By Carolyn Said San Francisco Chronicle.
Marin mortgage broker Brittany Keyes needed a San Francisco location for a sit-down with a client.
Through a website called LiquidSpace, she booked an hour at a meeting room at the JW Marriott Union Square.
That may not sound like a big deal.
But for Marriott, the world's largest hotel chain, it represents an attempt to pivot, to attract younger people and to respond to seismic shifts in the work world -- in short, to act like a startup rather than a multibillion-dollar global corporation.
"About two years ago, we had a big aha moment," said Jackie McAllister, a senior marketing director at Marriott. "We realized that the way people work had changed dramatically but the way we catered to them was still the same. Meeting planners said they really wanted things simpler, especially for smaller groups. And we realized that people want to work outside of their homes or offices. A lot are working at coffee shops. We thought, 'Wait, we have all these spaces in our hotels -- lobbies, meeting rooms -- that would be ideal for these mobile workers.' "
Marriott 18 months ago started Workspace on Demand ( www.workspaces.marriott.com), a program that enables quick and easy booking of space by the hour or day for work and meetings.
Marriott works with San Francisco's LiquidSpace, which already had an online marketplace for short-term workspaces.
LiquidSpace, in business four years, has more than 4,000 workspaces at 1,500 venues in the U.S., Canada and Australia that users can book as quickly as making a restaurant reservation online.
They range from hip co-working spaces to formal business centers to extra space at banks, law firms, libraries and cash-strapped startups.
"Marriott is transforming its brand from not just a place to sleep but to work," said Mark Gilbreath, LiquidSpace founder and CEO. "It's creating a really bespoke experience."
But it's not one without hitches. When Keyes checked in for her $100/hour meeting room, the first Marriott desk clerk she approached had no idea what she was talking about.
After she was ushered to a spacious curtained nook with a big-screen monitor, she had to scramble to find someone to give her the Wi-Fi password.
Marriott is among a phalanx of corporations seeking to tap into the "collaborative economy," in which people share, rent or sell surplus assets, said Jeremiah Owyang, founder of San Francisco's Crowd Companies, an association for Fortune 1000 firms that want to tap into this evolving sector.
It counts Walmart, Verizon, Coca-Cola, Ford, Wells Fargo and General Electric among its members.
"If companies want to be successful, they have to understand the bottom-up approach of multiple people working all at once," Owyang said. "They have to attract innovators and foster buzz. The traditional business model is not going to work in this new economy."
Marriott isn't alone among hotel chains.
LiquidSpace facilitates on-demand work space rentals at more than 30 major hotel chains and many more individual boutique hotels, including Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Sheraton and Crowne Plaza, Gilbreath said.
Westin Hotels & Resorts last year started Tangent, offering high-tech meeting rooms by the hour.
"Tangent was specifically designed as a smart room that caters to the needs of today's mobile traveler -- a personalized work space that enhances productivity and can be booked on demand at a moment's notice," said Nadeen Ayala, a spokeswoman for Westin's Starwood Hotels, in an e-mail.
"Today's business travelers are more portable and global than ever and are in need of a turn-key business and meeting solution designed for collaboration and connectivity."
Now in 44 hotels, including Westin San Francisco Airport in Millbrae, Tangent will be rolled out across Westin properties worldwide, she said.
In New York, W Hotel is experimenting with renting out collaborative work spaces through a startup called Desks Near Me.
The hotels are responding to the increasing prevalence of road warriors. Research giant IDC predicts that mobile workers will account for more than a third of the global workforce -- or 1.3 billion workers -- by 2015.
Keyes, the mortgage broker, said she sees the need for flexible space among fellow members of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
"We have so many businesswomen who work out of our homes, who would be delighted to know there's a place they can rent for an hour," she said. "You can meet at a Starbucks, but it's not very private. The Marriott has more of the atmosphere I want. It's fun, hip, modern; not a stuffy conference room."
Marriott offers some work spaces at no charge, such as lobby areas, which now include desks with electric outlets. "Generally if it's in a public space without walls, that's free, including free Wi-Fi," McAllister said.
In fact, most work spaces are at least quasi-public, with waiters stopping by to offer food and beverages, for instance. That -- and the fact that they lack beds -- belies the stereotype of how by-the-hour hotel rentals are typically used.
Workspace on Demand is now available at more than 415 U.S. hotels under nine Marriott brands, including Renaissance, Courtyard, Residence and Suites, McAllister said.
"We are definitely attracting new customers," she said. "About 18 percent who book Workspace on Demand rarely use Marriott otherwise. About 56 percent are Gen X or Gen Y. This is a fantastic way to be able to attract Gen X and especially Gen Y Millennials into our hotels. It's a great way for them to sample us; to try us out for an hour at low cost or even for free."