Urban Living webinar: “Workspitality”

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In the latest Urban Living webinar, IHM CEO Piers Brown hosted a discussion on how the world of work is converging with a new age of hospitality.

The webinar was one of a regular series hosted in the run up to URBAN LIVING FESTIVAL 2020: stay-live-work, which takes place on November 25 and 26 at Tobacco Dock in London.

Joining Brown in the discussion were David Kaiser, head of real estate UK and Ireland, WeWork; Matt Watts, chief commercial officer, LABS; and Debbie Wosskow, co-founder of Allbright.

The discussion centred around the concept of workspitality – a term coined, and indeed trademarked, by Accor's coworking brand Wojo.

The panellists were asked how the lockdown period had affected their businesses and what implications it has for the coworking space.
Debbie Wosskow swiftly pointed out that Allbright, a women-only members club is not a coworking business. “Coworking doesn't work for our community, and there also isn't enough margin in it as a business model. We are a mission driven business.”

She added that the lockdown had forced the company to focus on its digital offer to members rather than the real estate aspect: “With Covid, the clubs shut and we furloughed the club team overnight. To keep the ethos of the club going is difficult but it gave us a laser focus on the digital platform. It has changed the way we think about space. We have no plans to open 20, 30 or 40 clubs as we've seen what can be achieved. What we don't know is how our community will think about work and how they will use space.”

The theme of uncertainty was a common thread in the discussion, will all three speakers candidly admitting there are a lot of unknowns as people consider the return to the workplace.

David Kaiser said: “We don't know what the future of work is. Physical space is very important but community is crucial. Our focus has been on making our locations safe, they have all stayed open in the UK and Ireland. Communication with members about what we are doing is very important. People want to reduce commuting time for employees so they want citywide access.”

Matt Watts pointed out that Coworking is “a very ambiguous term, it means different things to different people. It is part of a broader ecosystem, and each element of that ecosystem has a very clear function”.

Kaiser pointed put that in the current situation, flexible office space “is so much more attractive than signing long leases on huge premises”. But he is not convinced by reports that the majority of the worforce will not return to an office environment. “We over-egg the success of the working-from-home experiment, it's far from perfect and we are all doing it for the greater good. If it goes on much longer a lot of people will get very fed up with it. Corporates are unsure about how they will adapt their footprint, but people will return to offices.”

In terms of what business need to do to cater to the changed landscape, Watts said: “Consumers want fewer touchpoints and greater confidence in the cleaning of fixtures and facilities. Every single one of them has been reduced or refined. Customers love choice and variety, we need to give them confidence but I don't believe we'll see massive physical changes to our properties.”

Wosskow added: “We are changing the childcare offer, adding it in the week, which is something we haven't done before. It affects the F&B offering and many other things. We are debating whether we bring all our programming back? Are people going to want to come in to town? We just don't know how people are going to act in the future.”

Watt stressed that working in the same space rather than virtually is a great way to bond teams: “The culture in an organisation is about bringing people together, it's very important in new businesses.”

The discussion then moved on to the future of the hotel business centre. Watt said there is “a drive towards privacy, people working in their room. The business centre could take more of a lounge feel.”

Wosskow added: “Hotel business centres are an opportunity for partnerships. For example, we could create Allbright lounges and create programming for them. It could improve the experience of women travelling for business, which often isn't great.”

Asked what are the key things to offer guests and customers through the evolving situation, Wosskow suggested authenticity, community and fun, while Kaiser said: “The situation is changing rapidly, listen to what your customers want.”

To watch a full recording of the webinar, click here.

The next Urban Living webinar will be on the subject of hotel funding and investment, and will feature Andrew Harrington, partner, AHV Associates LLP; Tim Helliwell, director, international corporate banking, Barclays Bank; Mariapia Intini, development & investment director Europe, citizenM Hotel; and Merzak Kaddour, investment director, edyn Grou.

Click to register here.



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