Technology Improves ‘Hoteling’


    At the time she added it as a service, Deborah Bates had not yet heard of “hoteling.”

    “I had the space, and a client walked in and said, ‘I need an office for an hour,’” recalled Bates, Choice Business Services owner and director of marketing and sales.

    From that request, Bates soon discovered many possible users. For example, someone who works at home might not necessarily want to meet with customers there.

    “Wouldn’t it be nice to meet somewhere other than a hotel or restaurant?” she mused. “Somewhere like a business center with all the amenities of an office, but just on a part-time basis.”

    Recent examples include an entrepreneur conducting interviews for prospective employees of her fledgling janitorial service, and an executive of one of the region’s larger companies discussing a potential acquisition with a representative of the targeted company. The neutral setting ensured the meeting stayed confidential.

    Bates operates Choice Executive Suites, a 25,000-square-foot executive suite complex at 2525 East Paris Ave. SE. Originally, the plan was to follow the executive suite model — a shared office space that allowed sole proprietors, small companies and satellite sales forces to reduce office, technology and clerical costs. This too, had been at the request of prospective clients. She moved into the facility in October 1994 with 10 tenants.

    Today, 30 of Bates’ 60 offices are occupied by tenants on one- to three-year leases. The rest are shorter terms of varying length — some stay a few months, others a few hours. For all of these tenants, as well as for clients seeking office services but not space, Choice Business Services offers full administrative, clerical, and identity support; technology support including fax, videoconferencing, Internet and copying; and other professional services such as a notary and a concierge service.

    While the executive suites and administrative services are smaller and thriftier versions of the traditional office, the hoteling option is an example of a slowly emerging workspace model enabled by this decade’s technological advances.

    Purportedly conceived in 1994 by Ernst & Young LLP, office hoteling is an office paradigm in which workers don’t have their own offices, cubicles, or desks, instead reserving whatever resources or space they think they will need ahead of time, according to

    In that early experiment, Ernst & Young published real estate cost savings of $40 million per year.

    The idea is that at any given time, a substantial portion of an office is not used. Back when the Internet was new and cell phones were the size of sneakers, Ernst & Young estimated North American leased office space utilization averaged 30 percent to 50 percent at any time during an eight-hour workday.

    For nearly a decade, facility managers have been curiously awaiting hoteling’s widespread adoption. As a philosophy, it appeared to have failed. But researchers are again predicting the viability of this model, also known in various forms as hotdesking, non-territorial offices, third-place working, virtual offices, mobile workplaces and distributed work.

    “Why are these ideas still emerging and viable?” wondered James Ludwig, Steelcase Inc. North America director of design. “People are talking about it now as they were in 1997.”

    Rather than a wave of the future, as many once thought, Ludwig predicts the workplace will continue to see gradual waves of the future. He is cynical about hoteling, but agrees that changes in the technology and sociological makeup of the workplace will continue to alter work styles, and the office with it.

    “The cubicle is dead,” he said. “There’s no longer a one-size-fits-all solution.”

    Rick Perkins, director of Haworth Inc.’s Workspace Exchange, until recently known as the Design Resource Center, believes that the ideas associated with hoteling in the 1990s weren’t as much wrong as immature. In short, technology made claims it couldn’t keep.

    “Technology today delivers where it hasn’t in the past,” Perkins said. “I can do everything I can do at Haworth corporate at home. I can be at the office, or Starbucks. You can work anywhere; it doesn’t matter where it is.”

    Perkins cited a Haworth client on the East Coast that is experimenting with a model similar to hoteling, now referred to as distributed work principles. At this facility, 40 percent of the offices were empty during the day, with workers toiling at some other space. The real estate was reduced, and technology was leveraged to support the effort. With a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system, a worker can pick an office at random and program the phone to receive calls.

    Wireless Internet is in every office.

    In theory, these principles could extend to the point where companies are mostly bodiless entities with a white-collar work force residing in various executive suites.

    “But we won’t see a Worldclub for Northwest (Airlines) situation where everyone will come in and work,” Perkins said. “You potentially don’t have to have a physical space, but there are decades of really good social science that proves people want some kind of anchor.”

    People need a place to call their own, Perkins said, suggesting that this could be a common area or building.

    Also, hoteling poorly addresses critical issues like collaboration, familiarity and socialization. People need to see other people to, on one level, facilitate innovation, and on a deeper level, happiness.

    “Very few people work from 9-5 who don’t either need to interact or yearn to interact,” Ludwig said.

    He heralded the coming of design and facility management as a service, suggesting businesses look to facility managers as profit centers, able to influence the productivity and innovation of knowledge workers.

    Across town from Choice Business Services, at 112 North Monroe St. in Rockford, is the 1,500-square-foot Rockford Professional Group (RPG). Dave Bystry, principal of Rockford Accounting and a member of RPG, said the group launched with the same model as Bates’ facility, to allow the three original members to save on office and support costs.

    There was a large space left over, however, and RPG began renting it out on short-term leases to others who did not desire a traditional, 1,000-square-foot or larger office space.

    RPG also provides administrative support as a separate service from the real estate. Unlike Choice, RPG is fully leased, and has built itself a collaboration platform. The members, who met through networking group BNI, are marketing their services as a one-stop shop.

    “For what we needed, it worked well for us,” Bystry said of expanding RPG. “To go out and make sure 100 percent of the building is rented out, that’s different.”

    Bates differs on that level. She experimented with a second facility in downtown Grand Rapids at 169 Monroe Ave. NW, but closed the venture after parking and construction frustrations.

    Parallel to Ludwig’s prediction of real estate as a service, she emphasized that her business is not based on real estate as much as it is on business support.    

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