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New Ways Business Travelers Work in Hotels

© Courtesy of Sheraton New York Hotel

Hotel design evolves to meet the business travelers’ changing needs.

Chris Petrini-Poli recently spent eight hours in the lobby of the Sheraton Society Hill in Philadelphia. The frequent business traveler and CEO of HBR Consulting, which provides advisory services to the legal industry, wasn’t cooling his heels waiting for his room to be ready—he was having a productive business meeting.

“It felt comfortable,” says Petrini-Poli. “Lobbies felt stale in the past and not conducive to meeting with people—usually they’re noisy,” he adds, noting that the Sheraton lobby was arranged in conversational areas with power outlets. “We could work without feeling like people were overhearing what we were talking about.”

Lobby as the “Third Place”

Sheraton is one of a growing number of hotel chains looking to underutilized spaces to fulfill mobile workers’ demands for a “third place” to do business, outside of work and home. For the past several years, parent company Starwood Hotels has been investing considerable resources in creating more inviting spaces for work. All of the Sheraton-branded properties now feature Link@Sheraton, a lobby concept with free Microsoft-powered desktop computers, as well as seating areas that invite casual meetings.

“I see hotel lobbies and related areas increasingly functioning as ‘third places,’” says Andrew Laing, a director at DEGW, a strategic business consultancy and AECOM company, and visiting lecturer at Princeton University School of Architecture. “As our work becomes more mobile and business people are working on the road, hotels become great places to stop by and get work done either individually or in groups.”

Collaboration Needs

Demand for collaboration space for small groups is on the rise—an outgrowth of mobility, as well as the fluid ways professionals move between work and play, agrees Peggy Roe, vice president of global operations services at Marriott Hotels & Resorts. “Our new target customer blends life and work,” says Roe. “People work everywhere all the time.”

Marriott has been exploring the need for more collaborative space for nearly a decade. In 2006, the brand launched its “Great Room” lobby concept, now in about half of its properties, which includes areas for individual work as well as for socializing and more formal business. And now the chain has paired up with office furniture powerhouse Steelcase to reimagine everything from prefunction space to the business center, all with an eye toward accommodating small group collaboration.

“As companies are reducing office space, and working with more outside consultants, we see a real need, not just from our guests but even from locals, to provide a place for people to get work done,” Roe says. “We’ve been seeing the need as well to have a quieter, more productive space for groups of twos and threes and fours.”

Spaces for small group collaboration are tough to come by—even back at the home office, notes Mark Greiner, chief experience officer for Steelcase, which has been doing in-depth research on the ways people work for decades. “Most conference rooms are not well designed for collaborative work,” he says. “As people venture outside of their corporate campus, it gets even worse. If you want to meet with three others, you really can’t find a comfortable space. It’s hard to huddle all around one laptop.”

New Designs for Small Group Work

Steelcase research shows that more than 75 percent of time spent collaborating is in groups of two to six. “[Marriott] realized they supported big events and conferences, but when it got down to collaborative work, they didn’t have a solution,” Greiner says.

To explore filling that need, earlier this year the chain invited Steelcase to its annual Marriott Hotels & Resorts Global General Managers Conference in Los Angeles, to showcase several prototypes for pop-up workspaces that convert prefunction or ballroom space for small group work. The displays arranged existing Steelcase furniture and technology in groupings conducive to working in teams of two up to about 12.

“What we were showing these GMs was radical—they don’t have this in their hotels,” Greiner says. And they won’t have it anytime soon, he admits. “There are things we have to co-develop to make this viable to a hotel. A hotel is constantly in a state of change.” Greiner says the partnership is likely to produce some proprietary Marriott/Steelcase mobile solutions for small group work.

While the products are still in the planning stages, Roe says Marriott is hoping to move quickly. “We [wanted] a very early read on how relevant the ideas are and also how likely [GMs] are to implement them in their hotels. So we’re experimenting a little more with innovation and getting ideas to market faster,” she explains.

Marriott has already partnered with Steelcase to incorporate one innovation at its Redmond, Wash., property. The chain is converting three small meeting rooms to Workspring, a full-service work experience for collaborative teams modeled on an offsite meeting center Steelcase opened in 2008. The stylish tech-equipped spaces, purpose-built for small meetings, will be a very different experience from the typical hotel meeting space, Roe says.

“It will be sold differently, and we expect it to attract a different customer,” she explains. “Today in a hotel, if you want a space for you and two others to meet, you have to go through the same process as for a meeting for 30 people. We want to make this space as easy to purchase as possible.”

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