|The entrance to Workspring at Redmond Marriott Town Center near Seattle, Marriott Hotel & Resort’s test property.|
As workers begin to move out of stuffy, formal conference rooms, several hotel companies are following suit by transforming casual public spaces into more collaborative meetings environments.
“The way people work today has changed dramatically,” said Matthew Von Ertfelda, VP of insight, strategy and innovation at Marriott International. “People are completely untethered. They’re looking for collaborative environments, and they’re looking for barrier-less interaction.”
And with a change in workers’ habits—a recent survey sponsored by Wired and Marriott Hotels & Resorts found 48% of respondents are “more productive when they work remotely”—the necessity for hoteliers to adapt is more prevalent than ever.
|Matthew Von Ertfelda
“I think the whole trend towards lifestyle hotels, lobbies becoming more networking opportunities, and carrying that over into where the conference venues areas are, will probably play well with the next (generation),” he said.
Many hoteliers have responded to this change in traveler behavior by creating spaces designed specifically for small, casual meetings. Take for example Marriott Hotel & Resorts’ recent partnership with workplace product and furnishings provider Steelcase to launch Workspring at Marriott.
Workspring, a Steelcase brand, consists of five studios of varying sizes that can accommodate meetings from three to 75 attendees in several common areas, many of which feature natural light and outside access. By integrating some of Marriotts food-and-beverage practices and adding Workspring’s strongest elements, John Malnor, VP of growth initiatives for Steelcase, said they were able to come up with a suitable workspace environment that caters to hotels. The first Workspring launched at the Redmond Marriott Town Center near Seattle. It is marketed as the industry’s first purpose-built suite of integrated spaces and common areas designed for small meetings.
The suite offers five studios, each catering to different meetings sizes, in addition to a café, a living room, a library, a resource center, a breakout area and outdoor space where guests can work, relax or refresh.
“The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas has done some revolutionary things to their meeting rooms that are now two years old,” he said. “They did a focus group with several hundred meeting planners and came up with some innovations with lighting, acoustics, room temperature and audio visual products.”
The rise of small meetings
The demand for small meetings has been around for a long time, according to Del Ross, VP of sales and marketing for InterContinental Hotels Group.
“But the thing that’s changed is people that have led small meetings didn’t realize that’s what they were doing,” he said.
Small meetings can be impromptu or part of a large meeting in which attendees branch out for breakout discussions or a chat over coffee.
Penny Fondy, partner at Wits End Productions, which produces several hundred events per year in the hospitality industry, said she’s seeing demand increase for shorter, focused events.
“People want to learn about things quickly, they want to learn about what’s important to them, and they want to move along,” she said during the ISHC Annual Conference in September.
Another rising source of small meetings business is sports team travel, IHG’s Ross said. “The amateur youth tournament business is about a $1-billion business,” he said. “That’s a massive amount.” “There was a time when meetings were about a one-way push out of info,” Von Ertfelda said. “What we’ve found is that actually a lot of the high-value interactions were happening outside of the meeting.”
Design, tech and service trends
“You want to create charismatic space,” Steelcase’s Malnor said. “You walk into Workspring, and it’s like an open living room/kitchen like a home. It’s not a ‘show me your badge to get in’ kind of space. It’s very welcoming.”
|An example of a Workspring studio.|
“All of the meeting supplies, we provide all that, allowing you to focus on the content,” Von Ertfelda said. “It eliminates the distractions and anxieties and allows you to be exceptionally productive.”
Yet for all their technological advances, smaller meetings workspaces should still address some of the most simple, basic needs that have plagued travelers for years, Brudney said.
A comfortable, ergonomic chair is a must, he said, as are enough outlets for multiple laptops and electronic devices.