and keep the fire burning with their own wood to it so that you can take a step back and allow the community to step in.
- Listen to Gaetan on the role of a community builder here.
#2 — Work bottom-up — not top down
This is probably one of the most important rules on how to bring your communities to life: To build a strong and engaged community the trick is to empower your residents to build their own communities and as result create a community that’s bottom-up instead of top-down. How? Listen to your community, ask them what they enjoy, what they are missing, and what they want to accomplish both personally and professionally, and then come up with ways how you can help them accomplish this as a community, and with you being in a support role, and not the events manager.
- Read more about the different coliving community management approaches in Gui Perdix's classic article.
#3 — Focus on helping your residents build individual relationships
While this is very work-intensive, the more you focus on building individual relationships with your residents, the more your community will get off the ground. While this might sound counterintuitive at the beginning, it really comes down to helping your residents develop closer personal relationships first, before they will feel comfortable, open, and ready to dive deeper into your bigger community offering. This highlights that the ultimate core of your experience is how well you succeed in helping your residents form new relationships, and create an environment of trust, and safety where new relationships can flourish.
- Read more about the power of smaller gatherings in coliving here.
#4 — Build with Dunbar’s numbers in mind
When thinking about the optimal size to build your residential community, Dunbar’s numbers are a good guidepost. He has learned that social interactions and community form around certain group sizes. He has seen that the most intimate interactions happen within the core group of 5 people, the next level is 15, then 50, then 150. So when thinking about how to activate your community, make sure to keep these numbers in mind: How can you create activities or invite interactions that correspond to those group sizes? Here, it's advisable to work from the inside out — what can you do that allows a handful of like-minded people to meet? Then how can you bring these groups together around bigger themes? Also, think about how you can use the physical location of your building to create those different group sizes — perhaps there are some shared kitchen areas for 3–4 apartments or some common areas per floor that you can use to cater to the mid-size circles of 15 or 50 people. So even if you are operating a building of say 200–300 beds, make sure you break things down — and identify those residents that naturally gravitate towards taking a more active role and support those.
- Find a deeper dive into Dubar’s numbers in this Article from the BBC.
- Read more about how to apply Dunbar’s numbers to creating coliving communities at scale in this article from Connor Moore.
#5 — Strike the right balance between Service vs Ownership
This is one of the biggest dilemmas in coliving: While you would like to create the best living experience for your community, at the same time, you do not want your community to get the feeling that this is a “done for you” deal. Instead, you’d like them to take ownership of your community and organize themselves. What could help here is to make sure you instill the right culture within your residents early on. This way, the actual behaviour will drive culture for anyone joining later. Also of course make sure that expectations are clear for everyone, and house rules or similar guides are easily accessible to help everyone get off to the right start — and for you to hopefully set the right culture early on. The more you empower your residents to self-service, the less you will need to hold their hands. So think — Is all your community information easily accessible? How do you help your community to learn from each other, and help each other out, instead of referring immediately to their questions to you?
- Read more about the coliving dilemmas in this article.
6. Focus on resident-based programming
How can you find out what the collective passion among your residents is, and then tap into these interests of your residents?
This is how Bass from Hive Coliv is doing it “It all starts with understanding what they do and what they’re looking for. For example, we have a lot of people who are in the crypto space. And a lot of these people are happy to put on events and share their passions and knowledge and like that engage with other tenants. And I think the more that happens, the more other people are also willing to contribute because they’re gaining value and they see that it’s also an opportunity to build their network. It’s an opportunity for them to interact, to sell their personal brand. And the more people see other people do it, the more they want to also do it.”
How do you find out what your residents want? Simply ask them in person, or run a short survey to find out what your residents are currently lacking in your (community) setup. Like this, you leave room for your community to step in and step up. The moment that they become an active member and start contributing to bringing your community to life, your community will become even stronger.
- Listen to Gaetan speak about the importance of resident-based programming in Rooftalks Live.
