Guestroom Design and Meeting Productivity

Like all other aspects of a hotel, the connectivity afforded to us by the growth of the internet has forever changed the landscape of meetings. In this virtual world, people do not necessarily have to meet face-to-face, or be in the same country, to open a dialogue or efficiently conclude business agreements. But even with this grand technological advancement, the act of meeting together in a preordained conference setting is still an especially productive activity.

When we as hoteliers discuss improving the meeting environment in order to facilitate greater productivity and better states of mind amongst our conference guests, often this conversation is limited to technological, special or service tips pertaining only to the meeting rooms or otherwise designated space. We repeatedly neglect the importance of the guestroom in this context and the reciprocal relationships these private spaces have on public business gatherings.

This is not to say that guestrooms aren’t a foremost topic. Only that they are generally scrutinized as a mutually exclusive entity. Thinking about a conference guest’s cumulative experience without any such compartmentalization, you will begin to see how in-room modifications can heighten the perceived value of a particular meeting space, thereby increasing word of mouth and demand which can both be leveraged to command a higher ADR.

It’s taking a more holistic approach and there are several broad aspects of room design worth considering along these lines. (Note that my language in these opening paragraphs may have insinuated that I am only examining cases where a property is hosting a conference or meeting onsite, but any points introduced can be applied to all hotels who cater to this segment.)

Ergonomic Workspaces

The most salient link between conferences or meetings and any private activity pertains to the desk area of the guestroom. There are many subtle improvements you can make here to increase the quality of work performed and enable multitasking.

For starters, desk areas should be planned to readily accommodate a laptop computer as well as provide suitable connections for value-adds such as a second monitor and an external keyboard and mouse, all three of which greatly augment the speed at which one can work or multitask. Furthermore, does the desk have a reasonable sightline with the television? Many people like to complete minor tasks while catching up on the news or some sports, and facilitating this will make for a much better experience (more on this later). Additionally, many smart televisions come with porting devices so that a computer can sync up – good for watching videos on the big screen from a laptop as well as practicing a presentation.

On to furniture, in a desk and chair unit, you should aim for ‘rigid comfort’. Oxymoronic, yes, but it informs exactly what the ideal position is for the human body at work. Unlike, say, the outright comfort that you’d want out of a lounge or bed setting, an ergonomic workspace should be comprised of a chair that is comfortable for sitting in an upright position and a desk that is neither too high or too low. Pesky, minor grievances can come back to bite you here, too, like a chair whose arms don’t fit overtop of or underneath the desktop. The chair legs or base shouldn’t be too low either. And for those looking to be bold and appeal to a niche but growing audience of consumers, look at installing standing desks, which also conveniently require far less space than their regular counterparts (potentially perfect for urban boutique operators).

A complete overhaul of every room isn’t necessary either. To save on costs and time, introduce a new room type that emphasizes in-room business productivity and restfulness for meetings. The key is to clearly communicate each specific feature that contributes to this experience in all your business and conference materials.

Your Room Is Your Sanctuary

Conferences can be tiring. Lots of standing, talking, smiles, handshakes, chitchat and concentration can take its toll. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries, via either an afternoon respite or a restful cool down at the end of the day’s proceedings. This is doubly the case for the introverts among us – contemporary estimates place this between 25% and 50% of the total population – who need intermittent quiet time to function at any reasonable capacity.

The obvious room features in this regard are a comfy bed, soft linens, extra pillows and perhaps a well-cushioned armchair, divan or sofa. Of course, décor and furnishings are also important, with different designs affecting guests in different ways. Moreover, F&B plays a significant role, both through in-room offerings such as the mini-bar and room service as well as any other lobby restaurant outlets catering to onsite meeting attendees (for now, let’s keep the discussion focused on guestrooms).

But this is just scratching the surface; every property already considers these aspects. If you want to stand apart from the herd, you must improve on all fronts related to restfulness, and you can harness technology for this very purpose.

