For many of today’s workers, the line that separates work from so-called “real life” is harder to discern than ever, with work following us from the office to, well, basically everywhere else we go. When we’re on the road, whether for business or pleasure, the need to stay connected and available is constant.
At the same time, so much about the way we conduct business in person has changed, with formal boardroom meetings and interminable Powerpoint presentations frequently—thankfully!—being replaced by brainstorming sessions and collaborative huddles around the whiteboard.
The ever-changing nature of the working world is something the team at Aloft Hotels is acutely aware of, as they continue to evolve the design-forward chain’s offerings for a new generation of “always on” business travelers, creatives, and vacationers.
FastCo.Works spoke with Aliya Khan, Marriott’s VP of global design strategies, and Bridget Higgins, Aloft’s global brand leader, to find out how they’ve reimagined the brand for a contemporary workforce—including how to design a hotel “business center” that people might actually want to work in.
FastCo.Works: Do you think Aloft appeals to a different kind of business traveler than more traditional business hotel brands do?
Aliya Khan: Our travelers want a lot of the same things everyone else does—fast and free Wi-Fi, a nice space to focus and work, ample places to charge devices. But they differ in that they also want an environment that inspires and is social. They like a bright and bold design and open public spaces that allow them to be productive by day and social in the evening.
FCW: Aloft has a reputation for being a hipper, livelier brand than many other chains. How do you balance that promise of being a fun and stylish hotel, while still appealing to those who need to get real work done on the road?
Bridget Higgins: Aloft is designed to offer something that very few other hotels do: an amped-up social experience for the business traveler. People need more than just conference rooms and business centers to get things accomplished and feel good about their work travel.
Through our research we know there’s a large segment of travelers looking for hotels that offer a lively bar and public space. That’s why we created spaces like Aloft’s Backyard where people can unwind with a drink or play games outside, and the W XYZ Bar where they can catch up with coworkers, meet new people, or see some live music and get a sense of the city they’re in. Sometimes the best business amenities are the things that make work travel more social and fun.
FCW: What kinds of practical design elements have you added to appeal to this new kind of work traveler?
AK: Sometimes, the smallest details in the room are some of the most important. Outlets, for instance. You can’t have too many, and it really matters where they are. A MacBook has a really big charger block—a guest shouldn’t have to unplug a lamp to fit it into an outlet, and they shouldn’t have to go hunting around behind furniture to find it either. With those kinds of needs in mind, we did a fun collaboration with a tech company called Legrand, where we created branded buttons that guests could push, and an outlet with sockets and USB ports that pop up from a piece of furniture. That feature is cool and novel, but also really useful to anyone traveling with multiple devices.
We’ve also rethought the actual work spaces in the rooms. We don’t fill up rooms with massive 8-foot desks anymore. We offer multi-purpose tables that function as a place to work, eat a snack or even have children color as they watch TV.
BH: We’re always thinking of new ways to infuse technology into our offering. For example, our new Aloft Dublin Pleasanton in California is testing voice-activated room features with Echo that allow guests to request wake-up calls and extra linens with their voice, or activate the lights on command. When you’re traveling and busy, that’s a detail that can make your day just a little easier.
FCW: Is the idea of a “business center” still relevant in 2018? What is Aloft’s take on those kinds of amenities?
AK: The old computer room–style of business center is obsolete now that everyone travels with laptops and tablets. All people need is a printer that’s easy to access from their own device.
But there’s a lot more we can offer business travelers in the public spaces by making them really flexible and creating opportunities for people to inhabit them however they need to, like C-shaped furniture that converts from laptop desks to coffee or cocktail tables. Or alcove seating where people can focus and work, or have a conversation with a client.
We’ve also redesigned our “Tactic” meeting rooms to offer more than just your standard boardroom table and projector setup. Tables can become whiteboards and Ping-Pong tables. Bean bags and ottomans can be moved around for breakout work sessions. And my favorite—some have phone booths that harken back to old recording-studio booths and allow you to shut a door, take a conference call or plug in a laptop and work totally solo.
FCW: Everyone is looking for work-life balance, and that applies to work travel as well. People want to carve out some time to have fun or see new things while they’re on the road. What does Aloft do to give work travelers a more well-rounded travel experience?
BH: We see that frequent travelers want to get a “taste of the local” while they’re on the road, something to share with their friends and family that shows they saw more than just the inside of a conference room.
We make it easy for people to get that local feeling by bringing it right to them, with events like our Live at Aloft Hotels program, which invites local bands into our W XYZ bars to play acoustic sets in an intimate, stripped down living room-style performance. This way, no matter how pressed for time they are on their trip, our guests can discover a new band, get a sense of what the locals are like, all without even leaving their hotel.
This article was created with and commissioned by Aloft Hotels.