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Hotel companies, recognizing that their public areas are often used as coworking venues anyway, have followed the example of WeWork and its temporary office spaces by renting out portions of their facilities as communal workplaces. But will guests pay to use space that has been free until now?
By Christina Jelski

Illustration by Paparoma/Shutterstock.com

Walk into the lobby of any relatively hip urban hotel today and there will likely be more than a few people hunched over their laptops, typing away. Over at the lobby bar, someone might be conducting a conference call in hushed tones, while a table at the adjacent hotel restaurant might be playing host to an impromptu business meeting.

In today’s digitally driven and globalized world, work is no longer confined to the cubicle or restricted to the hours between 9 and 5. Hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and other public spaces have often found themselves serving as ad hoc offices for travelers and locals alike, and hospitality companies have recognized and even embraced this shift.

“We tend to work differently nowadays,” said Joel Rosen, president of hotel development group GFI Hospitality. “Yes, more people are working remotely, but people are also wanting to work in a more collaborative and social way, as well. I’ve seen tech startup groups in the public spaces of a hotel, whether it’s in the lobby or lounge, and they’ll be conducting a presentation, even though there are a million people around. There’s definitely more of an openness in the way people work today, and the traditional office walls are being broken down.”


“People come in to have a coffee and socialize but also to work. We want people to sit in our lobbies and congregate and create that sense of space and sense of place.”
– Joel Rosen, GFI Hospitality

Among the more notable properties in GFI Hospitality’s portfolio is the Ace Hotel New York, which opened in 2009. The property’s bustling lobby has become something of a gold standard when it comes to communal work/play spaces, and from the start it has attracted an eclectic mix of artists, entrepreneurs and freelancers.

“The Ace lobby really became a living room for the community,” Rosen said, adding that the hotel’s approach has served as a template for more thoughtfully designed, collaborative public spaces industrywide. “People come in to have a coffee and socialize but also to work. We want people to sit in our lobbies and congregate and create that sense of space and sense of place.”

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The Ace Hotel New York, which opened in 2009, helped to popularize the idea of the hotel lobby as a communal work/play space.

The Ace Hotel New York, which opened in 2009, helped to popularize the idea of the hotel lobby as a communal work/play space.

The Ace Hotel New York, which opened in 2009, helped to popularize the idea of the hotel lobby as a communal work/play space.

The hospitality world, however, isn’t the only sector that has identified and evolved to meet changing work trends. With demand for more communal and flexible workspaces continuing to grow, a new breed of business model known as coworking is proliferating in nearly every major gateway city around the globe, largely popularized by one brand: WeWork.

Established in 2010, WeWork is widely credited with pioneering the concept of the modern coworking space. The typical WeWork location features a mix of design-forward common areas, coffee bars, phone booths, private offices and conference spaces as well as access to an array of networking and educational events.

Communal workspace at the WeWork location at 205 Hudson St. in New York.

Communal workspace at the WeWork location at 205 Hudson St. in New York.

Communal workspace at the WeWork location at 205 Hudson St. in New York.

In the company’s home market of New York, WeWork membership starts at around $320 a month for a “hot desk,” which is unassigned and available on a first-come, first-served basis, with dedicated desks and private offices starting at around $300 and $720 a month, respectively.

While profits have so far eluded WeWork, the model has proven wildly popular. It now has well over 500 locations in more than 100 cities, with outposts everywhere from Minneapolis to Johannesburg to Chengdu, China.

Late last year, the company said it had become the largest private occupier of office space in Manhattan, with more than 5.3 million square feet; the brand had already achieved that same distinction in London and Washington. The scale has helped WeWork direct its focus toward larger, more corporate clients in recent years.

Naturally, a number of competitors have also entered the fray, including serviced-offices provider International Workplace Group, with its Spaces brand, and smaller upstarts like the Yard, Convene and the women-only coworking concept the Wing, among many others. None, however, has managed to catch up with WeWork’s meteoric rise.

Filipa Pajevic, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University’s School of Urban Planning in Montreal, said, “Coworking space providers market themselves as caterers to the digital nomad. You can cowork if you are self-employed or a full-time employee working remotely or multilocationally. It is interesting how coworking as a work style — which actually isn’t new and has traditionally been the preferred practice of artistic communities and project-based creative work — has been appropriated by the tech community in Silicon Valley. It’s become almost a privileged way of working."


