It could not have come at a better time. I was becoming increasingly irritable working from home and prone to interruption-rage. In the Precedented Times, colleagues would interrupt me all the time but the polite ambience of the office would inhibit me from meltdowns. But after weeks of working at home as truly my authentic self, the irritability bubbled up at the slightest provocation. My partner coming to make toast in the kitchen where I was working. Outrageous. A smile while I was on a video call. Maddening. My son showing a fantastic picture he’d finished in peace and quiet. Are you kidding me?
So I snapped (in an altogether cheerier way) at the chance to sample the “remote working” package at The Stafford Hotel in St James’s, central London. At last, a change of scene and the opportunity to work alone in a quiet and comfortable room.
The Stafford isn’t alone. Numerous hotels are trying to counter the slump in leisure and business travel by attracting remote workers craving a new backdrop to their toils at the laptop coalface. Accor, the European hotel group, launched what it bills the “hotel office”, others are marketing “daycation” or “work from hotel” packages. Once booking a suite for the day — or hour — was for the purpose of a discreet affair (which viewed through coronavirus goggles looks hygienically dubious as much as morally) now it offers the tantalising promise of uninterrupted productivity.
Entering the suite I was hit by a familiar fragrance: air conditioning with a hint of business travel. It transported me to those heady days of conferences: like LinkedIn but IRL. I don’t miss those awkward moments trying to shake someone’s hand while showing them your name badge because you’ve just shoved a forkful of potato salad into your mouth.
The “mews suite”, overlooking Georgian town houses and the hotel’s courtyard restaurant, made a change from my normal view of my neighbours (if any of you are reading this, could you do something more Rear Window-y?). A rather delightful welcome came in the shape of a platter of petit fours. After months of the same workplace (my home) and colleagues (my family) the novelty of a hotel was overstimulating.
I sat at the table with my laptop listening to the hum of the air conditioning, feeling guilty that I wasn’t using the full suite package. After all, a deep bath, large double bed with freshly laundered sheets and plump cushions and an array of new films beckoned. So too did deadlines. I soldiered on with my word count until — at last — it was lunchtime.
The Stafford’s package comes with a two-course meal in the restaurant or in the room. I chose the restaurant because what the hell, I used to be a person who sat at linen-covered dining tables too. The restaurant was quiet and the waiters attentive. After a period of furlough, the maître d’ was delighted to be back. “It’s like being on stage,” he said. “I missed it.” Business has slowly picked up since the hotel reopened, but he said he hoped for the return of US business travellers.
My platters of smoked fish and dressed crab were fresh and flavoursome — a gastronomic explosion after months of lunchtime toast eaten by my laptop. After lunch was over, I returned to my desk. Having left my phone charger at home and unable to ask the hotel for the loan of one due to coronavirus protocols, I tried to focus on my work and eventually got into the flow — the first period of blissful interruption-free concentration for days.
Here was a whole day of longed-for solitude. And yet I felt a strange disquiet. While a glorious reprieve from the sameness of my working life, the WFHotel package seemed to embody the coronavirus blur. During the past few months all corners of life — work, family, school, leisure — merged into one shapeless mass. The kitchen table felt like WeWork.
If someone pissed me off at work, I would grumble to my partner, whereas once I would have complained to a deskmate. I talked about my parenting to colleagues who might be the only external voices I spoke to all day. And here I was in a hotel room where I wasn’t on business travel and definitely not leisure.
Despite the travel industry’s efforts to create a category (and terrible neologism) “bleisure” — a blend of business and leisure — it seems that what is needed now is boundaries: pure leisure or single-minded focus on work.
This room is perfect for a traveller in London for a few days and needing to work between meetings or as an outpost for discreet business deals. For those in need of a change of scene, there is always the office.
Emma Jacobs was a guest of The Stafford, London; a day’s booking of a mews suite, including lunch, costs £395. Accor is offering ‘hotel office’ deals at more than 300 European hotels, including in many of its Novotel, Mercure and Ibis-branded properties, from about £55 per day. Online agent Day Break Hotels has ‘daycation’ offers at hotels worldwide, including, for example, from £199 per day at the Athenaeum in London
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