Remember business travel? Well, all signs point to its return, but not quite how it used to be. But it’s yet another opportunity for the coworking industry to redefine their value and capture market share.
To learn more, we talked with Mike LaRosa, the Coworkaholic and seasoned digital nomad who happily credits coworking for saving his life. LaRosa has seen coworking come up from something few understood to a term anyone with an open desk and WiFi could claim.
“The traditional road warrior is getting back out on the road, but their schedule is changing,” he told us. “Business travelers used to hit one city or location a week, but now we see more consolidation of trips; The trips last a bit longer but have to be undertaken less often.”
During the pandemic, the hotel industry did a great job of pivoting to offer day use of their rooms as private, on demand offices, but that’s problematic going forward. They’re still hotel rooms. And today, it’s simply not appropriate to schedule client meetings or even meetings with colleagues behind that door.
“Sometimes you need a meeting before the meeting,” he said. “And I’m not going to your hotel room before we leave to see the client.” That being said, hotels do have conference rooms with ample seating and space. “The hotel conference room is often a windowless cave, and if I want coffee, I have to negotiate for food and beverage service. They have notoriously bad WiFi unless you pay extra for it. And when it comes to projectors and other tech needs, I’m not optimistic I’ll get the latest options.”
Another consideration is this: is your client’s office even open? Are visitors allowed? If the answer to either of those is ‘no’ you need an alternative, and your hotel lobby isn’t one of them.
AirBnBs saw an uptick in usage for coworking spaces, and hosts were encouraged to update their location amenities to include workspaces. “Again, I’d be wary of WiFi speeds in residences. It’s just not up to what a commercial business space needs. And you don’t want to invite your clients or work colleagues to your AirBnB. That era is over.”
But what about a local coffee shop? Who hasn’t had a meeting in a Starbucks -- they are everywhere and coffee is delicious.
“Even though hotel rooms are off limits, you still need privacy and comfort. Are you really going to have important conversations at a tiny table in a busy coffee shop? And am I really going to risk asking a stranger to watch my laptop during breaks?”
That being said, LaRosa highly recommends coworking spaces use their local coffee shops and cafes to prospect for local and traveling coworking members. “Those businesses don’t want folks taking up a table for hours. Establish a relationship with the ones in your area. Give them day passes to hand out to folks who would otherwise camp out for the cost of a cup of coffee. In return, offer coupons to your members to go get lunch nearby.”
Coworking spaces can step into a concierge role for business travelers, providing much needed space, service, and even safety for these folks on the go. Here are LaRosa’s top tips:
Serve as a base of operations for travelers. Most coworking spaces are located in business districts, with access to the ancillary needs of folks on the go.
Have a collection of dongles, adapters, and chargers that often get left behind. What remote worker hasn’t had their day ruined with a forgotten power cable? These folks can’t just run home and get theirs, plus replacements get expensive.
Offer printing and presentation services, or have direct access to businesses that provide those services. Connecting to printers should be fast and easy, plus you can have FedEx and Kinko’s on speed dial for your business travelers. Or sign up with a service such as Print With Me to manage costs and deliver service.
Attract remote team meetups with package deals. Help geographically spread out teams carve out a time and place to come together for an onsite every quarter. This also helps companies allocate dollars for coworking spaces, building it into a line item in their expenses.
LaRosa notes that the decision-makers at companies are often from a generation that is attached to the old, outdated models of work and travel. Coworking spaces have to reframe how and where people work for themselves, by themselves and with others.
In fact, today LaRosa heads up the channel partnerships for Upflex, which has built a growing network of over 6000 locations in 75 countries, and a streamlined way for organizations to create consistency and control costs when integrating coworking into their models.
But the onus is still on coworking space operators and aggregators like Upflex to tell this new story, helping to shape the narrative around flexible workspaces and space-as-a-service. LaRosa is optimistic. “Coworking spaces need to know who they want to serve and how they do it better than the alternatives. Once that story is out, the sky is the limit.”