Is it working for you?


The pandemic has been very big on ‘quick! Change your lives!’ as though the threat has driven us all into existential crises where we question ourselves down to our very toenails.

Those of us living in France have to twist our faces into Deep Existential Thought every time we leave the house, of course, but one wonders how many others, who are combining work, home, children, dogs, free-to-air-opera and the additional styling choices presented by masks have had the time to examine their lives. Most people, one suspects, just want things back the way they were.

Travel, certainly. But when our lives were being reset, some did get the chance to take a look around and think about what they could change, which may previously have seemed immovable. And a lot of this centred around work.

For those of us who have been working from home for years, the benefits are long-established. Casual attitude to attire, no-one steals your lunch from the fridge and there’s no terror around online delivery times. You’re in. All the lockdown did was add unwanted colleagues who kept demanding snacks and that you do their work for them.

Now everyone’s in on it, it’s like the liberation of the 1960s, but for staying in. People can’t stop talking about their sudden freedoms. You can’t go onto the internet without seeing a new column from a home working convert or tips on how to style your office ‘nook’.

But is everyone doing it as much as they say or are they secretly wanting to get back to the office? There is a lot of talk around the need for what research published in the journal Academy of Management Discoveries called “bursty” interactions, where teams exchanged messages “quickly during periods of high activity”.

Christoph Riedl, assistant professor of information systems and network science at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, said: “People often think that constant communication is most effective, but actually, we find that bursts of rapid communication, followed by longer periods of silence, are telltale signs of successful teams.” 

For this hack, that burstiness came in the form of regular conferencing, something we are currently being denied. This periodic rather than constant contact works in many spheres of life and is the frontrunner to win How We will Work In The Future.

Driving this, one suspects, is less an enthusiasm for studies about burstiness and more an enthusiasm for cutting down on office space, something which was a feature of the working world pre-pandemic, starting with the infernal trend for hot desking, which pleased no-one but cut costs.

Now desks are feared to be hot with virus. The UK government was this week using its favourite newspapers to float the idea that office staff will be given a "work from home" order within a fortnight if the "rule of six" fails to bring down coronavirus infection rates. In France the current spike has been traced back to office workers and masks are the new office attire.

Enter hotels. Accor, Scandic Hotels, Ace Hotels and citizenM are amongst those looking to bring you and your laptop under their auspices. Dirk Bakker, head of hotels for the EMEA region at Colliers International, said: “Hotels creating a place not only to sleep and eat but also to rent out space to meet, collaborate, socialise and work is a key way that underperforming areas within the building can be optimised from a revenue and income perspective. You can use hotel space twice while traditional work space only once. Not only could this concept appeal to institutional investors but I would not be surprised if this becomes a permanent new form of hospitality in the future.”

This week citizenM went one stage further and offered a corporate subscription (£500/€550/$600/month), giving you unlimited working, three room nights (incl breakfast and drink) and meeting room use.

CCO Lennert de Jong said: “To those workers, who are working from home for the last six months, and realise they will not be back in the office full time anytime soon. To the companies, that realise that the time to have centralised prime real estate offices are gone, and are looking for smarter ways to empower their workforce.

“To the recruiters, that realise that it pays off to not have to recruit for people to move into the expensive cities of London, Paris, New York and Boston, but still want to give a huge secondary benefit to new hires. What do you think, is it time to change the dynamics of travel, commute and office use?”

For hotels with dead space coworking is a Hail Mary while the pandemic grinds on. But as how we work evolves and workers divide their time between homeworking and headquarters, they’ll need a viable option to broach the two. Are subscriptions a nod to the success of the private members’ club model? And would that be the worst thing? Don’t we all crave that personal service which comes with annual membership, worn leather chairs and attentive staff remembering your favourite gin? That has to be worth leaving the house for.