Hospitality Comes To The Office


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The influence
of hospitality

since 2005, when technology finally unleashed the worker from the desk and anyone could work from anywhere anytime, all traditional office design rules were off. We saw open plan, hot desking, benching, telecommuting and all sorts of work-from-anywhere solutions, in an attempt to get more poeple to work more efficiently from anywhere and to save costs on facilities and construction. but none of these office concepts considered human emotion, personal satisfaction or what the client or employee really needs in the office in order to be productive and fulfilled. the millennials triggered the realization that work is not all there is to life and that turnabout is fair play. if work is coming home more than ever, via text, calls and email, the much-coveted personal life must creep into the office. having now jumped over "work-life balance" into the reality of 'work-life integration,' companies are realizing that the office is more than just a workplace—it must now satisfy a variety of personal needs. companies are beginning to see that customer, and especially staff, loyalty may be more tied to "how you make them feel" than the product or service itself.

Companies are realizing what boutique hotels discovered 10 years ago and are now 
perfecting—guest satisfaction promotes loyalty and catapults the brand. Good hotels have perfected guest satisfaction by anticipating and meeting guest needs—from the basic human desire to be recognized, welcomed, entertained, and comfortable to the need to work intensely. From the moment the guest walks in they are made comfortable through the design, lighting, music, scent and refreshment (branded, of course) offered by a friendly greeter who calls them by name and asks how they can help with any little thing. It is all about orchestrating the Experience with a capital E and making the guest feel like, “It’s all about and for them personally and that you really care.” This is accomplished through careful strategic planning, design and service style with well-trained house staff all working hand-in-hand.

"Architecture is really
about well-being. I think
that people want to feel
good in a space... on
the one hand it's about
shelter, but it's also
about pleasure."
- Zaha Hadid

Hotels spend a great deal of time doing market research and designing just the right experience for their customer. They have to as customer satisfaction is their business and is directly linked to higher occupancy, room rates and higher profit. Hotels talk a lot about “Touch Points”—the moments that matter most to their guest. They use different terms, but all concentrate more or less on the following five touch points: First Impression, Arrival Experience, Quiet Zones and Personal Comfort, Living Room/Social Hub and the Food & Beverage Experience. They have more recently added a sixth—Healthy Lifestyle. Hotels also spend a lot of time choosing words and slogans to describe their core values and then setting brand standards that reflect these core values like Marriott’s “Welcome, Gather, Collaborate, Chill.” Of late, some of the key words applying to the design of the hotel are Authenticity, Timeless, Dynamic, Transformative, Empathetic, Confident, Purposeful, and Intelligent.

Today’s smart companies realize that the look and feel of the office is a direct reflection of the brand and that they are the hosts to their clients and must anticipate and accommodate client needs. Companies are looking at how employees work at home and in hotels to tune the office for similar comforts and the appropriate professional social interaction. Hotels have been accommodating travelers working from their room for years, with multiple power and data outlets available at desktop, bedside and a comfortable lounge chair—three different work venues with proper lighting, telephone and TV controls all within arm’s reach. Hotels soon realized the guest worker wanted company while working and ACE hotels led the way with the Social Hub. Now all good hotels have excellently equipped living room/social hubs where guests can work “alone together”.

Aligning with the five Touch Points, there are five trends I see making their way into offices today.

First impression

The Reception is no longer a cold, quiet, internal and empty-feeling lobby with stiff furniture, bright lights and a stern gatekeeper sitting behind a tall desk. It is, if at all possible, on the window line with natural light, appropriately styled with art accessories  and set with comfortable seating that guests and employees are free to use. The lighting is softer and more residential or hospitality-like and lighting scenes are set for three points in the day, giving just the right ambiance and allowing the view outside to be visible. As this generation of workers thrives on energy and enrichment, the reception is active and houses at least one of the refreshment centers—styled like a chic contemporary residential kitchen, with built-in refrigeration, an array of healthy drinks and snacks and an enticingly good looking coffee maker. There may be very quiet music in the background or a television, and sometimes now even a scent created just for the company, thereby aligning all of the senses to the brand. The guest mingles with employees and is made to feel welcome and like a part of the family. There may not be a reception desk at all as the greeter/concierge might be standing at the pantry counter making a coffee.

The arrival experience

The Arrival experience is where appropriate staffing meets appropriate design. Everyone wants to feel good about one’s self and to be a part of something successful and fun. The old-school office arrival made the employee and guest feel tense—almost unwanted—or in search of approval before allowed in. Learning from hotels, the new style is to immediately put the employee and guest at ease, with staff helping to convey the brand and upbeat attitude of the company.

When we design a hotel, we also design or select the uniforms of everyone from the doorman to the housekeeping staff. The hotel general manager holds a daily morning meeting to address the staff, letting them know of any special guests and handing out a sheet of the day’s itineraries with instructions and special guest names. I have been in only one office so far that has learned the significant value of guest/client recognition and it was as impressive as is their balance sheet! Fresh, neatly styled flowers are set weekly and the receptionist assures that the designer’s styling is respected—no bad trashcans, ugly office toys or bad art appears over time and the skillfully designed ambiance remains.

