Working from Hotels – The New Stack

What’s a remote worker to do when they’re tired of working from their home?

A little over a year ago CNBC reported on remote workers who’d simply moved into the great outdoors, “working from internet hotspots in their vans and spending their free time in nature and exploring new places.” But Kenzo Fong, CEO of the tech company Rock, did it only during the day, using his van as a mobile remote office, parking in various locations around San Francisco.

Still, not everyone wants to work in a van — and for those people, there are hotels.

More than two years after that tweet, the DoubleTree hotel in Springfield Missouri is still offering a reduced “day rate” to try to attract remote workers. “Yeah, absolutely,” a hotel employee confirmed in a phone interview this week, noting it’s usually 50% of the regular room rate.)

While there was a spike during the peak of the pandemic, “It’s not as popular now as it may have been,” the helpful clerk noted.

Hilton also has a webpage promising “remote working without distractions.” The hotel site promised that “Our day-use rooms include a spacious desk, ergonomic chair, and enhanced WiFi — offering you a clean, flexible, and distraction-free environment for productive remote working.”

And Marriott hotels are now touting remote worker-friendly venues, inviting potential customers to “maximize your productivity so you can get the most out of your workday.” Its website lists 18 different locations offering 12-hour day passes — 6 am to 6 pm — including “complimentary bottled water” in facilities “where the WiFi is as strong as the coffee.”

And some hotels are now taking things much, much further, seeing remote workers as the next growth sector of the market, and ambitiously offering luxurious remote-working experiences to try to attract their business.

Is a major cultural shift happening right before our eyes?

Saving the Hotel Industry?

Earlier this year a hospitality management school in Switzerland asked their industry’s burning question: “is this growing mobile workforce in fact an unprecedented opportunity for hotels?”

The school’s website goes on to say “From independent hotel venture Zoku in Amsterdam, which pioneered the hybrid hospitality-concept, to Eaton House in Hong Kong or the Virgin hotel in Chicago, or from bigger chains like Ace Hotel or Moxy by Marriott, the concept of encouraging flexible working in hotels has been tried and tested, and proven its appeal and success.”

The site argues that the change is partly driven by a drop in international travelers — both business travelers and tourists — due to the travel restrictions imposed by various countries. For hotels seeking to adapt, “turning to a different kind of guest and local customer is proving a smart way to boost business.”

One added advantage? This ultimately leaves hotels “more integrated and connected with the city and neighborhood in which they find themselves.”

Other industry observers agree. “Hoteliers are wise to work their assets in new ways as they cope with changes to their industry,” noted a columnist in the Economist last week, pointing out that “business travel is, after all, unlikely to return to pre-pandemic patterns for a while, if ever.”

But hotels catering to remote workers can take many forms, with some now trying to morph into co-working facilities.

In 2018 the hotel consulting service Horwath HTL released a report noting hotels were already adding more common areas and shared spaces while turning their business centers into coworking spaces.

But the pandemic may have accelerated that trend, since the multinational hospitality company Accor now boasts that more than 600 different companies are using its branded “Wojo” coworking spaces in Europe, making daily use of its common areas and coworking spaces, as well as its private offices and meeting rooms. A promotional page points out that the company is planning to expand it into more than 500 sites and locations.

Their pitch to remote workers includes promises of “a personalized welcome, designer surroundings, a friendly atmosphere, and reliable, secure Wi-Fi connection.” A promotional video pushes their offering even harder, asking what is work — really? “A 9-to-5? An office…? Let’s be honest, that was so 2000… Our habits have changed, and so should our mindset…”

“Calling all audacious businessmen and women, inspired startuppers, world players, influential adventurers, tech geeks, old school traders, quirky artists — yeah, them too — and everything in between. We welcome you in all our workplaces…

“What if we no longer saw work as a place but as an opportunity…?”

Ditching Distractions

Accor is far from the only hotel that’s started chasing this trend and pursuing the remote worker market.

