A global pandemic doesn’t create ideal conditions for the hotel industry. With leisure travel way down and the need for overnight stays limited, businesses such as the Wythe Hotel, a 70-room boutique hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, found little use for their services.
Little paying use, anyway. During the height of the pandemic’s pressure on New York City hospitals, the hotel had donated its rooms to local doctors and nurses who were quarantining after shifts in highly contagious environments. But once that pressure decreased, the hotel was once again without much demand.
Owner Peter Lawrence and his team began to think about how they could serve the New York market. Even though locals didn’t need hotel rooms, perhaps they’d be interested in using one as a private office.
Lawrence isn’t the only one thinking about how such empty spaces might meet the needs of this moment. Hotels across the U.S. have started converting otherwise empty hotel rooms into office spaces. And, in an hourly take on the Airbnb model, a startup called Globe lets people book time in a nearby empty home that can serve as a temporary office space or refuge from roommates or family.
Whether people want a private space to get some work done or just to get away from their loved ones, the dropoff in overnight guests at hotels may mean a turn to alternative daytime use.
To make the transition at the Wythe Hotel, Lawrence and his team contacted Industrious, a short-term office space provider with locations in more than 50 cities around the U.S. Though Industrious specializes in offering space in mostly traditional office environments, the hotel turned out to be the kind of alternative setting Industrious CEO Jamie Hodari had been looking for.
“There’s a lot of demand right now in mixed-use neighborhoods that skew residential, where lots of people live and it would be an absolute dream to get to walk to work a few days a week instead of getting on the subway and commuting,” Hodari says.
One floor of the Wythe Hotel now offers 13 offices. With beds removed and furniture reconfigured, the converted loft-style rooms can serve as offices for up to four people, starting at $200 a day. Each has floor-to-ceiling windows and a private terrace. Room service is available, and dogs are allowed.
Lawrence says the hotel-turned-office isn’t just about creating an alternative space for those working from home, but providing some hospitality—and the swanky amenities of a boutique hotel. “At 6 o’clock when their day is done, they can come sit in our beautiful garden and get a cocktail and some oysters or whatever they feel like to finish their day,” he says.
The boutique hotel office may be a particularly COVID-19-era concept, but Hodari says companies are increasingly looking for different kinds of office spaces that allow their employees to work from anywhere. “Spaces that can accommodate that more variable use, rather than having it be dedicated space for a specific company, are particularly important,” he says. “I don’t think this is true just during COVID—I think this is a fundamental shift that’s going to be durable, allowing employees to work from anywhere.”
And anywhere may start to look a lot less like the traditional office building. Industrious has already started offering spaces in shopping malls with surprising success. “Our Industrious that’s in a mall in Scottsdale does much better than the Industrious that’s across the street in a traditional office building. And that really calmed our fears about, would companies be comfortable having their offices and holding meetings in nontraditional types of offices,” Hodari says. “Ever since then it’s been off to the races.”
Hotels could be a new area for growth, he says, and hotels may start thinking about making dedicated private office rooms a more standard offering. For a business traveler, Hodari says, a separate office down the hall is likely a more attractive amenity than a swimming pool or a rooftop deck. “That would be the one perk to rule them all in a hotel,” he says. The conversion of the Wythe Hotel is a hint at what could come. “I think this is something that was long overdue, and this is a first step towards real-world examples of workplace providers and hotel providers becoming a bit more intertwined,” Hodari says.
For now, the Wythe Hotel is making its office transition a temporary experiment. To start, its converted spaces are available from now through the end of August.
“We have one room that has all the beds carefully stacked up and tagged and ready to go back at another point,” Lawrence says. “We’re still waiting to see, is this 80 phone calls every day or is this 12 phone calls every day.”