Hotels are adapting to make the most of the remote working trend, providing flexible workspaces and setting up co-working venues to meet demand.
Laptops, tablets and scuffed notepads are dotted across a communal table, behind which people of various ages, professions and nationalities get on with their day’s work, some engaging in stimulating conversations with surrogate colleagues while others are laser-focused on the task at hand, their ear buds blocking out background noise. It’s a scene remote workers will be familiar with – the only difference is that you’re sitting a couple metres from people checking in and out.
In recent years, hotel brands have capitalised on the growth in remote and hybrid working, redesigning public spaces to include shared workspaces, converting unoccupied rooms into offices that can be rented by the day (see Our guide to working from hotels, October 2020), or setting up standalone co-working venues. On a personal level, this has made my business travel life a lot easier. Hotel stays now come with comfortable workspaces on my temporary doorstep.
Product of the pandemic
Historically, public spaces in hotels have had little function other than to serve as a reception area. Buzzy in the morning and late afternoon, the lull in between calls for activity – preferably one that generates some revenue.
While savvy remote workers have long used such spaces for work, the recent growth in hybrid work lifestyles owing to the pandemic has undoubtedly increased interest and prompted redesigns of public areas.
“I don’t know what’s the chicken and the egg in this situation, but for me this trend is to stay. It just might fluctuate a bit,” says Anna Spjuth, chief commercial officer of Nordic hotel group Scandic Hotels.
Spjuth is not wrong. In its recent report, Public opinions and social trends, Great Britain, published September 7, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 36 per cent of working adults worked from home at some point in the seven-day period of August 17-29. This percentage oscillated between 33 and 40 per cent in the weeks from March 30 to August 29.
Scandic Hotels launched a network of co-working spaces at 270 hotels across Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Poland in September 2020, in both city and suburban locations. The shared workspaces, open around the clock, can only be booked on a drop-in basis on the day, though it’s possible for small and large companies to book a private office on a monthly basis. Amenities at the co-working spaces include wifi, power outlets, complimentary coffee, tea and water, print and copy services and a 10 per cent discount on food. Customers can also add a buffet breakfast or a meeting room for additional fees. Guests, meanwhile, can use the facilities free of charge. “Just a few years ago [in the Nordic countries], people wouldn’t go into a hotel if they weren’t staying in it. We are breaking a trend here by telling them, ‘It’s okay to come in; we want you to be with us’,” says Spjuth.
Meanwhile, Marriott International’s premium brand, Sheraton Hotels and Resorts is undergoing a global brand transformation, with 20 properties to date featuring new work-orientated public spaces.
“The new approach is to create spaces to connect, be productive, and help travellers feel connected to the local community,” explains Amanda Nichols, global brand leader, Sheraton Hotels and Resorts.
A signature element of the redesign is its ‘Community Table’, a long oak table with built-in wireless charging, USB ports and plug sockets, well-designed lighting and space to work, eat and drink. Unlike Scandic, there is no charge for guests or locals, and no assurances you will get a spot either.
“We hear from our hotels that the Community Table seats are the first to go each day, and that guests come down early to get their seat and set up for the day,” adds Nichols. Lobby use at Sheraton’s redesigned properties has also increased, with the space “no longer viewed as transactional or a place to wait” but rather people are “staying for longer and transitioning from breakfast meetings, working to afternoon drinks”.
Hotels, however, must tread a fine line as they don’t want guests’ first impressions to be one of entering an office. “We let the hotel decide what is best for the guests coming in. One size does not fit all here, we are one brand, but we have quite different hotels,” Spjuth explains. The design of hotels’ co-working spaces varies across properties, taking into account architectural differences, the location (city or suburb) and clientele. Scandic, for instance, offers relaxed lounge seating in lobbies at select hotels but takes a different approach for “high-pulse” hotels, such as the Haymarket Hotel in Stockholm where the workspace is located on the quieter first floor.
Hotels must also consider the differing preferences of co-working customers – some look for a more peaceful setting while others want spaces conducive to collaboration. The Sheraton brand had this in mind during its redesign. The soundproofed booths in the lobby, designed for those wanting to take a video call or requiring a quieter working space, have proven particularly popular. “We’re hearing from hotels that both guests and locals are using them for hours at a time,” Nichols tells me.
Meanwhile, glass-walled meeting spaces (known as Studios) can be reserved via a QR code. “They’re designed to give guests their own collaborative space but not remove them from the buzz and energy of the lobby,” Nichols adds. Those looking for a more collaborative process in a “less formal setting” can instead opt for the aforementioned Community Table.
