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Ambience as a Service: Work from Hotel is the new WFH. Why?

Photo by Justin DoCanto on Unsplash

Whether we liked it or not, a whole load of us were forced to embrace the digital nomad lifestyle earlier this year as we promptly hurtled away from normalcy as we knew it.

Immersed in a parallel, simultaneous experience of the domestic and professional, two separate sides of ourselves now sat in the same room. Deft code-switching between corporate-speak and ‘home-speak’ ensued — from buzzwords on a zoom call to banter with partners or children.

Now, as we hit half a year of working from home, novelty is novelty no more. Some of us might be feeling significantly less enthused about this merge, of being a few feet away from our beds and couches but fingertips away from work.

Attending an online team meeting in sweatpants, comfy tees and a little bit of scruff starts feeling weird and incongruent. Home gets a little bit too noisy too, and extra distracting if you have a curious child or a needy pet. On a bad day, the white noise of office chatter seems a more manageable evil than an extraordinarily sunny partner humming while working in the next room, or your neighbour’s children laughing too loudly next door.

But there is hope. As we move past the strictest of lockdown restrictions, an alternative work environment has emerged — one that offers yet another novel experience for our 2020 calendar, though some might say we’ve had enough of unprecedented, novel experiences…

We’re talking about the hotel.

Exploring alternate work spaces

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

With remote work set to become the norm for the near, ever so unforeseeable future, hotels are jumping in on the opportunity to offer up fancy lobbies and luxurious rooms as rentable co-working office spaces.

In the UK, Accor Hotels launched the “Hotel Office” — guests can enjoy working from a hotel room, with the option to treat themselves to an add-on breakfast, snack or lunch-on-the-go option. In the States, New York’s Intercontinental hotel allows teams to hire a private floor of the hotel with more than a dozen individual offices, at a weekly rate.

In Singapore, countless hotels have hopped aboard this WFH (Work from Hotel) plan, with some offering up hotel rooms, and others lobby space, with free-flow coffee and tea. Singapore’s Furama RiverFront hotel even offers the option of a subscription plan of sorts, with a monthly pass fee of $250 for access to their hotel lobby.

And it seems that the hotel might be more popular a work space than the cafe, once a favourite work spot for digital nomads and freelancers alike in pre-Covid times. A quick survey of trends data shows that search interest for keywords related to the work-from-hotel trend far surpasses searches for conducive cafes for doing work.

If we think about why this is the case, several points stand out to us:

Providing Ambience as a Service

Simply put, hotels appeal to harried working professionals because of ambience. A big part of leisure and business travel involves enjoying the accommodation experience. The comforting scent of a hotel lobby, with gentle music tinkering in the background, accompanied by excellent customer service and plush seats are symbols of sterile, vanilla pleasantness. Hotel rooms, with their luxurious beds, fancy showers, beautiful view, and uncluttered desk offer an even higher level of this.

Communal Hotel Spaces as Third Space 2.0

From a cultural perspective, hotels are a fresh new alternative third space to our existing public spaces, for when we want to escape people at home and work. The cafe has been classified by sociologist Ray Oldenburg as one such “third space”- defined as a public, open space for individuals to gather and interact, outside of spaces of work and home.

Other third spaces include other community-building spaces like bars, parks, community centres and the like. These sites allow for a range of spontaneous interactions to take place, from purely phatic to in-depth and rapport-building.

Unlike the cafe, places of transit (hotel lobbies, airport lounges, waiting rooms) have a lower ‘intrusion tolerance’. They often carry with them the unspoken rule for short, surface conversations with fellow patrons should conversation with fellow occupants occur at all, without the pressure to be intentionally social and conversation-carrying as an interlocutor.

From this perspective, the social rules of working from a hotel prove to be more suited for work than a cafe, offering all the perks of cafes and more, with a lower expectation for depth of interaction.

In-between spaces providing pockets of normalcy

On another note, much like how flights to nowhere are taking off, work-from-hotel schemes are popular because they offer people the chance to enact twin routines of normalcy and escapism.

Flight cabins and hotels both stand as liminal spaces, in between foreign land and home country. Plane cabins across different carriers and hotels all over the world are mostly uniform, with an expected set of features regardless of carrier/location. It is this uniformity that makes them feel familiar, but yet at the same time sufficiently unfamiliar enough to provide much needed departure from regular life.

Experience Design for a new Work-Life balance: Why does this matter?

For booking sites and travel aggregators such as Expedia and Booking.com, to AirBnB hosts, hostels and hotel chains, brands playing in the travel and hospitality sectors have much to explore around this half-tourist, half-working professional trend.

How might brands go about crafting the new work routine, and what are some parallel, emerging hybrid arrangements (e.g. Studycations) to jump into as well?

For more of our thoughts on this, get in touch with anurag@quilt.ai for more. Check out our other blogs at https://www.quilt.ai/magazine!



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