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Hybrid hotels – The future of work needs space for human relationships

Long-stay hotels are often synonymous with sparse rooms and tiny kitchenettes, located in suburbs. For years, these types of hotels attracted business travellers looking to save money. But times have changed: The new generation of frequent business travellers are looking for places that are centrally located and that will have a social connection with their peers. They want a spot they can call their second home. And that is “Zoku”. Zoku has invented a new category in the hotel industry with its hybrid home-office concept and the award-winning Zoku Loft. The hybrid hotel facilitates international living, working and conscious travel for globetrotters, digital nomads and remote workers. We spoke to Veerle Donders, Concept & Brand Director at Zoku, about the design of an extraordinary living and working space.

Kreativ gestaltetes Büro im Hotel
An important meeting point for co-workers is the table tennis table. It is used for games, but also for working together.

In your own words: What is a hybrid hotel?

A hybrid hotel works like a 24/7 ecosystem that blends different functions together, each having a potential effect on one another. Instead of only putting heads in beds, hybrid hotels are utilising their square metres much more efficiently by using their space for sleeping, working, eating, drinking and events during different times of the day. The aim is to use each square metre as efficiently as possible. For example, at Zoku we do not have hotel rooms, we have Lofts that act in a hybrid manner: during the day they can be used as a meeting room or workspace, and during the evening as a living space. Our Social Spaces are also used in hybrid form by acting as a living room for our Zoku residents as well as a coworking space for locals and members during the day.

You gave your hybrid hotel the name “Zoku”. What does Zoku stand for?

Zoku is a Japanese term meaning “family”, “tribe” or “clan”. It has been used extensively within Japan to define and coin a sub-cultural phenomenon where people with the same lifestyle would come together. Since bringing people together on a daily basis is our bread and butter, we thought the name was very fitting for our concept.

Dachterrasse bei Nacht des Hotels Zoku
In 2022, Zoku Amsterdam became climate neutral. The greenhouse with roof gardens is just one symbol of the team’s sustainable approach.

By creating Zoku you have defined a new category in hospitality. What are the main benefits of staying at Zoku?

Ah, there are many! And of course, it depends on who you ask, since our modern business travellers come for all sorts of reasons and lengths of stay, but let me give you a small synopsis of my favourite two:

First, Zoku is the perfect home base for living comfortably and working efficiently. With its award-winning micro-apartments, where instead of the bed, the kitchen table is the most dominant object in the room, Zoku shifts the focus from monofunctional sleeping space to multifunctional living and working space. Next to the Lofts, Zoku’s Social Spaces are ideal for our residents to use as their creative workspace, for meetings and to rub elbows with the local coworking WorkZoku members.

Second, Zoku’s informal and inclusive social atmosphere eliminates lonely business travel. With a curated community of locals and internationals in each location, Zoku provides a soft landing for new arrivals in the city, providing them with a local social life. Our Community Managers actively engage everybody in-house by organising frequent community rituals (such as our Community Dinners, live music events and Fika coffee breaks) and inspiring events.

What is the main difference between the concept of Zoku and a serviced apartment?

Serviced apartments can be quite spacious and comfortable, as you have a nice apartment to yourself. You get the functionality of a home, but you lack the social interaction you miss when living and working in a city for longer than a week. Serviced apartments also lack public areas, which is where Zoku’s concept differs. Their rooftop Social Spaces bring people together in communal areas for coworking, grabbing a bite to eat, sharing a drink or enjoying some relaxing time in a green outdoor space.

Kleiner Rückzugsort im Hybriden Hotel Zoku
A retreat in the hybrid hotel Zoku

You did a lot of research: What design elements and architectural benefits did Zoku need to have in order to attract the digital nomad target group?

We sure did a lot of research! Seven years of research in fact. 150 Interviews with the target audience, the founding team living as digital nomads to step into their shoes, designing six prototypes of our Loft and testing our concept with over 300 people has helped us truly understand our target audience. At Zoku, our residents find their private life in the Zoku Lofts, which act as a cleverly designed home base where you find everything you need to live comfortably and work efficiently. The space allows you to easily invite others into your home, since you can eat, meet and play around your large kitchen table, and the space has customisable art frames that can be swapped to taste in the corridors to truly feel at home. Architecturally, everything in Zoku’s Social Spaces has been designed to effortlessly bring people together. Barriers between “staff” and “residents” have been reduced to a minimum to allow for a more homely feel. You will, for example, not find the traditional reception desk at Zoku, and instead are welcomed by a large coffee bar table stacked with cakes. In addition, long communal tables and cosy living room nooks easily facilitate connections between strangers.

Extraordenary Workplace
The co-working space WorkZoku is divided into different work zones. Each member is free to choose their personal workspace.

You are expanding the traditional concept of a hotel into a platform by opening your social spaces to the local community. What are the benefits for you and your guests?

First of all, it helps in creating that special social atmosphere. The nice thing about opening up your space to the local community is that you give your in-house residents the opportunity to easily mingle with locals during the day and night, or at one of our many events throughout the week. We believe strongly that food and music connects people, and many locals seem to agree with us! Our locals, the WorkZoku coworking members, also act as a consistent social group of regulars that is welcoming to a newly arriving group of residents. In hotels, people check in and out all the time. Luckily Zoku always has a group of long-stay residents in-house that can cement that community feeling together with the members. Next to this, we can maximise our revenue per square metre by offering memberships in spaces that would otherwise go underutilised.

You are also offering a coworking space for locals. What is the idea behind WorkZoku?

As we are all about building community, we wanted a way for our residents to easily rub elbows with the locals. We have come to know a lot of people in the neighbourhood – many of them local freelancers, small startup teams or solo entrepreneurs who simply missed having colleagues around them and a space to call their “office”. Since these locals love to be part of an international environment and our residents love to meet them during their coworking day, this was a true win-win. Next to that, most hotels are just that – hotels. As a local, there is not much you can do there and often business hotel lobbies are dead during the day while their guests go out to work in office buildings or for meetings. We thought this unused capacity was interesting to tap into to create a buzzing atmosphere in Zoku’s

Social Spaces throughout the day and night instead of only during mornings or evenings. For WorkZoku member perks, they get 24/7-hour access to our rooftop coworking spaces, a discount on food and drinks, free community dinner, exclusive event invitations, access to a private member’s chat, and the ability to register their business to our address.

Dachterrasse des Hotels in Amsterdam
The greenhouse with roof gardens is just one symbol of the team’s sustainable approach.

The Zoku Loft is a flexible home-office hybrid that sets a new standard in the intelligent use of space.

Text – Bernadette Trepte | Photo – Zoku / Ewout Huibers & Concrete

Taken from the Sedus LOOKBOOK – read more here

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