Q&A with Nido: what co-living can learn from the PBSA sector

We spoke to Nido's CEO Darren Gardner about the future of co-living and what learnings it can take from the PBSA sector.

Nido's CEO Darren Gardner in conversation about the co-living sector with BTR News
Nido's CEO Darren Gardner in conversation about the co-living sector with BTR News.

In conversation with Nido’s CEO Darren Gardner, we explored the co-living sector and what it can learn from the purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) sector, the changes and growth co-living has experienced over the last few years, and where it stands among the growing influence of ESG and sustainability-based practises. Darren also explores the importance of feedback, how Nido utilises it to provide the best service they can offer, which aids in the continuous progression of the company.

The co-living sector is still evolving and needs to promote high quality and best-in-class schemes and outcomes. What can co-living learn from PBSA in terms of asset operations?

Both the co-living and student accommodation sectors have gone through a great deal of change over the last three years, impacted by successive lockdowns across Europe. However, we are seeing increasing co-living demand driven by fundamentals such as a shortage of housing supply and a growing population across Europe.

Student accommodation is the closest shared living model that co-living can learn from and a focus on residents’ shared experience and their inclusion in the management and design of assets is an important step in co-living’s evolution.

Additionally, top operators can set themselves apart by offering services such as a reception which accepts guests and parcels, cleaning and catering, accepting pets and hosting community events. Meanwhile, bonus amenities could include co-working stations, wellness facilities and meeting or entertainment rooms. This is what customers are looking for when they choose to live in a co-living asset.

In your experience of operating over 5,000 rental units in Europe, does co-living appeal to a specific demographic, or can it be designed to integrate different types of living?

In the past, co-living has primarily appealed to young professionals who were relocating to larger cities. However, I believe that there is potential for co-living to adapt and cater to various demographic groups based on their specific needs. One such opportunity is intergenerational living, which could attract both young families and the elderly, among other demographic combinations, by addressing their unique requirements. As long as the management teams, developers, and operators are well-connected and grasp the underlying goals of co-living spaces, they can effectively respond to the diverse demands of different demographic groups. In this environment all age groups benefit from living together and the overall community is enhanced greatly.

How important is tech integration in co-living developments and what can co-living learn from the now more mature PBSA sector?

PBSA has emerged as a frontrunner in integrating technology within the residential sector, primarily due to its target demographic consisting of digitally savvy individuals who are prone to becoming frustrated with a lack of tech integration. At Nido, we have embraced this trend by digitally translating our management and operations through the integration of our website, PMS and CRM system for a seamless customer journey across all our developments. This is supported by the Nido resident app and the Nido wellbeing hub once residents move in, which enables us to swiftly address practical and logistical needs, as well as cater to the physical and mental wellbeing requirements that our residents communicate to us. There are also the very practical things like keyless access control through your phone and enhanced security that makes people feel safe. I believe that the co-living sector can learn from this approach.

By evolving its reputation as an asset class that caters to the needs of modern customers and offers contemporary shared living experiences, co-living can place a strong emphasis on hassle-free operations and communication through technological advancements.

From operating student accommodation, what are the key learnings you can offer co-living operators that they take forward in operating co-living assets?

A crucial lesson that Nido has learnt is the importance of continuous feedback. Given that residents typically change every 12 months or so, it is possible to discover, after five years, that the intended living experience no longer aligns with the needs of any current residents. To address this, we prioritise conducting regular surveys to gain insights into our residents’ wellbeing concerns, design preferences and areas where they require support. This feedback allows us to continually evolve our operations, enhance our brand and ensure that residents remain satisfied and continue to choose Nido.

A similar approach should be adopted in successful co-living endeavours. By understanding the recurring concerns within the resident community and incorporating that feedback into the operational plan of community managers, co-living spaces can effectively adapt and meet the evolving needs of their residents.

You would be surprised how the design, layout, amenity offering, and provision of services has changed over the past three to seven years as the way people use their homes evolves. Our communities have very different requirements today than they would have done ten years ago.

Will sustainable design and operations be key to the expansion and evolution of co-living? Which European markets have the greatest demand for sustainability in co-living?

Shared living inherently possesses greater sustainability compared to other residential sectors, as it involves communal use of utilities and equipment within a building. However, it is imperative that we surpass conventional requirements and demonstrate to our residents the sustainability, social impact and environmental consciousness of our operations and assets.

In recent years, a focus on sustainable practice and having a positive environmental impact has been brought to the fore for everyone, particularly with the backdrop of the climate crisis. In cities like Copenhagen where sustainable living is prioritised, residents have high expectations from us, but we have risen to the challenge. We’ve also applied the same philosophy across all our European assets: focusing on the design and materials used in the development, embedding innovative smart technology, and educating and empowering our residents to drive positive change.

In addition to sustainability being a priority for our residents, and of course the added value it brings to an asset, we are also very aware that ESG is increasingly important to the political agenda. In some markets, the government is regulating the space so it is imperative that we deliver assets that adhere to the highest standards.