On Sunday morning, the former Head of the Civil Service appeared on the BBC arguing that there was little need for the civil service to return to work as is being urged by Government. He argued that it is highly likely that the workplace and work patterns will now have changed permanently with people only travelling back to offices for 2 or maybe 3 days per week and that the Civil Service had adjusted very well without any need for employees to take on any risk in returning to offices. Beyond which, he argued, often it was impractical as many work facilities, such as lifts, could not handle the numbers if all returned and social distancing rules would make it far less productivity compared to remaining at home.
It is a discussion which is taking place all across the Capital. There are so many questions being considered by boards at this time; What will the future work patterns be? How should companies change the layout of their space to ensure that their space is being effectively utilised? Should companies downscale the size of their HQs? Could space be used differently?
The same discussions are taking place across many hotels and members clubs. Space, which was traditionally busy, is simply not being utilised effectively now. Will companies host meetings and events in hotels as they once did or can that space be used differently?
This could mark a moment of genuine opportunity for hotels and members clubs; the chance to reinvent how they engage with guests and audiences. For so long so many hotels have relied on their brand name/identity plus the increased activity which has been fuelled by increased global business and travel. All this has suddenly been halted and hotels are going to have to reconsider how they can engage new audiences and offer new services.
Of course, it can be fairly argued that no one has the answers to what the “new norm” or landscape will look. However, we do know that working patterns have changed and that there has been a move towards localism and communities. The opportunity is for hotels to tap into this emotion.
Research has indicated that 70% do not wish to return to the office fulltime and also indicated that 80% do not wish to work at home as much. In fact, there are a number of reports emerging suggesting that working at home could well create a whole new set of health and mental welfare issues. Does this mean they will return to the office? Probably not as many have enjoyed not commuting and have found they can work from home or locally as effectively and with less stress of feeling under the microscope. 65% have felt enable and empowered for the first time in years.
It is a complicated picture and one which could benefit hotels. Hotels can convert some of their used spaces into becoming places for work, for local networking, for creating social & community hubs and building stronger local audiences. Many would enjoy the opportunity of neither having to travel to the office nor work from home but travel a couple of miles to a local hotel where they can meet other professionals in an interactive workspace that allows them to interact, share ideas and work effectively in designed space.
There is a strong rationale that supports this. Life has been gradually moving towards a stronger balance between work – health balance and culture is also becoming increasingly important to many. Hotels – and members clubs – could provide spaces that really do fulfil these needs. Many already possess spas and gyms. Many have spaces which can be redeveloped to be co-working spaces, art galleries, showcase local crafts and genuine social hubs for family and work. It would help build daily audiences, build strong links with local culture and build new revenue flows. It can hotels genuine centres for local activity which they can then build further upon with the use of local produce, recipes and food styles.
It does require a change in approach and mindset but it does seem so very logical; most especially when the traditional model is being so challenged. Forecasts do not expect to see occupancy reach 2019 levels until late 2022 at best. Meetings and Events spaces are not expected to be used until Q2 2021 and not reach 2019 levels until 2023. International travel is not expected to fully recover until 2025 and all these forecasts do assume that life will return to how life was in 2019 which is questionable.
There is a real opportunity for hotels who are prepared to think differently, innovate and adapt to what is playing out today on the ground.