The sharing economy is here to stay. We now live a world where Airbnb hosts more rooms in more global destinations than any major hotel chain, and Uber is competing with Google to produce the first self-driving taxi. But in the craze over collaborative consumption, when does "smart" sharing cross the line into "oversharing"?
Meet Vrumi. Launched in London in 2014, Vrumi is an Airbnb-style website where you can book desk space in a stranger's apartment or home. Unlike other coworking or office-rental services that offer workspaces in empty conference rooms and cafés, Vrumi specializes in properties where people actually live. When the homeowner heads off to work, in come the freelance web developers, writers, yoga instructors, therapists and other nomadic members of the "gig economy." Rental rates range from 20 to 300 pounds a day (or $24 to $366), with a few available for more than 600 pounds. And these guests are not staying overnight.
The idea makes a certain amount of sense — to utilize (and monetize) spaces that normally sit empty during the day and give workers a homey place to work that's a whole lot cooler than their actual homes. But is renting out workspace in your own apartment taking the sharing economy ethos a step too far? Would you really want to come home from long day at the office to an apartment full of earbud-wearing coders who left their empty takeout containers on your dining table?
"Most great ideas sound absurd at first," says Alex Stephany, a London-based sharing economy expert and author of "The Business of Sharing." "Many of the venture capitalists that Airbnb pitched to thought it was a completely crazy idea, that no one would want a stranger coming into their homes and sleeping in their beds. I think those investors are ruing their decision now."
There's no doubt that the sharing economy has captured the hearts and minds (and wallets) of Americans — more specifically college-educated, young, affluent, city-dwelling Americans. According to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of American adults have used some type of online sharing service, whether it was a ride-hailing app like Uber, or an online marketplace like Craigslist.
But there's a definite "sharing gap" — participation in the sharing economy is markedly higher in college-educated people under 45 who live in urban areas. Folks with lower incomes and education levels are far less likely to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign or sign up for online grocery delivery.
Still, for a certain segment of the population, an apartment/office-sharing service like Vrumi or its rival Spacehop could be highly attractive. Let's say you're a 30-something Spanish-language instructor with a slate of corporate clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead of meeting at a noisy Starbucks or traveling to each of their offices, you could book a few hours in a quiet and stylish loft in the Mission District. You look more professional and there's a great burrito joint right around the corner!
Nick Martland, 24, is a regular user of Spacehop in London as he runs his entertainment company. "I often book a day midweek, to get through some work calls and emails," he told London's Daily Telegraph. "The beauty of it is there can be other hoppers there [at the same house], so when you take breaks you can meet new people who might be able to help you out in the future. So it's a good way of networking as well."
This video explains Spacehop's M.O.
There are logistical and practical considerations, of course. As with Airbnb, hosts must specify when their apartment is available as office space and establish a system for handing off the key. Vrumi recommends a lockbox with an access code that can be changed frequently for added security. Speaking of security, Vrumi uses ID verification software to make sure that renters are who they say they are. And hosts can buy optional insurance for 2 pounds ($2.45) a day to cover potential damages or theft.
Right now there are no similar services in the U.S. offering homes and apartments as workspaces. On websites like Breather and Sharedesk you can search for available meeting rooms and workspaces in your city, but you're not likely to find anyone's wart medication in the bathroom.