Some hotel brands have instead set up standalone venues, separate from their guest operations. German brand Ruby Hotels, which operates 14 properties across Europe, set up Ruby Workspaces in 2015 and offers monthly membership plans as well as day passes. “When our old office in Munich became too small due to our strong growth, we took this as an opportunity to launch a pilot,” explains Fabian Zellinger, director corporate development, new venues and workspaces, and member of the Executive Board.
Since its Munich debut, it has added workspaces in Hamburg and Dusseldorf, with a Vienna outpost recently joining the portfolio. The latter is a 4,000 sqm space set in Vienna’s palatial former post office, providing 450 workstations and nine bookable meeting rooms. As well as day passes, there are flexible contracts for individuals or teams. All passes include wifi, an allowance for booking meeting rooms, bottomless barista coffee, tea, water and fruit. The connection with the hotel is also evident, with those on contracts receiving a 15 per cent discount on rooms at every Ruby Hotels property.
Why not opt for hot-desking in hotel lobbies instead? “Our observation is that these concepts are only moderately accepted by customers, especially if the equipment and service offerings are not geared toward working. Very few hotel operators have really understood that it is not enough to offer free wifi and coffee at a flat rate to be a ‘workspace’,” Zellinger explains.
Ruby Workspaces combine ergonomic office furniture with characterful vintage pieces, antique accessories and a social space that hosts after-work events. “The right atmosphere plays a big role in how we feel, which directly affects our output. A lot of work goes into selecting materials, finishes and lighting to foster wellbeing,” Zellinger adds.
Aside from freelancers and remote workers, a number of companies have abandoned long-term office contracts, instead renting flexible spaces that better fit their hybrid work policies.
Amex Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) has designed a solution, predictably called Workspaces, for such clients. The booking platform, launched in partnership with meetingsbooker.com, has 185,000 spaces around the world, with customers able to book space for up to ten people to work or meet. These vary from guest rooms with desks to small meeting rooms in hotels, restaurants, cultural and business centres – all with reliable wifi. Customers booking a space at hotel destinations will also receive discounts on food, beverages and parking, along with complimentary bottled water and access to fitness centres and pools for post-work pampering. Clients using Workspaces can also benefit from preferential rates and terms from Amex GBT’s hotel partners, all of which are visible on the search results.
You don’t have to be an Amex GBT client to benefit. The same spaces are available to individuals on meetingsbookers.com where they can view, compare and filter various workspaces based on location, venue type, facilities and sustainability. The drawback is that they won’t get the aforementioned perks for free.
Hotel brands, too, are seeing interest from companies. Aside from freelancers, Ruby Workspaces sees a lot of interest from local companies,teams and ‘company outposts’ (employees who work away from their company’s office). Its contracts offer private offices with up to 12 desks, along with meeting rooms, secure storage and a business address.
It was clear from my interviews that the ‘buzz’ element is a huge reason for the success of such workspaces. It’s a win-win for hotels and customers alike, with unused spaces brought to life and remote workers no longer feeling isolated. “It’s a way of reaching new markets, [gaining] new revenue but also making our properties livelier during the day. It’s a really nice vibe and much more dynamic than a traditional office space,” says Spjuth.
It’s the same at Sheraton, with lots of enthusiasm for the Community Table concept. Nichols says: “I have relished entering a hotel and seeing how much people are loving the feeling of being amongst each other…It’s refreshing and invigorating, and makes for an inspiring workplace.”
It should come as no surprise that brands are continuing to roll out such offerings. Ruby Workspaces is opening an Amsterdam property this month, with three as-yet undisclosed destinations to follow next year. “So, we won’t be bored,” Zellinger jokes. Meanwhile, Sheraton has plans for more than 15 transformed properties by the end of the year – roughly 10 per cent of the brand’s global portfolio. With business travel set for a strong rebound, there’s going to be a cohort in need of hot desks. Sign us up.
THE COST OF CO-WORKING
- Day pass: €9 (€19 including breakfast)
- Hotel room office: €65 per day; €295 per week (Mon-Fri) Note that prices vary by country
- Day pass: from €30 (€18 for members)
- Flex desk: from €250-€300 per workstation per month
- Dedicated desk: from €350-€400 per month
- Shared office: from €400-€450 per month
- Private office: from €450-€650 per workstation per month
Sheraton Hotels and Resorts
- There are no charges for using the Community Table or Booths. The charge for Studios varies by property.