"People are already working in hotel rooms and in the lobbies. It’s not entirely unexpected to see hotels wanting to get into the game, as well."
—Filipa Pajevic, McGill University

With coworking spaces quickly becoming a ubiquitous part of the urban landscape, it’s not surprising that hotels are now looking to get a piece of the increasingly prevalent, and potentially quite profitable, coworking pie.

“People are already working in hotel rooms and in the lobbies, or they’re having meetings at the hotel’s restaurant, or they’re attending events or conferences,” Pajevic said. “So it’s not entirely unexpected to see hotels wanting to get into the game, as well.”

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A Wojo Corner coworking space at Accor’s Mercure Paris Montmartre Sacre-Coeur hotel.

A Wojo Corner coworking space at Accor’s Mercure Paris Montmartre Sacre-Coeur hotel.

A Wojo Corner coworking space at Accor’s Mercure Paris Montmartre Sacre-Coeur hotel.

Earlier this year, Accor became the biggest hospitality player to officially jump into the space, rebranding a joint venture with Bouygues Immobilier to launch the coworking concept Wojo. In a statement, the company said it intended to have 1,200 Wojo locations in less than three years, with plans for Wojo to become the “leading coworking brand in Europe” by 2022.

The Wojo brand comprises three types of locations: Wojo Spots, Wojo Corners and Wojo Sites.

According to Stephane Bensimon, Wojo’s president and CEO, Wojo Spots will largely consist of hotel bars, restaurants and lobbies where Wojo subscribers can work, even if they’re not staying at the hotel, and enjoy guaranteed access to secure WiFi and other hotel amenities. Not every Wojo Spot will be located within an Accor property, however; the company is also eyeing Spot opportunities in shopping centers, railway stations, airports and art galleries.

Wojo Corners, meanwhile, are dedicated coworking spaces spanning a minimum of 1,076 square feet and located within Accor hotels. Wojo Sites are standalone coworking centers, each comprising tens of thousands of square feet and combining communal bars, lounges and kitchens with shared workspaces, meeting rooms and dedicated offices.

There are currently some 80 Wojo Spots and Corners open at Accor properties.

An entry-level Wojo subscription starts at $10.92 per month, which provides access to the Wojo Spot network, while Wojo meeting rooms start at around $16.55 per hour, shared workspaces start at about $33.10 per day and private offices start at $507.54 per month, all excluding VAT.

“Travelers want to be able to work in spaces besides their rooms and to network,” Bensimon said. “Wojo provides the opportunity to meet co-workers as well as [explore] the local ecosystem, since the Spots and Corners are not only reserved for hotel guests.”

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A rendering of a coworking space at the Hoxton Chicago’s Working From West Loop, which will open in October. Hoxton’s other inaugural Working From space will be located at its Southwark, London, hotel.

A rendering of a coworking space at the Hoxton Chicago’s Working From West Loop, which will open in October. Hoxton’s other inaugural Working From space will be located at its Southwark, London, hotel.

A rendering of a coworking space at the Hoxton Chicago’s Working From West Loop, which will open in October. Hoxton’s other inaugural Working From space will be located at its Southwark, London, hotel.

In late May, meanwhile, Ennismore Capital’s Hoxton hotel brand announced that it would be launching a coworking product, dubbed Working From. The Hoxton, which has eight locations across Europe and the U.S., will open its inaugural Working From spaces at its Chicago and Southwark, London, hotels this November and January, respectively.

The Working From Southwark location will occupy six floors, offering 744 desks, five meetings rooms, a wellness studio with daily classes, a garden and quiet booths for making private calls. The two-floor Working From West Loop in Chicago will have 294 desks, two meetings rooms and two terraces.

Both coworking spaces promise access to event programming, shower facilities, a members cafe, complimentary snacks and $2 coffee, among other amenities. Working From users can also take advantage of perks like a “deadline hotline,” through which they can book a last-minute hotel room for just $25.

Working From day passes are available for $30, while membership packages start at $75 a month and go all the way up to $700 a month for a Private Studio space.

