Will “work from hotel” catch on?

From The Economist

As summer descends with a vengeance on the northern hemisphere, you may be fantasising about the promise of “working from anywhere”. A colleague’s PowerPoint presentation would go down better by the poolside, washed down with a mojito. For most office grunts such fantasies remain just that—“anywhere” boils down to the discomfort of the sweaty kitchen table, a noisy café or the office hot desk.

That has not stopped venues offering to combine the liberty of the home office (minus the offspring and the dirty dishes) with the climate control of the corporate hq (minus the boss looking over your shoulder). “Third spaces”, neither office nor home, are not a new idea. Soho House, a chain of fashionable clubs, pioneered 30 years ago the concept of work while mingling with other professionals in an elegant setting. Now hotels are getting in on the action. Your columnist, a guest Bartleby, tried out two recent London offerings.

She first headed to Birch, a hotel in a Georgian manor on 55 acres of Hertfordshire just north of the city. The venue invites you to “come work miracles” at its Hub co-working area, “set strategies” in spaces “ready to fit 5 or 50” or “connect and create” with classes in pottery, sourdough baking, “foraging with our farmer” and other structured activities. Men, women and gender-fluid people in their 20s and early 30s hunch over laptops and glasses of red wine on the terrace. Some digital nomads pay a monthly membership fee and enjoy special discounts to stay in the property and work remotely, but you can, like Bartleby, come as an overnight guest.

Her second destination was the Shangri-La hotel in the Shard, which now offers stays from 10am to 6pm. The pass grants access to a room with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on central London, and to Western Europe’s highest infinity pool. It is aimed at those wishing to work and relax by offering a “change of scenery to inspire and invigorate”.

Both Birch and the Shangri-La have their virtues. Birch’s Wi-Fi was excellent and the workspaces had enough sockets to avoid undignified tussles for the last place to plug in your chargers. The “Gentle Flow” stretch class in which Bartleby enrolled, in the spirit of going native, was perfectly pleasant (notwithstanding the instructor’s insistence on starting with an astrological update and reciting a poem at the end). So were laps in the Shangri-La’s infinity pool and the view of St Paul’s Cathedral from her room on the 38th floor.

Yet problems soon became apparent. The first is price. An overnight stay at Birch sets you—or, if you are lucky like Bartleby, your employer—back £160 ($192). The Shangri-La charges £350 for a standard room. Cities have plenty of cheaper “third spaces” these days; a co-working space costs a fraction of that.

The second problem is: 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. At Birch, boardgames occupy every horizontal surface, ready to draw out the procrastinator in you. And once you are done stretching, that sourdough-baking class is a recipe to keep putting work on the back burner.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Here’s a photo of Birch. You can book your reservation Here. If you don’t wish to spend the night, they have a restaurant as well.

Definitely dissimilar to any B&B where PG has stayed in Britain, however.

4 thoughts on “Will “work from hotel” catch on?”

  1. People seem to have forgotten that there is such a thing as university clubs. When I worked in NYC decades ago, I spent many a blizzard at the Yale Club instead of braving the train back to nethermost Connecticut.

    The thing about these clubs is that the annual membership cost is low, there is no difficulty about joining your own university’s version (if it exists), the ambiance for work (complete with bar and leather-stuffed chairs) is great, and the beds (if forced to stay) are not expensive. Most importantly (what people have forgotten) is that there is “reciprocity”. If you are a member of one university club, you can probably call on any of them, both for other universities and for similar “organization” clubs, in other cities. Your club will provide a list of institutions it has reciprocity with, all over the country (and sometimes abroad).

    I used to do a lot of business travel this way. Can’t be beat. I once showed up at the fancy San Francisco Yacht Club for lunch, citing the Yale Club, and discovered that I was mistaken about their specific reciprocity list… but they were happy to let me in anyway — the Yale Club served as a voucher for my social acceptability.

    A cheaper way to deal with business travel, an opportunity to meet interesting folks, an insight into an earlier period of more everyday luxury and convenience — what’s not to like? I did so much travel to Chicago at one point that I must have sampled half a dozen of their reciprocal clubs. Some of the reciprocal clubs are military, and that’s also very cool. All were hospitable to strangers under the system.

    If you read sporting literature of the first half of the 20th century, you’ll find lots of references to this sort of thing among the sporting gentlemen of leisure.

    • I’ve long thought there is a business in the waiting in setting up a chain of “social clubs” around common interests and vetted membership. Combination of sports bar, gym, capsule hotel, nightclub, and yes old school gentlemen (and ladies) club. A safe space for the productive denizens of the big zoos. Adding workspace cubicles would be a worthwhile addition for business types on travel.

      With high physical and medical security, of course. Hence the vetting.

      Strictly upper class of course but for many the fee can be covered by the employer or be tax deductible.

      Also useful for near future fiction.if things like monkey pox keep popping up. 🙁

    • I had forgotten that clubs for various universities existed. I do think they tend to be mostly located in New York and Boston. There are also “University Clubs” in quite a lot of cities that aren’t named after a specific university, but provide a similar experience and services.

      • I’ve stayed in this network of university-and-other clubs at least in NYC, Boston, Chicago, DC, San Francisco, Seattle, LA, and so forth, and would expect to find specimens in every significant city. The Ivy League specimens usually have one-per-state as a minimum, and generic University Clubs are in lots of places.

        Reciprocity is one way for clubs to get more business without increasing their membership, via occasional guests who are presumably compatible with their standards. Definitely the cheapest and most pleasant method of business travel, where available. I kept up my membership until my business travel came to an end.

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