By Lucy Denyer
It was the pen pot on the desk that tipped us over the edge. I wanted it there so I could grab a pen during an important work call. My husband thought it was cluttering up a workspace that should ideally be kept as clear as possible, given that it was also our bedroom.
It’s the latest example of how the hospitality industry has had to pivot to survive tough times. During lockdown, suddenly empty hotels offered accommodation to key workers such as police officers and hospital staff. Now, as cabin fever sets in for those who have worked from home for half this year and face another six months of pen-based arguments, hotels, cafes and pubs are offering up their tables as desks, with some pubs charging between £10 and £20 a day, in exchange for Wi-Fi, some food and drink, and a change of scenery.
According to Melanie Marcombe, head of sales at Dayuse.com, a platform that allows users to book a hotel for hours rather than overnight, the site has seen an explosion in hotels offering working packages; not surprising, given that worldwide most are currently operating at below 30 per cent occupancy – far lower than what they need to survive. Large, urban hotels aimed at business travellers have been among the hardest hit. Since the beginning of lockdown, Marcombe says they have received more than 1,000 requests from hotels around the world asking to join the platform – which now features 6,000 hotels in 25 countries.
Joanne Taylor-Stagg, general manager at the Athenaeum, admits that occupancy is currently “in the teens” percentage-wise (at this time of year they’d usually be around 80 per cent full) and certainly, during my day there, I saw only three other guests. Checking into a hotel for the day did, admittedly, feel faintly wrong, but it wasn’t helped by the fact that it was so glaringly empty; the carefully-explained one-way system, hand sanitising stations everywhere and ability to scan your own passport felt faintly absurd given the dearth of visitors. The room itself felt similarly forlorn – the muffled drone of traffic from outside only intensifying the solitude. Nevertheless, says Taylor-Stagg, the offering has been relatively successful – while the majority of users opt for the “Public Space” option – use of the lobby or first-floor balcony area, with a 15 per cent dining discount, for a modest £40 a day – even the full “Private Office” package: £199 for the day with lunch and snacks included is a bargain compared to hiring commercial space in Mayfair.
Fancy working from a hotel for the day?
There are plenty of options out there:
‘Work from Roseate’, at the Roseate Hotel in Reading charges £75 for a room from 8am to 5pm, including a working lunch, free parking, dog friendly rooms on request and a complimentary cocktail at the end of the day.
DayBreak Hotels allows people to book rooms for up to 75 per cent less than the cost of an overnight stay; simply search for your chosen location and which facilities you want to include and select a date, to book for one, five or 15 consecutive days.
Dayuse.co.uk has 6,000 hotels over 25 countries, averaging three stars and above, all available for day booking.
At The Dorchester a couple of days later (I could seriously get used to this), things were a little more buzzing – the ratio of guests to staff still left me feeling thoroughly spoilt on arrival, but there didn’t seem to be any fewer swanky cars parked outside than normal, and various loads of luggage were being hauled in as I trotted up on a Monday morning. Here, for £1,275 you get access to a private suite from 7am to 7pm, a £100 voucher towards dining or spa (a mid-afternoon massage is something I’d definitely like to add to my regular working day) and, best of all, concierge on tap – I’d forgotten my phone charger, but one phone call later and Jeremy, the super-attentive butler was at the door to my palatial suite with one on a silver salver. There are plenty of other perks to using a hotel as a place from which to conduct business. At home, the distractions tend to be limited to what’s in the fridge or how full the laundry basket is. In a hotel, it’s the siren call of a freshly made-up king-sized bed, room service on tap and a tempting plate of freebie macaroons.
The Dorchester's afternoon tea or a massage could prove to be quite distracting.
If you can resist the lure of a nap (or the minibar) though, it turns out you can get an awful lot done in a hotel – the anonymity of the surroundings, the absence of any sort of pressing domestic task and the complete lack of any other human presence can be very focusing to the mind.
Pre-ordering lunch, it arriving at a moment of your choosing and then someone else whisking it away to wash everything up afterwards beats even the convenience of going to Pret, and the usual transition of the day from ultra-peaceful to super-hectic at 3.30pm when my children return home from school completely passed me by in the plush surroundings of Mayfair’s finest bedrooms.
Admittedly by about 4.30pm I was ready for some human interaction – even of the pen- throwing kind – but by the end of the day I’d achieved a lot more than I usually do at home.
And the best bit? My husband joined me in the hotel bar for a drink before going home. As one person observed as she worked from a cafe table last week: “Man has set up his printer in Costa. It truly is the end of the office.”