Return to office is still a work in progress—complicated by the threat of an economic slowdown and the resulting shift in the employer/employee power balance—yet only 16% of employees today are working exclusively from home, according to recent JLL research. The fastest-growing workplace isn’t home or the office, but some third place—a coffee shop, hotel lobby or, increasingly, private clubs.
Once a stuffy, exclusionary corner of city life—complete with jacket requirements and strict policies around phone and laptop usage—private clubs have emerged from the shadow of the pandemic as a modern nexus for creative professionals, nightlife aficionados, foodies and world travelers (among many other niches) who are looking for a more collective and curated experience than they get in public spaces or corporate offices.
While private clubs are growing across the country, they likely aren’t the solution to large-scale hybrid work. But their unique combination of physical locations, world-class amenities, hyper-targeted programming and air of exclusivity may give office owners and operators inspiration to innovate the next iteration of the office.
Leading with hospitality
Prior to the pandemic, many office buildings were competing in a hospitality foot race, adding services and amenities that reminded workers more of a high-end resort than the factory-driven design of older-generation workplaces. While offices look to the next evolution of hotelization as part of their worker return strategy, private clubs have already advanced the concept well beyond an on-site gym and dining area.
At NeueHouse, a hybrid social club and coworking site for creatives, hospitality measures include the expected bar and café but also interiors that have been reimagined to encompass both work and play. That includes soft, comfortable seating that pulls double duty as a sound dampener, allowing patrons to host private conversations while still being visible for happenstance encounters. Details like elevated tables that can comfortably be used for both dining and typing and enhanced lighting that sets a mood while providing enough luminescence to read a menu, or an important document, have been meticulously thought through to provide the best-of-all-worlds experience to members.
These specifics may be familiar to many in the property management space, but private clubs are pushing beyond the expected, curating art exhibits that can’t be experienced elsewhere. The goal is to draw and inspire, not merely to create the visual equivalent of background noise. Private clubs are even inventing fragrances to build sense memories for their members and further establish the tone of the club.
Does the office need a fragrance? Maybe not. But articulating a vision for what an office space is for, how it is to be used and who can best utilize it may help bridge the gap between the occasional office visit and the occupancy rates most companies desire.
Lifestyle-driven amenities differentiate
Under a hybrid work model, the office’s value is to provide a place for employee socialization, team building and collaboration. Half of remote employees say they miss the social interaction of the office, and 44% miss the common understanding and bonding that comes with face-to-face work, according to JLL research.
But socializing isn’t enough. On the heels of a global health crisis, most employees want workplace health and wellbeing amenities and expect their employers to deliver. Private clubs have clearly picked up on this desire to create a more holistic lifestyle approach to health and used it as a differentiator to grow their membership rosters.
Bian, a Chicago-based private club, opened in late 2020 just as pandemic-era stay-at-home mandates were expiring. It is the ultimate wellness destination, complete with fitness classes, therapeutic spa services, nutrition consultants, a medical concierge, as well as beauty and med-spa treatments. In April, the club added co-working to its growing list of amenities, a reflection of the club’s “time is precious” ethos, minimizing distractions and the need to move to any other location to get everything you need, from a gourmet meal to executive coaching.
In Los Angeles, the newly opened Heimat has combined a luxury fitness experience—including specialty studios for hot yoga, Pilates, boxing, cycling, dancing and TRX workouts—with the wrappings of a private club. While the club is curated for wellbeing, there’s no sense of deprivation. A rooftop pool, multiple dining options—including some open to the public—and spa services all contribute to the fitness-as-a-lifestyle thread that runs through everything the club does.
Not every office building can incorporate infrared panels for hot yoga but improving outdoor and green spaces and offering some fitness components in those environments can help directly address employee stress, which is a growing problem for hybrid workers. Early research suggests the more places a person opts to work from routinely, the greater their stress levels, with “hyper hybrid” workers who rotate among three or more places carrying the greatest stress load.
Providing stress relief at the office addresses the problem directly and helps eliminate the need for workers to go elsewhere to get work done. Bringing in wellness services, like chair massages, a special fitness class or even a Botox event, can further entice individuals to the office location and help the space feel like a key part of their life, rather than merely one of many options for completing work.
Unlocking the keys to community building
Private clubs create community by tapping into specific shared interests: food, travel and art being just a few jumping off points. But in the office, the draw is productive work with individuals who support a similar mission. Private clubs are exclusive; the office is inclusive, a place of engagement and belonging.
But as private clubs and even hotel chains try to edge in on the office’s purpose, the workplace must find new ways to build on the melding of the personal and professional, without completely blurring the lines between the two. The idea is in vogue with today’s private clubs, but it has also helped shape the workplace for years. Work, wellness, socialization and culture are inherently intertwined and need to be given appropriate space within the workplace if offices are to continue their relevance.
But the office outlook is not bleak. Those in the business of community building know the workplace is still the second place, just behind home, as the physical location where people feel drawn to spend their time. While home and third places may nibble at the corners of the office’s draw, it remains the only place where employees can come to be primarily productive and engaged in their work, a position that is only bolstered by incorporating other lifestyle measures into the environment.