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The Co-working Fix: Providing New Social Gathering Zones

By David Ashen, partner & founder, dash design

This article was published originally on Hotel Executive November 13, 2016

In the U.S. more than one-third of the workforce has worked remotely. No surprise there. If you haven't or don't sometimes telecommute, chances are that someone you know has or does, at least occasionally.

Gallup, which shared the 2015 statistic that 37 percent of workers in the nation have worked off-site-that up markedly from the 9 percent that did so in 1995-also found that the average worker telecommutes twice a month, with 46 percent of remote workers doing so during regular work hours. It's no wonder. Mobile technology has opened the way for on-the-go business owners, executives and others to work remotely while keeping connected with colleagues and clients. Yet, working solo has its limits.

Without the shared work environment of an office, social interaction with co-workers suffers and along with it, the potential for dynamic team-building. Working outside an office also can hinder opportunities to meet with clients for in-person collaborations and presentations to strategize and forward agendas. After all, although a wide variety of information can be shared among individuals and groups through tech and mobile devices, there's nothing quite like the authentic connections that develop when people come together in face-to-face meetings. And when people connect, ideas are shared, solutions are discovered and innovations are spurred. More importantly, humans are social creatures and crave connections with other people. Working outside of an office, and the isolation associated with that, can cause a wide variety of physical and emotional issues.

Co-working at Hospitality Venues

Many hospitality venues have taken notice. Increasingly, they're answering today's heightened demand for flexible work spaces by providing on-site co-working environments, where people can work independently in shared or private spaces, in small or large groups, or in client meetings, all with the support of in-office services, like copier machines and projectors.

Never mind yesterday's point-of-entry receptionist, dedicated office space and shared kitchen. Today's hotels are taking another look at effective co-working spaces. Instead of focusing on how to incorporate traditional modes of work into on-site work environments, like providing shared administrative staff and mail management, hospitality venues now are paying greater attention to ways that maximize the working habits of the millennial generation, the largest group in the workforce. Think of hotel lobbies that blur the bar-lobby-lounge model and become flexible gathering, work and meeting spaces that allow for impromptu collaborations. Or on-site common and social spaces that invite people in and to stay put for engaging and collaborative work or play, allowing guests to participate in a range of experiences. That's a scenario with more appeal to younger workers than the solitary cubicle that was their parents' standard, especially for those that don't need an office, just access to its amenities.

The Commonwealth Hotel Photo Courtesty of Warren Jagger

The Commonwealth Hotel
Photo Courtesty of Warren Jagger

By incorporating co-working environments, hoteliers have an opportunity not only to provide more amenities to keep their guest on their property, but to build revenue by designing spaces that invite people in, foster creativity and encourage community. That matters because the culture of our social environment has changed. With more people working remotely, fewer chances exist for them to gather in office spaces. Outside of that, the ease of online purchasing has led to decreasing numbers of people shopping in malls, along with decreasing numbers of brick and mortar shops, reducing in-person interactions. The more people work and play in isolation the more they'll crave social connections. Hotels are positioned to provide them with new social gathering zones.

Answering a Rising Demand

Co-working spaces aren't new. Since its founding more than 20 years ago, Regus, an international provider of adaptable work areas, now encompasses close to 3,000 business centers for its members' office, meeting, start-up and other business needs in almost 900 cities found in 120 countries, according to its website. Not only does the company make it easy for workers to reserve or drop in and out of a co-working space, but also, depending on their needs, it allows them to do so in different cities, adding considerable work space convenience to the traveling business person. Likewise, Serendipity Labs provides media-ready private, shared and meeting spaces, along with on-site cafes in more than a half-dozen cities in the nation.

Clearly, the need for accommodating work environments is there. In fact, a sort of co-branding is evolving, where the ideals of hotels and co-working companies are merging into the ultimate work and play spaces, inviting guests and the public to work alone or together, socialize or just hang out in communal spaces designed for flexibility. Look at WeWork and NeueHouse, to companies that provide co-working spaces and have changed the game by focusing more on shared communal areas with residential aspects programmed to bring the spaces to life.