Ennismore CEO Sharan Pasricha said, “Coworking is a natural extension for the Hoxton brand. We’ve been in the business since 2006 with our bustling, lively lobbies; we’ve just never charged for it. We did a lot of research and looked at who uses different workspaces and also took a lot of guidance from the guests and locals who’ve been using our lobbies for all these years, looking at how we could offer more and asking what would they want from a shared workspace concept.”

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A communal work area at the Plaza Workspace in the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown. InterContinental Hotels Group’s Crowne Plaza began rolling out Plaza Workspace areas in its lobbies in 2017.

A communal work area at the Plaza Workspace in the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown. InterContinental Hotels Group’s Crowne Plaza began rolling out Plaza Workspace areas in its lobbies in 2017.

A communal work area at the Plaza Workspace in the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown. InterContinental Hotels Group’s Crowne Plaza began rolling out Plaza Workspace areas in its lobbies in 2017.

Another hotel brand dipping its toes into the coworking realm is InterContinental Hotels Group’s Crowne Plaza, which began rolling out dedicated Plaza Workspace areas in its lobbies in 2017. Plaza Workspaces are designed to offer a mix of communal work areas, semiprivate meetings areas, semiprivate seats and a marketplace stocked with grab-and-go drinks and snacks.

But while access to the Plaza Workspaces is free and fully open to the public, the brand appears to have borrowed from the coworking playbook with the Studio, a private meetings room in each Plaza Workspace with both work and leisure zones. The Studio can accommodate eight to 10 people and is bookable in hourly increments by both guests and locals, with rates starting at $50 per hour.

With hospitality’s forays into coworking still quite fresh, it remains to be seen just how open people will be to shelling out money for access to a hotel coworking space.

Pajevic is not persuaded that charging for coworking spaces will be accepted by everyone.

Each Plaza Workspace offers a space called the Studio a private meetings room that can be booked by the hour.

Each Plaza Workspace offers a space called the Studio a private meetings room that can be booked by the hour.

Each Plaza Workspace offers a space called the Studio a private meetings room that can be booked by the hour.

“Coworking has already been happening at hotels, in the sense that they’ve already been providing people a place to work while they’re away from their official workplace or home,” Pajevic said. “So for hotels to say, ‘Look, we’re also going to offer coworking spaces,’ I don’t know if that’s going to necessarily go well. You’re asking me to now pay extra for something that I’ve already been doing in your hotel for free.”

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A common area at the WeWork location as 115 West 18th St. in New York

A common area at the WeWork location as 115 West 18th St. in New York

And despite WeWork’s fast expansion, a recent IPO filing by WeWork parent the We Co. has raised some red flags. While the group has indeed grown exponentially, with the We Co. reportedly doubling its revenue in 2018, to $1.8 billion, the company also wrote down a staggering net loss of $1.6 billion last year.

Framed in that context, coworking’s boom — and WeWork’s overnight success — could be viewed as a bubble poised to burst.

“Who knows how long WeWork’s reign is going to be,” Pajevic said. “I don’t think that it’s going to last, simply because of real estate dynamics. Ultimately, it’s becoming so difficult to afford housing, let alone workplaces. If WeWork is primarily renting the space they occupy, they have to balance rising rents with meeting their profit margins. It’ll be challenging in today’s property market.”

Meanwhile, whether or not a hospitality coworking brand can pose any real competitive challenge to WeWork is also up in the air. What is certain to most hoteliers, however, is that the rules for and definition of workspaces are changing, and the days of the small, windowless hotel business center are long past.


"Travelers are looking for hotels that fit their workstyles and offer more than just a bed. It’s not just about WiFi — that’s a given."
– Sharan Pasricha, Ennismore

“Travelers are looking for hotels that fit their workstyles and offer more than just a bed for the night,” said Ennismore’s Pasricha. “It’s not just about WiFi — that’s a given. It’s about having a comfortable place to plug in, a great atmosphere where you can relax and really feel at home, plenty of coffee plus cocktails for when it all gets a little much.

“More and more, people are working on the go, around the clock, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon,” he said. “I think just like people have hotels they know and love, people will have the same with shared workspaces and desks around the globe.”

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