How co-working spaces are changing lobby design

(Hilton West Palm Beach)

The needs of business travelers are changing at lightning speed: Where people once sat at dedicated desks in their hotel rooms, portable technology now allows them to bring their laptops and tablets into lobbies and bars to work in a communal setting.

“The changing needs of business travelers has impacted the design industry’s standard approach to traditional design elements to include many technological upgrades and requirements,” said Christian Rodriguez, president of F&R General Interiors. “Communal spaces are becoming a must in every hotel.”

How, then, are designers and suppliers creating those communal spaces? “Business travelers rely heavily on technology to stay connected with work, and they want that connectivity to be convenient,” said Carson Norcross, founder of Norcross Furniture Company. The new normal for task furniture can include workstation areas in lobbies, TV media centers and public-space furniture with power jacks and built-in USB charging stations. “Media centers in hotel lobbies include multiple TVs, charging stations compatible for common mobile devices and printers,” Norcross said of the ideal setup. “Other workspaces, such as conference rooms, are becoming more tech-savvy. They come equipped with their own Wi-Fi, conference tables with multiple power jacks and USB functionality, smart TVs with video-chat capabilities and projectors with Bluetooth connectivity.”

Furniture in these public spaces can include desks with multiple power jacks and USB ports, mobile desk chairs, lounge chairs with built-in laptop trays, sofas with laptop trays and power jacks, TV and computer-monitor media units. “It is paramount that guests are able to connect their mobile devices to networks and do so conveniently without disrupting their work rhythm,” Norcross said.

Many of these elements are easy to find, and there are a wide range of options to make the furniture fit the designer’s vision for the space. For example, Rodriguez said, tables and desks can have power or data ports installed along the side of the units—such as the table apron—or hidden as pop-up units located directly on top of the table or furniture piece. “Many are very aesthetic, [with] finishes such as stainless steel and bronze and can include fully customizable ports for other specific needs such as landlines, television, etc. Depending on the project’s design, such as classic, modern or contemporary, all items will eventually require these items in order to get the full function of any space and piece of furniture.

Looking ahead, Natalie Norcross, Carson’s wife and founder and CEO of A Design Partnership, said task furniture will incorporate ergonomics with function. “Think of a place where you can stand in a lobby, get a workout and check all of your email in 30 minutes,” she said. “Imagine a place where you can stand on a [power] plate, get a workout and work on your laptop. Ten years from now, furniture will be cross-functional, multidimensional and allow for multiple types of use.”

The next-generation task furniture will likely move away from rectangular shapes in favor of curves, Carson Norcross said, but, ultimately, the design will depend on what kind of mood hoteliers want to evoke for their spaces. “If they want classic, rustic or Victorian-style furniture with technological functionalities, we will make it for them,” he said. “It is not too far-fetched to say that hotel lobbies could begin to look like Apple stores.”