Investor appetite, rather than remote employees themselves, will be the driving force that determines where work gets done in the future — including shopping malls.
Future of Work
As organizations start to embrace distributed work and virtual meetings, the corporate travel and meetings sectors are preparing for change. Read Skift’s ongoing coverage of this shift in business travel behavior through the lens of both brands and consumers.
Train stations, airports and shopping malls — remote work locations will spring up in all kinds of new spaces in the future, according to Wojo.
The brand, a joint venture between Accor and French real estate group Bouygues Immobilier, wants to branch out beyond Accor hotels and dedicated co-working buildings. Success in converting a football stadium into a remote work hotspot for a week last summer has something to do with it, said its CEO.
“It demonstrated we’re capable of working anywhere,” said Stephane Bensimon. “We showed that companies can allow staff to work anywhere, as long as there’s the minimum structure in place, like Wi-Fi and space.”
Overall 1,000 workers headed to Parc des Princes, in Paris in September 2021, with an “unbelievable” waiting list. “We’ll see if we can do more things like that,” Bensimon said.
While Wojo has an exclusive partnership with Accor, which owns 50 percent, it’s pushing ahead with more creative ideas. Following the installation of a co-working space inside a Relay convenience store at a train station in Annemasse, eastern France, Wojo is in talks with other partners, including Lagardere — which owns Relay and duty free shops within airports. It’s also entered into discussions with other investors and operators which are exploring rolling out co-work spaces in their commercial centres.
“They need to reinvent themselves in this digital world,” said Lenaic Bezin, head of third places development at Wojo. “What is the experience in shopping mall of tomorrow? Lots of companies are asking questions. They want to multiply the contact points they have with clients, and when it comes to work, we go everyday — it’s a way of attracting people.”
Another big picture outcome for the parties is that adding work spaces to train stations will help them reconnect with the town or city, and not act just as a place of transit for commuter. “They want to reinvent it,” Bezin said. The Annemasse pilot with Lagardere was already showing that locals, as well as travelers, were using the Wojo space and often bringing people with them, he added.
It’s a clever move, because as the European Commission forges ahead with its Fit for 55 climate change proposals, travel may soon start to shift towards rail, rather than flights, as the way forward for member nations.
Wojo is also about to open its first space in Paris under a management contract, with developer Jean Turon. The building near the Saint-Lazare train station will include offices as well as open workspaces. Like Airbnb, it wants to transform itself into a verb and offer Wojo As A Service, or WAAS.
There are now more than 15 standalone Wojo spaces, but Bensimon said it was continuing to work with Accor hotels on transforming rooms and meeting spaces to dedicated Wojo offices. “For the past couple of months we’ve been working with hotels who want to go further and transform some of their rooms or meeting rooms into Wojo spaces,” he said. There are 50 hotels involved, looking to convert 5 or 10 percent of floorspace, and the CEO thinks co-working revenue could double that of traditional hotel revenue in the future.
To date, 5,000 Accor properties are part of the Wojo network, and the brand is doubling down in Latin America. In Brazil, it operates in 100 hotels, with Chile, Peru, Colombia and Argentina also a focus for growth.
“There is still a profound transformation in the world of work, and many companies are still asking questions about their future workplaces, with the integration of homeworking, and how to encourage collaboration in offices,” Bensimon added.
A Japanese media company’s generous “commuter budget” may be an anomaly rather than a future model for businesses.
From April 1, Yahoo Japan is offering each of its 8,000 employees a $1,300 monthly budget to commute to work as part of a new remote work plan. Previously they could work remotely for limited periods, and live within train distance of their places of work — but now they can live anywhere in the country. ANA’s Peach airline was clearly ahead of the curve when it launched its all-you-can-fly subscription model in October last year.
Commuter budgets could be something for travel managers to think about, but maybe not just yet, as it may be a Japanese phenomenon. “There are other companies doing the same thing in Japan, but we strongly think our move is advancing it,” a Yahoo Japan spokesperson told Skift.
BCD’s consultancy arm Advito said commuter budgets weren’t something it was hearing a lot about from its clients, but was keeping an eye on it as a developing trend.
American Express Global Business Travel said some of its clients were experimenting too, but with initiatives like “district meetings” to hold a separate meeting for each region located within driving distance of the attendees’ home locations.
“It’s probably at the extreme end of things and certainly not the norm,” said Pat McDonagh, CEO of corporate travel agency Clarity. “What will be interesting to see and understand is how Yahoo manages it. They say it’s a budget per head and I suspect they’ll want to manage it somehow and control that spend … the wider risk is enabling maverick and uncontrolled spend, without the required processes in place.”
There’s also a subsidy for “internal social gatherings” of up to $45 per month per employee. Rather than a financial risk, the spokeperson said that the company was offsetting it as it had saved office rents.
The media company is meanwhile experimenting with what real estate is left over, and will trial splitting floors, such as “a floor where one person can concentrate” and “a floor where everyone can meet and communicate.”
The company also delivers meals for meetings which it calls an “online social gathering set.“
“In today’s world, where there are no correct answers or precedents, there are no established methods or manners for new ways of working,” said Yahoo Japan president and CEO Kentaro Kawabe.
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