Rhema Kallianpur, Unsplash.
Rhema Kallianpur, Unsplash.

Forget the Home Office. Book a Hotel Room.

While working from home has become the norm amid the pandemic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the perfect workspace for everyone. That’s prompted a search for socially-distanced work spaces… like hotel rooms.  

Monica Kelly Lopes needed a break from her home office—an extra bedroom that served as a shared workspace with her partner. So the startup advisor downloaded an app called Hotels by Day—and booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Palo Alto, California.

Rather than getting a good night’s rest, she drove 15 minutes and paid $150 to get four hours of peace and quiet in the middle of the afternoon, when she could bang out a strategic document for one of her startup clients. She had everything she wanted: a private room with Internet service, a nice work area, desk, coffee, room service and water. “I could come and go between 8 and 6,” she says. “It was an opportunity to clear my mind.”

Working from home amid the pandemic has been a relief to some, but it’s not ideal for everyone. Hotels have emerged as a convenient alternative to people who still cannot return to the office due to company restrictions or personal comfort levels amid COVID-19.

Home can be a difficult place to work: Urban dwellers often work in small spaces. Parents struggle to complete tasks next to children doing distance learning. An office may be the dining room table or an extra bedroom cluttered with boxes. There’s a lack of quiet space, a lack of choice over setting, and no option other than to do this full time. Research shows office environments help people thrive at work, because they offer a joint experience of vitality and learning and they’re linked to better job performance, creativity, well-being, and more positive interactions among colleagues, writes a team of social scientists in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

For the time being, hotels are great alternatives to home offices, says Rosalba Cacciato, the area director of revenue management at OTO Development, which runs three hotels in New York City, including AC Hotel Times Square, Hampton Inn Times Square Central, and Fairfield Inn & Suites Midtown/Penn Station. People can rent rooms to work in those hotels for $60 to $120 for five hour blocks. “It’s especially ideal if you’re in a one or two-bedroom apartment,” Cacciato says. “Space in New York is a hot commodity, and there’s a lack of it to social distance.”

Well before the pandemic, a number of Manhattan hotels began a transition to lobbies and meeting spaces specifically designed for nomads that sought comfortable, hip workplaces.

Day use by remote workers has “saved” a number of hotels in Florida during the pandemic, including Inn on Fifth in Naples, which offers a “peace and quiet” package for remote workers, which includes WiFi, valet parking, rooftop pool access and a six-foot work table with charging ports.

In Chicago, remote workers can grab a coworking table at the Commons Club on the second floor of its Virgin Hotel outpost, which boasts hand sanitizer and regular cleaning of doorknobs, desks and arm chairs.

New York City area hotels are also getting creative for good reason: Occupancy in New York hotels was just 38.5% in early October and revenue was down 78.7% annually, according to Commercial Observer.

The Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn banded together with coworking giant Industrious to open private offices for rent that have 13-foot high original timber ceilings, oversized windows, concrete floors and artwork by local artists. The rooms offer “productivity packs” of sweet and salty snacks for each office suite. Occupants can also order room service that’s “contact-free” from the hotel restaurant.

Elsewhere in the New York City area, the Made Hotel offers $25-a-day coworking in the lobby with free coffee. The Arlo Hotel offers private hotel rooms and its rooftop for remote workers, as part of its ArloNomad offering. And citizenM is rolling out new corporate subscription packages that include a certain number of room nights as well as meeting and coworking space. (The Dutch chain is also trying a $1500 monthly pass that lets guests stay in any of its 21 hotels worldwide.)

Renting a hotel during the daytime isn’t necessarily new—they’ve been used as showrooms, interview rooms, and places where bleary-eyed truck drivers and flight attendants could catch a nap. But COVID is forcing hoteliers with low occupancy rates to become more desperate, aggressively marketing day rentals for ancillary revenue, says Robert Mandelbaum, the Atlanta-based director of research information services at CBRE Hotels Research.

“Our firm has tracked hotels since the 1930s, and we haven’t seen a falloff in performance of this magnitude,” Mandelbaum says. “Hotels are down 80% to 100% and they’re closing on a permanent or temporary basis. And they’re getting more creative.”

Even if people don’t immediately head back to the office, there is a new demand for a safe, socially-distanced space that can serve as some sort of respite. “It’s been eight months and people are cooped up, going crazy,” says Yannis Moati, CEO and founder of Hotels by Day, the app that Lopes used to find her hotel room.

The trend also underscores the fact that many people’s homes aren’t set up correctly for work from home, says Rob Wu, one of the authors of the 2020 Work from Home Study by Annex, which helps employers get workers set up with custom ergonomic setups. The study showed that only 30% of workers describe their home offices as comfortable, and only 53% of respondents received some type of office equipment to enable working from home.

Those who were reimbursed for equipment they purchased received an average of $470 to outfit their home office. This amounts to a paltry 2.2% of what employers spend to outfit corporate offices per worker. “There is a huge disconnect when it comes to that,” Wu says of the Annex study. 

However, the study also found that 65% of workers say they’d be even more productive working from home if their spaces were properly outfitted.

“Although most people think about having the right desk, the biggest impact can be made in having the right ergonomic chair,” says Wu. That means a chair sized for your body and with at least three levels of adjustment. This can ease back and neck pain and make for happier and productive work. An external monitor, too, can eliminate poor hunched posture that happens when working on a laptop for long hours. It can not only affect your back and neck, but it can affect breathing muscles and respond to stress. Adding a plant to your home work space, too, can boost happiness.  

Remote working may persevere—most experts don’t expect COVID-19 conditions to die down until 2021 or 2022—but for a growing number of people, the search for a quiet office outside the home will be here to stay. Even if that means a working staycation at your neighborhood hotel.