Red Victorian Co-Living Hotel Offers Vibrant Community Online and Off

Article and images cross-posted from Loomio.

Alanna Krause from Loomio caught up with co-living pioneer Jessy Kate Schingler and Brittany Ferrero in San Francisco, where they recently gathered with other social entrepreneurs connected to Enspiral (profiled here by Shareable). They took some time out to talk about how collaboration works in their co-living hotel that is part of their social venture, Embassy Network. The italicized statements are quotes from Jessy or Brittany.

Not Your Average Hotel

The Red Victorian is a co-living hotel and community gathering space. It’s a dynamic, mixed-use location where people come to live, work, and share with one another -- and to experience a new type of collaborative living.

The Red Victorian has an interesting role that it plays in San Francisco, in that it’s a large physical space that’s totally community-run.

When you register at the hotel, you are asked to fill out a profile that’s shared with other guests and residents to facilitate interactions and collaborations. During your stay, you are invited to attend events and host your own, like talks and shared dinners.

We have a combination of residents, short- and long-term guests who come and stay with us, and we also have a commercial space on the ground floor. So we have a lot of different spaces and ways of engaging that we need to make decisions about.

Since its inception in 1904, the Red Victorian has been a cornerstone of the Haight-Ashbury as a gathering place for revolutionaries, artists, and travelers. The current residents are experimenting with ways to bring in the greater community: offering neighborhood memberships to locals, and daytime “living room” memberships for non-residents to work in the space.

Collaborative Decision-Making for Community Building

The Red Victorian has been using Loomio for more than two years. Bringing decision-making online has enabled the community to be far more inclusive than they were with only in-person meetings.

People don’t have to come to a weekly meeting where everything is all decided in that one space. It makes our community more accessible for people with very different lifestyles and schedules. That’s a value we hold really deeply -- it’s important.

The team considered polling software, wikis, and a range of different tools to use alongside their own room and event booking tool, called Modern Nomad. But before Loomio, none were as simple and effective at guiding the group to converge on clear community decisions.

We all have a unique perspective of what’s going on here and how we think it works. You’ll probably get a slightly different answer from everyone you ask. The really interesting thing is that we’ve been able to make all these decisions together, and come up with a voice that we all want to speak as, as a collective and a community.

The Loomio decision archive, which automatically grows as the group collaborates over time, has become an important too for transmitting their organisational culture. When new people join, they are encouraged to read historical threads.

Loomio really speaks to the complexity -- it documents every voice and every thought that goes into a decision.

Instead of getting one answer about "How things are done around here?" people can experience for themselves the different diverse voices that are woven together in each decision.

Building Consensus and Aligning Incentives

One decision Jessy and Brittany brought up as an example was developing a policy for long-term residents to make their room available on the hotel guest list while traveling. It was a topic everyone brought different perspectives to -- from residents struggling with income, to the business needs of the hotel, to ensuring the right mix of people in the house for the community.

Through the conversation, we were able to surface the tensions and interests of people that had not been obvious at the beginning. It started off as a more adversarial conversation -- there was a lot of energy, and concerns and fears on both sides. That was a particular time when the space for people to reflect and break down their thoughts was able to surface the things that were really important for them.

In the end, a consensus was reached for a 50/50 split of revenue between the resident renting out their room and the hotel. This solution allowed incentives to be aligned, so freedom and flexibility could be balanced with financially supporting the community as a whole. Everyone made the decision together, and everyone shares in the burdens and the returns.

Online/Offline: A Virtuous Cycle

Loomio isn’t a replacement for face-to-face communication, but an enhancement of it. This is especially noticeable in a place-based community like the Red Vic. The Red Victorian team has found that introducing an effective space for online collaboration has actually improved their offline collaboration.

A lot of the time Loomio will lead us to have an in-person conversation that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. People will see there’s a tension happening in a conversation online, and they’ll go up and approach the person to do the one-on-one thing. And then both of those people will end up representing each other’s perspectives in the online space. So it’s really a dynamic exchange between the two.

Through ongoing practice, the group has developed the skills to know which conversations should happen in which channels -- some belong in meetings, some one-to-one, some via text, and some online. Using Loomio has helped their in-person meetings to be shorter and more focused on topics that are best for that format.

It feels really nice to have that stability and clarity to say, "This is how I feel about something, and I might change my mind. Let’s all talk about it and work it out."

Jessy sums up succinctly why using Loomio has been so worthwhile for her community:

Investing in making decisions collaboratively has so many benefits. The space that we create is more efficient and effective, and it’s more fun. We end up spending our resources -- whether it’s time or money -- more wisely when people are consulted on the decisions that we’re making. The burden of taking action is not just left to one or two people, but is actually distributed amongst the community.

If you are in the San Francisco area, head over the the Red Victorian yourself to stay in the hotel, co-work in the living room, or attend an event.

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