New high-tech Crowne Plaza design embraces work-life 'blend'

ATLANTA—The work-life balance is dead. Long live the work-life blend! With travelers staying connected even when on vacation, hotels are adjusting their offerings to help their guests find the right blend, if not balance, of business and leisure.  

Last year, IHG announced a $200-million investment to reposition its Crowne Plaza Hotels brand across the Americas. The Accelerate plan, which will run through 2019, targets hotels in key business destinations with new programming and new designs for guestrooms and public spaces alike, acknowledging the blurred lines between work and relaxation.

To figure out what the spaces needed, the IHG team went into guest houses and saw how their customers juggled the demands of work and life at home. “That's how we really came to this insight around the work-life blend vs. the work-life balance and the need to be able to transition,” said Carol Hoeller, director of guest experience and innovation. From that research, the team began building prototypes in the company’s design warehouse and invited guests to provide feedback. “It was very much iterative design based on guest feedback and stakeholder feedback,” Hoeller said.

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“That's what that research we did really signified to us, that they are trying to climb the corporate ladder, that they're trying to live really full, diverse lives," she continued. "So how do we allow them bring their whole self into traveling for business? They want to they want to enjoy themselves. They want a space for personality, and we’re recognizing that in our design, in our experiences, in our marketing.”

Plaza Workspace

When designing the public workspaces for the Crowne Plaza hotels, Hoeller and her team sought to incorporate every element of business travel, from F&B to technology, into the design, with large tables for working or socializing, TV screens for presentations or entertainment—and, of course, lots of electrical outlets and USB ports.

“Communal tables are here [and] they're probably not going away,” Hoeller said. “But it's more than just the physical design that needs to really round out the experience. It is when you're communicating, when you're collaborating, when you're together.” The ability to have food delivered quickly can help teams connect more effectively, she said, and can spark valuable conversation. “It's often that five-o'clock beer with your colleagues that you get to bond and form relationships, which is such a benefit of traveling for business. So how do we really facilitate those experiences?” Letting a guest be in control of the space and be able to order whatever he or she needs quickly will make meetings a “seamless experience,” Hoeller said.

The public workspaces have a range of privacy options. For larger groups who need a quiet space away from the lobby traffic, the Studio, available to rent by the hour, looks like a combined living room and dining room. Half of the space is filled with a sofa and armchairs around a large flat-screen TV, while the other half has a conference table by a glass-fronted whiteboard. The TV can connect wirelessly to a computer for presentations, a touchpad embedded in the wall lets users order food or supplies as needed and the speakerphone has wireless extensions to let guests wander and keep talking.

Armchairs in the lounge area have high backs and sides, meanwhile, while a small moveable table can accommodate laptops or tablets. (Naturally, the chairs have outlets and ports, and another touchpad nearby also allows for food delivery.)

Semi-private areas include “huddle spots”—high-top tables with smaller TVs—and “nooks”—high-backed booths with touchpads and more ports.   

Six Crowne Plaza hotels currently have the new Workspace lounges, and more are on the way.

WorkLife Room

The Crowne Plaza’s new WorkLife guestrooms were designed to accommodate three primary needs of business travelers, Meredith Latham, Head of Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, said. The beds provide a place to sleep, the desk provides a place to work and the seating area (either a small loveseat or a sofa with a chaise lounge) provides a place to relax.

The first thing one notices when walking into a WorkLife room is that the beds are not flush against the wall. Instead, the vinyl-padded headboards (with LEDs behind them) are positioned at an angle, making it easier for guests to climb out of bed from either side without needing the bed to be positioned in the center of the room.

The headboards also have three electrical outlets and two USB ports on each side of the bed—another nod to the increasingly connected world business travelers live in.

The angled bed, Hoeller said, proved challenging not just from a design perspective, but from a logistical one as a brand standard. “How does that translate into the different regions and in different room sizes?” she asked rhetorically. By focusing more on the overall experience and less on conformity to one set floorplan, Hoeller said, individual Crowne Plaza owners and managers will be able to provide a consistent experience for guests while maintaining their footprints. “Those core needs are being met in a distinct way through our design,” she said.   

The sofas, meanwhile, encourage guests to relax (when they have time to, of course). At the Atlanta Midtown Crowne Plaza, guestrooms with a king-sized bed have sofas with a chaise lounge attached, encouraging guests to put their feet up while they unwind. 

A moveable table by the loveseat can hold food or a computer as needed, or guests can work at a traditional desk along a wall. Naturally, electrical outlets and USB ports are prominent. 

Fee Relief

Along with the six updated lounges, Crowne Plaza has 3,000 updated “WorkLife” guestrooms either open or under development, and IHG is working with hotel owners to push the new upgrades through quickly.

“When we invest in the hotel, the owner does as well,” Latham said. Some owners have already accelerated their renovation schedules in order to accommodate the new designs, and to encourage meeting or exceeding brand standards, IHG is offering a fee-relief program that reimburses owners for their upgrade costs at hotels that do particularly well. “Pillows and uniforms, food and beverage, service training credits is what we're funding,” she said. “We're investing in the hotels, but they have to meet the expectations that we have.”