Starting with the most immediate application, many unwind by zoning out in front of the television for 20 minutes or an hour. But the nature by which we consume this medium is changing. In order to deliver a satisfactory reboot, you must adapt to the times. To indulge this behavior pattern, you must allow for guests to watch what they want when they want.

Yes, I’m referring to on demand viewings, easily navigated cable channels, binge watchers, accommodating internet-based providers like Hulu and Netflix (you facilitate and guests use their own licenses), and the ability to plug in USB sticks and external hard drives. The best tech upgrade to explore here would be smart televisions, which also happen to be more energy efficient that older flatscreens (research OLEDs or their lower cost LED predecessors), thus affording you the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. That, or you can deploy connective devices, such as AppleTV, that offer similar functionality.

The next alternative is use technology to enhance sleep, accomplished largely through noise reduction or proper temperature control. Modern alarm clocks can be pinged to play a number of soothing ambient noises proven to have a regenerative effect such as crashing waves, cetaceans singing underwater or rain pitter-pattering off tree leaves in a secluded forest. Newer smart thermostats, aside from their primary capacity to properly monitor temperatures, also take background sounds into consideration by better timing automated HVAC venting to prevent a fan cycle from occurring right as a guest is about to dose off.

Beyond this, there are many subtle and less obvious ways to transform the guestroom into a place of total relaxation and rejuvenation. Without digressing into the role of bathroom upgrades or specific spa treatments, all this must be done to conform to the meeting or conference at hand, so any enhancement must be considered with this in mind.

The In-Room Group Meeting

While formal presentations will occur in public meeting spaces, the preparations and one-on-one negotiations may occur elsewhere and often in the comfort of one’s own guestroom. If the latter is the case, then you’d be wise to fit your rooms and suites with technology that will enhance these proceedings.

The foundation on this front is good WiFi bandwidth because nearly everything operates through the internet these days. I’m not going to ramble on with my thoughts on whether internet access should be free or not, but let’s just agree for now that offering the service as complimentary would certainly leave guests happier than if you charged.

Next, many of the abovementioned ergonomic workplace features can also be utilized to heighten guestroom meetings. Second monitors are good for displaying information to others in the room who aren’t seated immediately behind the laptop. External keyboards are great for copying down notes in case someone is dictated. Additionally, you might also consider installing portable webcams for when a meeting involves someone via Skype or another iteration of video chatting. True, most laptops have a built-in webcam, but the portable ones can allow you to change what’s seen without moving the computer itself.

All told, these are relatively cheap and ordinary upgrades to make to your guestrooms; nothing too esoteric that a business guest wouldn’t intrinsically understand. The central problem, though, is port or plug incompatibility. For instance, suppose you install these upgrades to conform to Android micro-USB and iPhone 5 lightning cables. This not only excludes older smartphone users, but what happens when the tech giants come out with the next version? To this, all you really can do is shrug your shoulders; you have no choice but to abide by these corporations’ mandate for forced obsolescence. Be prudent and always inquire about how soon a piece of hardware and its connective plug will be off the market.

Lastly, in terms of presentation practice, you might also want to give people the ability to access the technology that would normally be available for conference spaces – that is, projectors, mouse clickers, laser pointers and whatever else that’s movable. This can definitely become a burden to the staff members required to transport the gear up to the room and back down. But in the end, it’s all about providing for the guest. If you allow someone to fluidly practice their slideshow the night before and familiarize himself or herself with the technology, it will make for greater positive sentiments.

Packaging and Promotions

None of these guestroom improvements will matter unless you advertise the new features and get the point across that your rooms are properly designed for productive meetings. Unless you complete a major overhaul to merit a press release in its own right, I’d suggest that you work with your marketing team to develop one or two versions of a business productivity package. These might include discounted ADR, deals on meals or free WiFi, but the overall message should be clear as day that your guestrooms are ideally engineered to enhance a meeting or conference. And the best part is that most of these upgrades won’t require huge capital expenses; just a little bit in the right direction for tremendous results.

(Published by Larry Mogelonsky in Hotel Executive September 8, 2014)

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