How communal hotel spaces promote coworking

Communal desks and seating areas are turning hotel lobbies into efficient shared workspaces for guests and locals alike, offering a valuable service to communities and new revenue streams to owners and operators.

“The 24/7 work style has required all of us in the design world to think about how to make working 24/7 more comfortable,” said Vickie Alani, hospitality principal at Boston-based CBT Architects, who has worked on hotel projects like Le Méridien Cambridge - MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and the Hotel Indigo Boston. “There's not a project that we're doing in any practice that doesn't have a component of coworking in it.”

At the Houston CityPlace Marriott at Springwoods Village in Texas, designed by Gensler, some lobby furniture is arranged into little booths to enable either privacy or intimate conversation among a few people away from the crowds. The booths, said King Scovell, chief development officer/managing partner of Woodbine Development Corp., offer a balance to the energy and activity of the room’s busiest times, creating a space “where people could essentially escape and do their work,” but still be connected—literally, because some of them are wired for multimedia. “You can hook up to the TV for presentations,” he said.  

In Arizona’s Paradise Valley (near Scottsdale), the Mountain Shadows resort has several spaces to attract different types of workers. The sunken lounge is more open, the Hearth 61 restaurant has tables and chairs like a traditional coffee shop and the Living Room has both communal tables and lounge seating—which according to Dupree Scovell, chief investment officer/managing partner of Woodbine Development Corp., makes the room a balance between the other two. “Those three appeal to different groups,” he said. “I don't know if that's a perfect formula, but we try and replicate in most of our hotels.” 

When designing coworking spaces, however, designers and hoteliers must consider a range of logistics—for example, finding plugs and USB ports that will keep guests connected without negatively affecting the aesthetic. “We're also choosing more thoughtful and intentional materials, color and furniture to create the right atmosphere for day use,” said Olivier Weppe, creative director at The Curtain Hotel & Members Club in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood. “Then, with curated lighting, we are able to create an atmosphere for the evening bar. It comes down to creating an experience where guests can spend the progression of their day in the hotel, with the hotel supporting and responding to each need.”

"In designing communal spaces, the range and amount of seating options is crucial," said Therese Virserius, founder/lead designer of Virserius Studio. "It is important to recognize that these guests will likely stay for longer periods of time, which is good in that it activates the space, but can be challenging because we want those guests to spend money while they’re there." 

The Hospitality Advantage

“People want to belong, to feel part of something bigger than themselves—which is why they will leave their room or home to be part of a public communal space,” said Cynthia Penner, principal of Box Interior Design. But while a traditional shared office space can attract any kind of worker, hotels tend to attract niche audiences that appreciate the property’s vibe, whether guests or locals. “The idea of coworking allowing you access to people in your industry—or outside your industry—can be really taken advantage of in a hotel,” Alani said. 

Another advantage is the range of hospitality services a hotel can provide that a traditional office simply can’t. While a shared desk space might offer access to coffee, even a limited-service hotel can have a grab-and-go market for quick meals, while full-service hotels can let workers bring clients right into an upscale restaurant for lunch before reviewing a presentation in a lobby niche over coffee or cocktails—all of the revenue remaining in-house.

The most important element to designing communal spaces, said Penner, is that they be authentic to the local community. “The moment something comes off ‘corporate’ versus organically created by the host culture, the audience is lost,” she said. “The creator must be very self-aware and understand what would be an appropriate and natural extension of their own culture.” This extends beyond the design of the space, she added, and into the way it is operated.