What is 'Sweatworking' and Why Should Hotel Managers Care?

We all know the news can be strange these days, but every so often, you see a story that really makes you scratch your head. Like the man who set out to run across the ocean inside a floating bubble . Many people were inspired by this. Others saw it as an attention-grab. There were also one or two voices raised about the $140,000 in U.S. Coast Guard funds that went toward rescuing the man between Florida and Bermuda. 

Some of the trends we see in business and hospitality are vaguely reminiscent of this man in his bubble. We’re not sure whether to laugh, cry, or call a management meeting.

“Sweatworking,” for example. This is one of the latest inventions from the millennial innovation factory. The idea is simple but brilliant. Combine exercise, adventure, business and networking into one experience.

And why not? Modern professionals clearly want to go and have adventures. They want to lead fulfilling, healthy, scrapbook-worthy lives. But the need for good business networking remains the same.

Good networking, by the way, is also about being memorable. It’s about connecting with people on a personal level. Are you more likely to remember surf lesson in which business was later discussed over a drink, or a routine sit-down at your local Starbucks? Sweatworking is actually a very good idea, because it has the power to create memorable and dynamic connections between professionals. It creates and explores common ground in a powerfully personal way.

And unlike that sit-down at a cafe, you’re actually burning calories.

What does this have to with hotels?

Hotel managers and owners should know about the concept of sweatworking and understand the impulse behind it. Not only because sweatworking demonstrates the urge for creative connections between people, but because hotels are a natural setting for sweatworking itself. The trend caught a certain amount of fire in gyms and amongst fitness organisers. In a similar vein, some of those traditional corporate golf outings and 5K fundraisers have taken a more interesting, contemporary turn. People want to try new things: Climbing, surfing, triathlons or obstacle courses.

Hotels have already started experimenting with “running tours” in which guests can learn the lay of the land whilst burning calories with a local guide. The Westin NYC is one property that offers a carefully considered menu of running tours for guests. Here in Australia, Running Tours Melbourne is an example of an independent outfit that caters to Australians and foreigners alike, and you can be sure that many of their clients are staying at hotels. One of the first hotels I managed in Sydney had a running map in the shape of a foot which was in all rooms and a well known hotelier in Melbourne used to run with guests of a morning. (Which of course was much healthier than drinks in the evening!)

So what about full-on sweatworking events? Could a hotel put on such a thing? It would require some work, and even then, it may not be a slam-dunk. But it certainly could be a success.

Anatomy of a sweatworking event

An American business called aSweatLife organizes sweatworking events in the Chicago area. In May of 2016, it put on a sweatworking event at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. It was described as “an hour-long workout, followed by time to hang out — or network — over healthy snacks.” There was also a local DJ to keep the beat. The cost was $15-20 USD per participant.

It certainly helps that this Chicago hotel has a sprawling gymnasium and an enviable downtown location. It may also be telling that no further sweatworking events appear to be scheduled at the property, as of this writing. Running tours and yoga classes are nudging in that direction, but if we’re honest, examples of hotels themselves launching full-scale sweatworking events appear to be few and far between.

This doesn’t mean hoteliers should consider sweatworking a flash in the pan or a thing of the past. These events could take any number of successful forms, if someone is sufficiently creative to figure them out and organize them in the right way.

It may also be that sweatworking becomes the natural purview of local business like aSweatLife, with hotels playing a natural role in either hosting or promoting events. After all, many hotel guests are traveling on business and probably interested in good networking opportunities.

The future of sweatworking?

No matter how modern or contemporary hotels become, there will always be a place for the humble fitness center. Even as sweatworking goes mainstream, it won’t be something everybody is in the mood for all the time. Sweatworking events that are not specialized, or grouping together people that would naturally want to network, may not be worth anybody’s time — beyond being a good workout. As hoteliers, we must take it all with a grain of salt. And we certainly must proceed with caution when it comes to making big plans. In terms of this particular trend, hotels seem to have done just that.

But sweatworking — or in more practical terms, the combination of working out and professional networking — is worth watching from a hotel standpoint. It illustrates one of the great realisations of 21st century hospitality: That people no longer want their travel, professional and personal experiences to be isolated. Today’s hotel guest doesn’t want to live in a bubble (much less use one to run across the ocean).

We can definitely say one thing about sweatworking. Even if becomes another fad, the impulse behind it will live on and we need to be aware of it.

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