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International Interior Design Association

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By Jessica Royer Ocken

When global accounting and consulting firm Deloitte embraced the concept of office hoteling nearly 10 years ago, its initial interest was in strategically utilizing space and “reducing our overall real estate footprint,” says Arthur Rubenstein, an Architectural Designer with Deloitte’s New York office. But years later, its focus is just as much on “delivering services as it is making people more productive,” he adds.

Today, hoteling has evolved to include an assortment of shared- and open-workspace concepts — benefiting not only businesses such as accounting and consulting firms whose workers continually travel, but also professionals in creative, knowledge-based fields like marketing or advertising.

And the focus has moved beyond merely cutting costs. When creating a hoteling plan, designers now make conscious decisions based on how the design will affect employee motivation, comfort, creativity and productivity.
“When [office hoteling] first came out, everyone wanted to try it. It was kind of a buzz phrase,” says Sarah Wortman, Chicago-based Director of Marketing and Communication for architecture and design firm VOA Associates Inc. “But the initial buzz has subsided. Now, companies are making more deliberate decisions about it.”

But for hoteling to pay off, several things must fall into place. When companies commit to investing in the concept, and designers consider every detail from lighting to storage, hoteling can not only provide cost and space savings, but also increase productivity among workers and improve attraction and retention rates.

Attention to Detail

Introduced by accounting giant Ernst & Young in 1994, office hoteling originally was designed to decrease corporate real estate and streamline operations by having employees — particularly those not in the office full time — share space, rather than assigning them individual desks.

In order for hoteling spaces to be successful, work counters, phones, Internet access and power outlets all must be accounted for, as shown in VOA’s design for The Center for Association Leadership in Washington, D.C.

Transforming a traditional office space for hoteling, however, is no easy task. Since the goal is to convert all possible areas into workspaces, designers must consider the big picture and re-evaluate every concept. That means thinking about the usefulness of every corner, every piece of furniture and every room, as each could have double or triple use, says Don Ricker, Chicago-based Senior Vice President and Design Director for VOA.

“It can’t be a place where people simply park and work,” says James R. Walker, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP, Associate Principal and Design Director for Gensler, Houston. “[Hoteling spaces] must have more uses than just a visiting office. Otherwise, it sits there empty much of the time.”

For example, rather than serve only as an occasional gathering space, a conference room can double as an office. In order for this to occur, designers must provide a work counter, a conference table on wheels, abundant phones, Internet access and power outlets.  In place of assigned cubicles, open-desk seating or coffee shop-style lounge areas provide hoteling spots. Since any number of areas can be used as work stations, designers must “be smart about fabrics and finishes and durability,” Ricker says. The office should be comfortable and stylish — something employees will take pride in — and built to last.

Another hoteling design challenge involves allowing employees to maintain “context and continuity” for ongoing work, says Jay Brand, Cognitive Psychologist with Haworth, an architectural interior and office solutions firm based in Holland, Mich. Employees need to remember what they’ve already done and where they’ve left off, he says. If hoteling requires them to clean up and store their items at the end of each day, they may lose time reconstructing their work — or even worse, a fantastic idea may be lost in the shuffle.
The best hoteling situations include nearby storage, whether that be a rolling personal file cabinet kept in a central area or a locked drawer shared with other workers.

"The solution for a creative thinker should be a varied workplace with options- not a cubicle with four panels."
—Pablo Quintana, Vice President and Design Director, VOA Associates Inc.

The Technology Factor

Today's hoteling

Depending on the business, different types of hoteling may be most efficient and effective:

  • Open office. In this scenario, employees sit at groups of desks with their collaborators, rather than assigned cubicles, says Don Ricker, Chicago-based Senior Vice President and Design Director for VOA Associates Inc. An open office may also incorporate lounge areas, big conference tables and in-house coffee bars to increase interaction among employees. Ready access to teammates facilitates quick answers to questions and frequent brainstorming, both of which encourage creativity and productivity. No time is lost tracking down a co-worker when he or she is easily visible.
  • Designated office. This setup leaves a vacant office on each floor or in a particular department’s area for out-of-town workers. At a certain level of seniority, employees may require a private office even when they’re away from home, Ricker says. But this strategy still streamlines space use, as different executives may work from the designated office at different times. They would simply reserve the office in advance.
  • Touchdown. Here, hoteling is focused on saving real estate. Managers who travel select a primary location for their full-scale office and opt for smaller, shared “touchdown” spaces, complete with desk, phone and place to plug in a laptop, at the other offices they visit, says Pablo Quintana, Washington, D.C.-based Vice President for VOA.

