Bringing the hotel experience to the office - five ideas for the new workplace

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Contact Jon Grant, Director, Interiors

Claire Stephens

Contact Claire Stephens, Director, Workplace Strategy Pragma

As the world emerges from Covid-19, companies are looking for ways to encourage employees back into the office. Among the myriad design solutions put forward to address this issue, ‘workplace hospitality’ is often cited as the best way forward. But what does this concept mean exactly? And how should companies put it into practice?

Here, Benoy ID’s Jon Grant and Pragma’s Director of Workplace Strategy Claire Stephens set out the top five design considerations for a successful back-to-office strategy.

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The hotelier’s job is to make his or her guests feel welcomed and well looked after. To provide a generous and friendly reception. To ensure all personal needs are met. Beds made, pillows plumped. And within the hotel itself, all services and spaces – dining, concierge, lounge areas, leisure facilities – are designed to maximise the end-user experience. 

The logic is simple. Treat people well, make them feel special, and they will come again. It’s a logic many designers say should be leveraged to entice people back into physical workspaces. As a visual and operational driver of experience, workplace hospitality’ certainly has the potential to transform office environments. By reimagining workspace through the lens of hospitality with a core focus on service, comfort and convenience, companies can create vibrant destinations that engage and inspire their employees.

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1/ Develop a compelling front-of-house proposition

Borrowing from the hospitality toolbox, a compelling front-of-house proposition is integral to successful workplace design. As the first point of arrival and interaction within a building, the workplace reception area is an opportunity to greet clients and staff in a way that makes them feel valued. 

In particular, companies need to look beyond the traditional role of the receptionist’. Sat behind a desk and screen, this figure has historically presented a barrier to engagement. By recruiting a dynamic host or concierge, employers can shift away from this model to deliver a memorable front-of-house experience.

In China and India, for example, we’re seeing companies taking on ex-hospitality staff to perform this crucial role. Personable, attentive individuals with excellent communication skills whose job is not to sign for mail and answer the phone, but to welcome, engage and interact. They’re usually standing, out from behind the desk; armed with an iPad, greeting people face-to-face, directing and assisting. They also perform the vital function of educated brand advocate. Above all, they provide an exceptional hospitality service and curated, customised experience for every member of staff, as well as clients, as they cross the corporate threshold. 

2 / Build back-of-house capabilities

In order to deliver a compelling front-of-house proposition, companies need to build robust back-of-house capabilities. As designers, we can propose space planning interventions and creative physical adjustments, but these alone won’t deliver long-term solutions. Because when it comes to workspace enhancement, the primary driver is service. And service is enabled by an intricate and well-functioning back-of-house. In hospitality, F&B and high-end retail, it’s the back-of-house that supports the service excellence that generates customer footfall. Think Apple Stores, where smooth front-of-house execution is underpinned by dedicated, behind-the-scenes capabilities focused on technical help, infrastructure and repairs. 

By borrowing from these cross-industry examples, employers can begin to provide compelling reasons to return’. Personal storage space, food staging areas, or drop-off zones for Deliveroo drivers, for instance, are all back-of-house enhancements that could significantly improve employees’ day-to-day experience. Yes, physical design interventions are important, but it’s strong service provision, supported by back-of-house operations, that will be the major draw for employees. 

'By reimagining workspace through the lens of hospitality with a core focus on service, comfort and convenience, companies can create vibrant destinations that engage and inspire their employees.'

3 / Prioritise the needs of the end-user

Successful hospitality design is about prioritising the needs of the end-user. And in the context of the post-covid workplace, the needs of the end-user are many, multifaced, and neurodiverse. 

Two years of lockdown and remote working have increased people’s sensitivities to shared and personal space. In order to attract employees back into the office, employers need to offer varied workspace modalities to ensure they accommodate diverse personalities and preferences. For those craving human contact and connection, open-plan spaces and communal areas will be key. Equally, for those who’ve grown used to the peace and quiet of remote working, privacy will be crucial. By designing for both introvert and extrovert character types, companies can enable a more positive workplace experience for their key assets. 

For neurodivergent employees in particular, employers need to consider the sensory distractions and spatial configurations that can present barriers to productivity. Certainly, the issue of contamination’ of personal space, which has been amplified by the pandemic, will need to be addressed to ensure a healthy and happy workforce going forward. 

4 / Focus on opex, not capex

For too long, companies have focused on capital expenditure in their efforts to transform office environments. But designer desk-lamps and wingback chairs aren’t the answer. By focusing first and foremost on operational aspects, employers can begin to create a workplace environment that fully supports and serves the employee. 

Many employers try to emulate Soho House. But the Soho House model isn’t about fancy furniture and décor. Yes, there are strong aesthetic components within its overall brand appeal, but it’s the unique hospitality experience, the army of world-class service staff, that drives customer engagement. Because whereas capex provides temporary sticking plaster’ solutions, it’s opex – targeted investment in operations, human resources and facilities management – that really makes things happen’ over the long term. And without it, those wingback chairs will simply gather dust. 

Similarly, opex in sustainability can further enhance workspace performance, driving efficiency gains through innovations such as motion-sensor lighting and aircon. These gains in turn deliver financial savings, freeing up additional funds for investment in the employee experience. 

5 / Create a powerful brand experience

Increasingly, employees are looking for their physical workspace to provide a powerful and positive brand experience. Cultural fit is paramount, with younger employees in particular wanting to work for purpose-driven companies that share and reinforce their worldviews. In short, for many employees, workspace has to feel right’. 

Through brand-led placemaking, interior design can help to create that sense of place and identity, reflecting values that resonate with employees. ESG compliance, for example, can be reflected in physical spaces through the use of sustainable materials and efficiency-driven systems. Enabling employers to walk the talk’, this approach ensures workspace connects to commitments, helping to engage and inspire environmentally conscious employees. 

Brand-oriented design also brings workspaces to life, helping employees to feel more connected to the space around them – and therefore more compelled to interact with it. It also enables designers to create a strong, unifying narrative of place; a coherent story and experiential journey that deepens people’s sense of belonging. 

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