Author Douglas Adams pointed out that no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase, “as pretty as an airport”. But could the co-worker movement help change a small part of that?
The history of the airport lounge goes back to 1939 at LaGuardia airport, New York City. It was known as ‘The Flagship Club’ and was created by American Airlines to offer their most loyal travellers a privileged place to relax before their flight. By the 1980’s frequent flyer programs had grown in popularity and by the early 90’s had started to differentiate membership status based on mileage thresholds and flight segments flown. And pretty much most international airlines offered their premium or loyal travellers an enhanced airport experience.
Twenty years on and observers suggest that increasing demands on the business traveller and rapid advances in technology will give rise to a new breed of personalised, ultra-high-tech, yet relaxed airport lounges. One study from Professor Alan Woodward from the University of Surrey for Priority Pass, the world’s largest independent provider of airport lounges, created a blueprint, for the 2030 Lounge of the Future. It features a highly interactive and personalised environment where business travellers can seamlessly integrate their business and personal lives into their journey, from lounge arrival to boarding the plane. Its vision includes intelligent ‘virtual’ work stations where travellers can access their personal desktops using just their mobile phone, eclectic spaces built around personal ‘pods’ incorporating facilities for both working and resting and even dedicated spaces for exercising to create a versatile ‘work/life’ experience. The study predicted ‘super-lounges’ will become larger to cater for extra amenities such as worklife pods, spas and gyms; systems that will recognise the traveller’s identity and provide information and updates tailored to their specific travel itinerary through their mobile; noisecancelling technologies will keep the lounge peaceful and block noise from the busy airport outside; and the range of food and drink available will be much wider than today.
As a very frequent traveller, I have to say that the aspirational experience described above is far removed from the experience I receive in most lounges today. And as for some of the pay-to-play airport lounges, if you total up the cost of buying everything you want at an airport (Wi-Fi, food, snacks, water and beverages), these lounges generally tend to be poor value. It’s often cheaper just to go a la carte. And whilst I might look forward to a better experience tomorrow, there’s something in the descriptions above that intrigues me. Because if you transpose ‘traveller’ with ‘employee’ and ‘lounge’ with ‘office’ the text would be perfectly at home describing any one of the co-worker shared space offices you might visit. But herein is the potential issue with the co-worker movement. Airport lounges are at their best when they are new (or exceedingly well kept) and when they are less than half empty. And the same could end up being true of co-worker spaces.
Some co-worker spaces push the sense of community spirited social enterprise, some exude outstanding hospitality, some secretly filter members through teenage den design while some operate exclusive private members club style waiting lists. But both rely on take-up never actually matching the number of members. Both airport lounges and co-worker spaces are then in the business of ‘real estate as a service’. And they will undoubtedly respond to market demand. But I wonder whether they are all potentially doing something much more seismic for future work generations: they are imbuing in a young business / younger employees a style of working (both behaviourally and aesthetically) that they will take with them through the rest of their working lives. Once you’ve tasted The Pill Box in London’s edgy Bethnal Green or The Office Group’s sleek space in Europe’s tallest building the Shard, or the Manhattan chic of NeueHouse Madison Square, why would you want to relegate yourself to a dull grey cube in a corporate matrix? The ever more mobile employee has a whole raft of new spaces from which to work, way beyond the noisy uncomfortable corner coffee shop, but their development of co-worker space providers into a real estate industry in its own right, has recognisable history in airline lounges. So perhaps those lounges now need to look and learn from the co-worker shared space providers for real innovation and customer loyalty.
Philip Vanhoutte | Leesman
Sr VP & MD EMEA of Plantronics and chair of Leesman’s Advisory Board.
Philip was one of the first to appreciate the benefits of Leesman when he revamped the offices of Plantronics in Europe. The resulting success story is well covered in the Smarter Working Manifesto (in 5 languages). Philip has been a staunch supporter of Leesman ever since as Chairman of the Advisory Board. He advises educators, consultancies and assessors to develop and exercise practices and tools that give professionals and their leaders the physical, virtual and behavioural support that leads to potent human realisation.