J.K. Rowling famously wrote her Harry Potter series from local cafés and, eventually, out of a five-star hotel. She found that working from home had too many distractions, including child-care responsibilities.
Instead, she simply needed a quiet and simulating place to work that was free of distractions and allowed her to be productive.
Similarly, as we near the 10th month of mandated remote work, many employees working from home are struggling for a variety of reasons, just as Rowling did. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the concept of working from home versus working from anywhere safely.
Having a dedicated, distraction-free work space can keep workers on task and foster deeper cognitive processing. It can also help separate work hours from non-work hours.
Nonetheless, returning to the office isn’t likely an option since many businesses might remain closed well into 2021, or some might have moved permanently to a work-from-home model. Some workers might also be facing a lengthy commute if they’ve moved away from cities during the lengthy pandemic.
Meanwhile, the hotel industry across Canada has been severely and negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of hotel workers are out of jobs. At the end of October 2020, Canadian hotels reported vacancy rates ranging from 64.4 per cent in British Columbia to 84.5 per cent in Québec. Many hotels are on the brink of collapse.
A solution may be within reach that solves both problems.
Similar to the “shop local” messaging encouraging consumers to buy from small neighbourhood retailers, working remotely from a nearby hotel could be a solution that benefits both remote workers and local hotels until the pandemic has passed.
The negative side of working from home
Working from home for the last 10 months has left some workers feeling isolated, depressed and disengaged. While there are many benefits associated with working from home, emotional exhaustion levels of workers increase when working from home extensively.
The blurring of personal and professional space causes some employees to struggle switching off from work. This reduces cognitive well-being and negatively affects sleep quality.
People working in a home crowded with family members also suffer from the “time elasticity illusion.” That happens when others assume the worker can spend time on household tasks without it having an impact on the amount of time spent on paid work. This involuntary overlap of household and work commitments leads to fatigue.
There’s a spillover effect of that fatigue. End-of-day work exhaustion leads to difficulties starting work and staying on task the following day. This can become a difficult cycle to break.
Research shows that workers who focus on finding dedicated, distraction-free work spaces during peak efficiency hours are more productive and less stressed out about their jobs.
Studies also suggest the mundane routines of everyday working life like getting ready, eating breakfast and commuting make some people happy. Additionally, these routines create a buffer between personal and professional time.
Some people also crave the normalcy and structure of the workplace. Others, especially parents, want to get away from the distractions of home.
How do hotel workers benefit?
Aligned with this, hotels have broadened their business model and started offering packages that are aimed at remote workers. Those working from home can access a local hotel on a day or special pass. These passes typically include special rates (daily, weekly or monthly), dedicated work spaces and waived fees for special services like gyms and pools. These services can both help workers overcome the strain of an exclusive work-from-home situation while giving a boost to local businesses.
In 2019, there were more than 10,000 accommodation services businesses across Canada. Most of these employed between five to 99 employees. These jobs are often part-time, providing employment that is highly accessible to women, young workers and immigrants.
Unfortunately, more than 50 per cent of hotel workers lost their jobs between January and June of 2020, with very little employment recovery since then.
Breaking the cycle
While hotels traditionally provide overnight accommodation for travellers, they can attract different clients by marketing themselves as safe, distraction-free, dedicated places to work for those who work from home and need to break the cycle of exhaustion.
The use of hotel space by remote workers, even temporarily, can support employment of local hotel workers, creating a dual benefit at a time of uncertainty.
And according to the World Health Organization, working from a hotel is safe if basic COVID-19 precautions are followed. These include washing hands frequently, wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance from others. Plexiglas shields or remote/keyless check-in, entry and checkout systems are also useful.
If stressed-out workers and interested hoteliers need more information, the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), in partnership with the Public Health Agency Canada, has created a COVID-19 portal providing information for hotels on a variety of safety measures and initiatives.
In the meantime, some major hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton and the Intercontinental, have launched work-from-hotel packages aimed at providing some relief for stressed-out people who need to get out of their homes to effectively do their jobs — or maybe even create the next Harry Potter phenomenon.
By: Nita Chhinzer
Associate Professor, Human Resource Management and Business Consulting (Dept of Management), University of Guelph
Nita Chhinzer receives funding from the Government of Canada, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for an Insight Grant focused on exploring the antecedents and consequences of job loss and mass layoffs in Canada (2020-2023).