Technology has significantly influenced the office hoteling trend. For example, Internet telephones now keep employees — those working from home, those in the office and those on the road — in the loop, says Tim Blevons, Sales and Design Specialist at CCC Technologies, an Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based firm that supplies offices and employees with many of the technology tools they need to work outside a cubicle.

“[With Internet phones], you can tie all [your corporate] sites together as one phone system,” he says. “[Then] you can be anywhere.” Employees simply log in, either via softphone software or a smart phone, and their phone number, voicemail and programmed features are ready for use.

Technology also can make reserving a workspace as simple as logging into the company’s calendar and registering a request. In a more elaborate situation, a call-ahead to the onsite concierge can ensure that an employee’s files — and maybe even a family picture — are in the space he or she has been assigned upon arrival.

At Deloitte, for example, a combination of reservation software and a Ritz-Carlton-trained concierge staff gives employees “the kinds of space and things they need when they are in the office,” whether that be secure storage, a copy center, access to records or help with restaurant reservations, Rubenstein says.

But while technology can eliminate the need for a lot of extra staff members, some human oversight is still essential. “[At hoteling companies], facility management and real estate teams in corporate offices have now been tasked to be space monitors or police of the facility,” Ricker says. “Because people are working everywhere, there’s more mess and more to think about. You have to monitor so you’re designing a space that functions and works for users.”

It’s all about Options

Designers today realize that when it comes to office hoteling, comfort and flexibility are key. “The solution for a creative thinker should be a varied workplace with options — not a cubicle with four panels,” says Pablo Quintana, Washington, D.C.-based Vice President for VOA.

In place of cubicles, coffee-shop style lounge areas can be used as workstations, like this one designed by VOA for the American Society of Association Executives in Washington, D.C.

On the contrary, employees should be able to “make decisions about where [they] want to work — at a conference table, in an office, at a [coffee] bar or on the couch with [their] legs up and shoes off,” he says.
Designers and corporate executives who are looking for office hoteling inspiration need only to walk to the nearest corner. “Among the best [examples] of hoteling is Starbucks,” says Quintana, who adds that the mix of an invigorating environment, wireless Internet access, tasty coffee and snacks onsite, and plenty of opportunities to interact with coworkers is ideal for the creative mind. And this model can be easily reproduced in an office environment.

The idea is to create opportunities for workers to interact and feel like part of the team during the workday — while getting coffee, making copies or working in a lounge. “If someone needs to come into the office and they are isolated from everyone else, they aren’t going to use the space,” Walker says. “If it’s a nice environment close to the team with access to what they need, they’re going to use it more.”

What’s the Return?

While office hoteling began as a means to save money, return on investment is still of utmost importance. Blevons helps clients calculate potential gains from designing spaces that are comfortable, flexible and revolving.

Clearly, less real estate and fewer desks equal savings. “We try to boil it down to hard numbers, but conservative ones no one will balk at,” Blevons says. “Even at the lowest estimate, there’s money to be saved.”  But in an increasingly competitive job market where employers constantly look for ways to recruit the best and brightest workers, hoteling can be seen as an amenity to attract working mothers, a younger generation of employees or older workers not ready to retire but looking to reduce office hours, Walker says. “The labor pool is getting smaller and smaller,” he says. “Companies need to have more amenities to offer people.”

Qualitative gains such as worker productivity, though more difficult to calculate, may be just as noteworthy. “In the types of environments we’re talking about, benefits are knowledge-based,” Quintana says. “Employees may perceive that they’re sharing more knowledge. If they are conversing, it’s working. Spaces are there to facilitate chance encounters. That’s productivity in itself.”

It’s also important to remember that whatever results an executive envisions, “you can’t accomplish successful organizational change with design alone,” he says. “That’s asking too much of design.” The transition to hoteling “has to be a well-crafted, supported, communicated journey.” Corporate leadership, human resources, information technology and information systems, and real estate management “should all work together on office renovations and have aligned goals and strategies for the new environment,” Brand says.

When hoteling succeeds, it’s usually because a corporation gives employees the technological tools and ability to work anywhere, instilling trust and providing flexibility. “Come into the office if you want to, work at Starbucks, a university library, at home — it’s up to you,” Brand says. “The tradeoff psychologically is that employees have personal control.”  And that’s one of the best productivity enhancers of all.