Since 2017 the Crowne Plaza hotel chain (spread across nearly 100 different countries) has been integrating working spaces into its lobbies, with communal seating, semi-private seating — and a dedicated private meeting space that can be reserved by the hour. And in 2019 even an upscale chain of hotels known as The Hoxton added co-working facilities to two of its hotels, one in London and one in Chicago. “Like working from home, without the distractions,” boasts its webpage.

That page also claims their comfy sofas have been “the unofficial workspace of choice” since 2006, adding “We’re coworking, but better, with nice perks, rip-off-free rates, and none of the distractions of home.”

To entice remote workers, the company lists all the hotel’s advantages. Pursuing the page for Chicago’s hotel reveals various price levels, with the cheapest one being a day pass. (“Need a break working from home? Sick of setting up camp on your couch? Come and work at ours for just $30 for the day — bottomless teas and coffees included.”) There’s also espresso (and pantries with snacks), plus ergonomic chairs, outdoor terraces, and even daybeds equipped with Apple TVs. A laundry service is also offered — and use of the rooftop pool. Desk-side food delivery is even available from the hotel restaurants.

Last week Travel Weekly spoke to Gaurav Bhushan, co-CEO of the chain’s parent company Ennismore, who clarifies that the hotel also has an “open house” philosophy welcoming remote workers (and the occasional student) into common spaces to use the free WiFi — even if they’ re not staying at the hotel.

“They often become prime candidates for the coworking space,” Bhushan explained on the site, adding that in general their co-working offering “has been very successful so far,” and that it’s now become “definitely a key focus for us as we go forward,” with plans to extend it to more hotels soon.

Working in the Countryside

Creative hoteliers are experimenting with many unique lusts.

In April the Financial Times reported about paying a visit to the Birch (which launched in April of 2020). “Lying on my large bed in a light and quiet room overlooking storm-strewn daffodil lawns, I wondered if I had arrived at the future of work,” wrote Emma Jacobs.

Outside Jacobs caught glimpses of roaming pigs as well as a chicken coop, herb garden, wellness center and swimming pool — as well as freelancers using the shared spaces (who “made me feel that I hadn’t quite escaped work.”). At its co-working facility (called The Hub), “Members seemed happy enough in co-working spaces that were fun and relaxed, with the requisite tankards of free juice, as well as coffees and sandwiches to buy,” Jacobs wrote.

Co-founder Chris King tells the Financial Times that “Post-COVID, there’s clearly a bigger audience that is interested in working near home, and there’s a raft of new offers coming to market to meet this demand.”

This week the Associated Press shared another new category of remote working, writing about summer vacationers who are extending the length of their vacations by working remotely for a few extra days.

Some hotel chains are now even offering programs that allow remote workers to never check out — like Selina CoLive, a “month-to-month CoLiving program” starting at just $450 a month. It’s a subscription package which, according to its 2020 blog post, offers “continuous month-after-month accommodation in beautiful locations across the globe.” Choose from 13 countries in Central and South America, as well as five destinations in the US (in Miami, Chicago, and Washington DC), and several more in the UK Greece, Portugal, and Israel — and one in Austria.

A new press release this month explained the hotel is offering accommodations at more than 60 destinations, arguing that they’ve “changed the remote work landscape and enabled digital nomads to travel seamlessly across the globe.”

For higher-end travelers, there’s the $2,500 a month Inspirato Pass, which bills itself as “the world’s first luxury travel subscription,” covering all your luxury lodging fees in over 100 destinations around the world.

But is it possible to take the amenities too far? Last week the columnist in The Economist explored the idea with an in-person visit joking that “A colleague’s PowerPoint presentation would go down better by the poolside, washed down with a mojito.” The reporter visited Birch, a hotel in a Georgian manor on 55 acres of Hertfordshire offering a frou-frou co-working area, as well as the Shangri-La hotel in the Shard (offering a special rate for room rentals from 10 am to 6 p.m.)

But FT also asked an inconvenient question: “how productive can workers be with all the distractions that are designed to make work not feel like work?

“The spectacular view from the Shard is less conducive to dreaming up a sales pitch (or a column) than it is to daydreaming.”


Feature image: Accor.

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