Why not put your client in a good mood the moment they walk in the door? Why not have a friendly greeter come out from behind the desk, call them by name, take their coat, offer to store their bags, and ask if they need to charge their phone or if there is anything else they need? Elevating the company brand through ambiance and style is a lot better than degrading it with a bad arrival experience.

Quiet zones and
personal comfort

Privacy zones are important for guests and employees alike. If an office is open plan, it is quite important to provide individual places with complete privacy for use by anyone to unwind, gather thoughts and reflect—to clear the mind and reboot. These should be set with comfortably styled seating, lighting and if possible, refrigerated water. Power should be provided for working, if the employee just needs alone time to accomplish an intense task. It is amazing what closing a door can do to eliminate distraction and clear the mind, especially for an employee or guest coming in from a long trip and facing important meetings and decisions. There is also a trend towards “Libraries” though they are not necessarily filled with books. These libraries are quiet zones where conference calls or talking are banned and people can work “alone together”. They are often set with library tables with personal power stations so people can sit side by side, but work alone. When private offices prevail, they are now typically set with a work wall or credenza, an up/down desk (not a hotel trend btw) and a comfortable lounge chair or sofa with power to provide an alternate work venue. Reading lamps and other residential lighting is provided.

The living room/social hub

This addition to the office program accommodates those who move seamlessly between work and play. It can be the same room as the Reception, especially if the office is small, but it is more likely a separate room geared towards internal impromptu gatherings and professional socializing, idea sharing and relaxing between tasks. The Living Room/Social Hub can be one large room for the whole company or a smaller space on each floor. It can be set with game tables, white boards, smart TV’s, along with bar height or seated communal tables, lounge chairs and even rugs and floor pillows.

In a Social Hub, seating is flexible and permits multiple uses, enabling guests to converse and interact in relaxed and spontaneous ways. The groupings can support large teams or individuals working separately. The W Hotel launched this approach and though  originally, it was strictly for socializing, it soon became socializing while working. The Social Hub might be off the exercise room, lobby, conference center or meditation room depending on the company, but one thing it must have is a great refreshment center. Food brings together employees and guests like no other tool. It should feel like the family room where everyone can relax, share in conversations or do their own thing, but be a part of the company community. Again, ACE Hotel social hubs have this down. In smaller hotels, the bar is often the Social Hub. And, yes—we are seeing bars come back into the office. Beer taps and locked liquor cabinets with crystal glassware and all.

Food and beverage

We have spoken about the importance of food and beverage in several of the preceding Touch Points, so no need to elaborate, except to say that the cost of breakfast and lunch brought in once a week and a social hour once a week is small compared to the good will and camaraderie it promotes. The design needs to accommodate not only the venue, but also where to serve and to eat, along with the overall ambiance and experience surrounding the meal. We are also seeing our office clients pay more attention to how food and drink is served. Gone are paper cups, plates and flatware—they are not environmentally conscious and they are uber tacky. Companies are going the extra mile to dish wash and store in order to achieve food service with style. There is a lot of competition now and a lot of foodies who value a nice cup of coffee and lunch beyond its apparent worth. Why lose a client over a bad sandwich served on a paper plate when you could serve them a nice healthy lunch for little more?

A healthy work/life work style

Health and Fitness has long been a part of the better hotels and they are amping it up rapidly with “Fitness on Demand” online instructors, yoga, personal trainers, heart healthy menus, private chefs and so forth. Some of the larger office campuses are able to offer similar amenities. Smaller companies are addressing health with sit/stand desks, small areas for stretching breaks, multiple venues from which to work to prevent fatigue and boredom or a fitness facility membership. And, providing water and healthy drinks and snacks throughout the day.

Ten other hospitality trends making their way into the office:

  1. More eclectic, residential or hospitality styled furniture—more “Set and Styled.”
  2. Art and accessories are important—a sterile empty wall environment subverts the brand.
  3. Lots of attention is paid to planning so that employees will interact, exchange ideas and bond.
  4. Lots of attention is paid to design—the “Cool” factor. Employees and clients are taking pride in the style of the office just as a hotel guest takes pride in discovering the best hotel.
  5. Lots of attention to lighting to guide and assist employee activity, be more flexible and allow for personal control so it is suited for a particular task at a particular time. More ambiance in lighting.
  6. Integrated technology makes it easy to move from one space to the other while staying connected and having what is needed to work from anywhere.
  7. More authentic and locally or regionally inspired design—not one-size-fits-all, generic design. Employees want to feel a part of their community.
  8. A little background music at certain times.
  9. Better restroom design with more privacy, better lighting, better mirrors and better amenities such as nicely styled and natural soaps, hand creams, hand towels and other comfort items.
  10. Concierge Services! There is no time to do anything anymore. Some offices are starting to offer the amenities of hotels and high-rise residential properties—pick up and drop off laundry service, drop off and pick up doggie care, dinner and entertainment reservations. This way the employee can go home and work instead of dealing with all of the personal things they used to have to do.

When interviewing for an office design project, whether a law firm, investment firm, technology group or other project, our studio now shows not only our office experience, but also our hotel experience. I apologize for showing a bar with lots of great comfortable seating, outlets everywhere and some high-tech TV’s fitted perfectly into the millwork, but the reaction I get every time is, “We want that!”

Download the knowledge book:
The True Measure Of A Space Is
How It Makes Us Feel


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