#7 — Have the right people on the ground
One of the most important components of building strong residential communities is having the right people on the ground. Finding the right people can be challenging, as you are looking for a very specific profile who also needs to share the passion and vision that your community and residents stand for. Finding this fit sets the tone for the community you are creating. This is true for your team members, and also when looking for the ‘star’ residents that can naturally take a more active role. Here, coming from a place of authenticity is critical for anyone that leads within your community. When you care about it and care deeply, people will feel the difference. On the flip side. this level of heavy involvement can also make them vulnerable to burnout or stress, as they may have difficulties saying no or set boundaries.
- Absolute must-read: The Community facilitation handbook from Conscious Coliving.
8. Get the technology right
Connecting residents to each other manually are very time-consuming, and hardly possible the moment you start scaling. However, the moment you start operating at a bigger scale, supporting your residents to connect with the right people becomes even more important as chances to randomly run into the right people become smaller the bigger your community gets. Here technology can help to become the matchmaker and communication platform for your community by facilitating the right introductions. It pays out to invest in a platform that was made to build community, instead of being with a platform that was made to sell advertising. Of course, we’re happy to help.
- Dive right in by reading the Coliving Tech and Apps Guide from Conscious Coliving
- Check out what we are doing with our coliving app at Obeyo :)
#9 — See what works, and do more based on that
Every community is slightly different, as are its people, their passions, preferences and needs to interact. That is why the key to your success will be to experiment and learn fast what works, and then start doubling down on that. Are there events that work well for your community? Then why not make those regular events?
This is how Eddie from Dash Living summarizes their path to success: “Initially we did not have any relationship with our residents. So there was a lot of trial and error. There was a lot of, oh, let’s try to do this, or let’s just offer that — especially with things like sports gatherings, or wine tasting. Of course, we did not love the process of trial and error testing as it was basically shooting in the dark. But then, once we had a little bit of traction going, we could talk to our residents and start getting to know them a little bit through their feedback. Then we started the loop that helped get to know our community better, but it was a lot of hard, hard work.”
- Learn all about the lean startup here.
#10 — Look outside coliving for good practices
When looking for inspiration on how to build strong communities, don’t limit yourself to the coliving niche. Community building has become a very broad and diverse field, with many learning opportunities just beyond your front door. Many of the most successful brands and businesses are creating a huge community and following around them — like Peloton or CrossFit for example. What could you possibly learn from those? Check-in on the kind of communities your residents are hanging out in, and what do they do that you could integrate into your community’s activities too. How are they engaging their community, what works well for them and how could you adopt some of that for your purposes?
- Read all about the power of Community-led growth here.
- Learn how Peloton has scaled their company community-led.
And finally, always remember where you are in your own community lifecycle — Early on in your journey, spend time together to get to know your members and their needs better. See what works, and what your members enjoy and want more of. Want to get ready to scale? See how you can let go of the community — even if it turns out a bit different than you had pre-planned. Have a clear view of who your community stars are and empower them — and replace yourself through the process.
This concludes the first part of chapter 2 of our guide on how to build a strong residential community. While we all wait for the next part to be released, feel free to share any other burning questions that might be on your mind with me.
And of course, stay tuned for the next part of chapter two which is all about diving into practical tools and frameworks that can help you activate your community.
In the meanwhile, sign up here to receive any new chapter of this guide right into your inbox.
- About the Ultimate Guide to Running and Scaling thriving residential communities: To help uncover good practices and learnings on this topic from within the field, we have identified the 50 most burning questions on community building — and reached out to dozens operators and thought leaders to help us answer these questions by sharing their insights, experiences, and learnings with us. Sign-up at obeyo.com and receive our monthly newsletter about all things residential communities, and be notified whenever we release the next parts of the ultimate guide.
- About Michael: Michael is co-founder and CEO at Obeyo. Passionate about connecting people, he loves to explore ideas at the intersection between community, shared living, and technology. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.
- About Obeyo: Obeyo is the first all-in-one operating system and community app for residential living built around the learnings from 100+ shared living operators.