Can it work out? 

People’s relationship with the exchange of their labour for cash is fraught. Is it meant to be about suffering? There is a marked lack of people who win the Lottery, but who continue to work. Is it just meant to be a bit crap?

The pandemic is the latest jolt which was meant to change all this, but it hasn’t worked out. At this week’s Pandox Hotel Market Day – and we love the Pandox Hotel Market Day – the what and the why fore of work was up for discussion. June Koh, partner, Total Workplace, Cushman & Wakefield, said that research conducted by the group made them realise that “hybrid working is not good for wellbeing. There is a misalignment between work strategy and the reality”.  A lot of this is due to bad habits picked up during covid – such as back-to-back meetings and no breathing space. 

Hybrid working was meant to help people have a work/life balance, ie end the commute and give them more time for the opera, and it was meant to help people who hated being at work hate it that bit less. But what has happened is that we have these endless Zooms and none of the interaction with our colleagues which might make it that bit better and maybe rewarding and inspiring. As Koh pointed out, if you don’t work on your hybrid strategy, you have people coming into empty offices to join Zoom calls. 

There is, of course, a mismatch of general enthusiasm for the office. Koh reported that 20% of senior leadership wanted people back every day, but 15% of people said they saw no benefits to coming back into the office. If you’re Elon Musk then that doesn’t matter, you can order everyone in. But then Mr Musk is suffering from a ‘people buggering off” issue, which is commonplace across the sector and the world of work in general.

So; work. Most of us have to do it, we don’t always like it and there are probably some conditions out there which might make it more palatable – rewarding, even –  but we have’t worked out how to make it flexible enough that everyone can find their perfect environment. What does this have to do with hotels? 

Part of this is about belonging. Work is better if you feel like you belong. This doesn’t mean that you are part of a family – here at NewDog we are freaked out by the ‘but we’re a family’ approach to work – but that you have shared goals and shared support in achieving them. It’s satisfying. The big hotel brands would call this ‘loyalty’ and it goes a long way to explaining why they create the brands that they do (cynical/accurate explanation that it fuels the pipeline aside). 

Airbnb is the king of belonging and everyone else is just playing catch-up. Is that because it’s like your home, or your aspirational home? Yes. We love to travel but we love our own bed. Can we have both please?

More relevantly to what is driving people to pick a hotel in the first place is why and where they are travelling. We know why we travel for leisure much like we know why we do everything we do for leisure. But corporate travel is what’s perplexing the sector and what pays to put our pickles on the rye. 

Dr Carl Benedikt Frey, director of the Future of Work Programme at the Oxford Martin School, told the assembled that globalisation was replaced by “slowbalisation …but we have seen growth in globalisation of professionalisation. If a lot of jobs can be done remotely, they can be exported and we’ll see a new wave of globalisation”. So the era of outsourcing low-skilled jobs is passing and there would be “hubs of highly-skilled people working in interactions and secondary hubs, in places which speak good English, such as in India and Bangladesh, and there will be plenty of travel between those places”.

This was reassuring news for the sector, which was concerned that, just because it is enjoying automating a lot of service, other sectors might notice, do the same, and cut business travel.

But what does the business traveller want when they get there? They want a hotel which is adapted to their every individual need. That they work and rest and play in the same square footage. And this is where the hotel sector and work have aligned. Prior to the pandemic, you could kick off about working from home, but you pretty much needed a doctor’s note. And in hotels, they wanted the business traveller, but only the one who was out for meetings all day, not the one who needed a workspace. 

Both parties are having to sit up and listen. The ones which work it out will be the ones which keep their headcount. 

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