The Unforeseen Pandemic Outcome: Normalization of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Jos Schaap | ROOMDEX
In the past 12 months, millions globally have been forced to work from home due to domestic lockdowns and restrictions. Now, after a year of remote work, and as many worldwide are vaccinated in increasing numbers, organizations are getting serious about what a return to the office will look like. However, companies may have a hard time dragging everyone back to the office. The pandemic highlighted many advantages of remote work and employees won’t be quick to give them up. They want to keep their new-found work life balance.
The future looks hybrid: Flexible work is here to stay.
While occasional remote working this was something companies used to offer as a perk, it was never the norm. But COVID forced us all to re-think our traditional concerns over employee productivity. Shortly after the pandemic began, it became apparent to many office-based teams that employees could be just as productive and focused when not in the office. And there were new benefits to be had. Employers experienced reduced costs associated with physical offices and decreased staff absenteeism. On the other side of the equation, employees enjoyed a much better work life balance, reduced stress, flexible time schedules and commuting time savings, among other things. As a result, multiple reports have found that most – a whopping 80% – don’t want to return to office full time. Over a third have indicated they do not want to return to the office at all, with more than 50% of employees saying that they would now leave their jobs for one that offers remote, flexible work.
As such, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed companies to offer remote work options. Many businesses from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Reddit, IBM to name but a few have begun offering the hybrid-working model, giving employees the flexible combination of remote and office work. Other companies like HubSpot, Dropbox, Atlassian, Shopify, have decided to fully embrace 100% remote work – Shopify’s CEO Toby Lutke was quoted saying “Office centricity is now dead.”
This new perspective on the nature of how and where it is acceptable to work opens exciting new opportunities for an increase in travel that blends both business and leisure, Some may call it the “digital nomad” lifestyle. In fact, several European countries have already begun the process of launching digital nomad visas to welcome foreign remote workers.
Hybrid work options poised to increase the digital nomad travel segment
Both leisure and business travel volumes dropped abruptly in March and April of 2020. While it is predicted that leisure travel will resume initially, many worry that an increasingly remote workforce will usher in a steep decline in business travel. Signs indicate that this may not be exactly true. Business travel may simply look different post-pandemic. We know that pre-COVID business travel was on the rise, with business tourism spend increasing over 42% from 2010 to 2019, from 902 billion to 1.2 trillion. Not only were many segments of workers showing interest in business travel, but they were also increasingly blending business travel with leisure. Picture tacking a long weekend on to the end of a conference to explore the city, a phenomenon referred to as “bleisure” travel. Post Covid, career satisfaction may be linked to the extent to which an employee can seamlessly blend personal life with work life—or at least, toggle between the two with relative ease.
“We believe that COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for the blurring lines between travel and living, and the global pandemic has accelerated the ability to live and work anywhere which create new opportunities for hybrid models like Zoku”
Enter the Hybrid Hotel Model: Offering flexible work stay options
With more people requesting hybrid work options while traveling, there is a real opportunity for hotels to reimagine the use of key assets (meeting rooms, lounge rooms, restaurants/bars, parking spaces, laundry facilities, gym, pools etc) to appeal to the rising bleisure travel segment.
The mix of work and overnight stays is anything but a new concept. For many years, the hotel sector has seen several initiatives where the provision of overnight stays and office space enable co-working and interacting. These vary from the likes of major hospitality groups such as Accor to a wide range of independent ventures such as Zoku and CitizenM. Pre-Covid these initiatives have been successful in their effort to provide tailor-made services to a community of customers made up of guests and locals alike.
Hotels who can shift to a “hybrid” hospitality model, allowing guests to live, work, and play simultaneously, not only will they attract a new cohort of guests but could benefit from an increase in turnover by up to 20%. “Hybrid hospitality is stacking different business models on one square meter in order to use resources far more efficiently and to reduce unused capacity,” says Marc Jongerius, Co-founder and Managing Director of Zoku.
Remote work will remain a fact of life due to necessity and, increasingly, worker preference. Savvy hotels that realign their business and adapt their space to deliver a ‘hybrid hospitality’ concept will be in a better position to harness the remote working trend and generate an additional source of income.
“We have to take one thing in mind: general statistics illustrate market averages” Hans Meyers says, “But in almost every market, even during a downturn, new niches arise. Instead of conforming to a status quo, there is always an opportunity to create new opportunities.