Hospitality notable, Marriott, has redefined its properties' meeting spaces by offering a range of celebratory, promotional, productive, educational and other meeting solutions, along with an app where people can see what's available for a spur-of-the-moment business meeting. Increasingly, people are exploring co-working locations that provide social interaction zones or hubs; places where they can settle in, not just for formal meetings but for the flexibility and connectivity with others that comes with communal spaces.

Customizing Through Adaptability

There's more to co-working spaces than creating common areas outfitted with technical and mobile capabilities. Manhattan's NeueHouse, a five-story 1913 building, for instance, has taken its cue from the hotel world by offering co-work and play areas designed to meet the needs of media, fashion and design executives, including a broadcasting studio, screening room, private dining space and meeting rooms. Here, the lobby is much more than a place to enter and leave the building. Rather, it's furnished in zones of upholstered seating and side chairs, conference tables and cafe seating. There also are tiered steps with pillows for informal meetups and conversations. Their opening page of their web page has two powerful words, "culture" and "community". This goes beyond creating a rentable office pod, which comes along with someone to answer the phone and accept your mail. They are creating communities for like minded people…attracting a new creative class who want social interaction, stimulation, and a place to be productive.

As well, the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston embraces a luxury, residential feeling with plug-in zones and spaces for small to large groups of people to gather for work and social engagment. The designs cater to traveling business people in need of an inviting meeting space or comfortable place to hunker down and get to work. The newly built meeting spaces have the traditional ballroom, but also contain a number of flexible spaces that don't have to be reserved, such as informal seating areas tucked in various areas of the pre-function areas that can be inhabited at anytime for an informal gathering or work session. Rooms are large and allow for self imposed isolation, but the new public areas are designed in a flexible way as to create a virtual village where individuals or group and co-mingle.

The Commonwealth Hotel Photo Courtesty of Warren Jagger

The Commonwealth Hotel
Photo Courtesty of Warren Jagger

Activating public spaces like hotel lobbies and restaurant dining rooms to another level gives business people more options in how they work alone and with others. And the more widespread such spaces are, the more convenience and value they provide to the business community. More than that, hotels with coworking areas designed to accommodate their neighborhood's demographics and businesses are sure to attract the notice of those close by, whether it's features that cater to the workday needs of the courthouse down the block, the law office around the corner, the public relations giant across the street or the home-based businesses in the community.

Tying in With Technology

Suitable floorplans, room layouts, furniture and finishes can go a long way to creating effective coworking spaces, but finding ways to integrate needed technology into the areas also is important. Conferencing and digital platforms have to be adaptable enough to meet the needs of shared users with different purposes in mind, sometimes necessitating solutions like pop-up monitors in a space that serves as both a lounge and coworking room. In addition to addressing individual and in-person conferencing demands, the equipment also has to support connectivity to areas outside the coworking space, allowing users in a hotel in, say, New York City, to readily connect and share information with colleagues, business partners or clients in, perhaps, San Francisco, for instance.

Squire Properties' hotel, EAST, Miami, is another property that artfully accommodates leisure travelers while also answering the tech and meeting needs of business travelers with a wide range of function rooms that feature complimentary Wi-Fi access, top-line audio-visual equipment and even technical support, for coworking, presentations and other types of meetings. Among the available spaces are an expansive ballroom, mid-sized event rooms and a boardroom, along with workshops plus outdoor deck areas for meetings and events.

Keeping Connected, Here, There and Everywhere

Working off-site has its advantages, like less time spent commuting and no office distractions, but without being able to connect with others, both technically and in-person, working remotely can leave people short of the tools they need and feeling isolated from their colleagues and the social network that comes from working alongside others. Coworking not only allows for social interaction, but also provides access to everyday office services, such as Wi-Fi connections, copier machines and meeting areas.

Savvy hoteliers know the needs of their region's business people and how to design coworking spaces that support them, from adaptable large-scale ballrooms to work/play lobbies and bar areas, to generous guest suites, catering services and more. The opportunity for hoteliers is to capture our need for community and social interaction and create gathering spaces that invite both the guest and the community in to relax, work, and play. Will hotel common spaces be the foremost coworking hubs of the future? Perhaps, but until then, they nicely fit the needs of business travelers, surrounding firms and that's a great start.