Does ‘Virtual’ Work in the Hotel Business?

Now more than ever, the utilization of home-based resources is key to maintaining a productive, and profitable, workforce. As the hospitality industry grapples with COVID-19, many companies are looking for ways to reduce overhead, maintain efficiencies and leverage any opportunities to create revenue. Remote-based employees are certainly a means to those ends, but as they solve one problem, they may be creating others. 

Whether you are re-evaluating your current situation or looking to expand your team, keep in mind the potential impact on your customer relations, organizational efficiency and culture while also considering the following factors.

While many hotel employees need to be guest-facing or -supporting via back of the house operations, hundreds of variations to existing operating models can support a remote work force, if done properly. Centralized, outsourced, interim or even situational support can bridge resource gaps, scaling issues related to room count expansion or reduction, across a portfolio or as a bridge from one stage to another. Whether at the corporate, property, asset management or operating departmental level, everyone can apply a remote or hybrid model.

Analyze your Hotel Business Model

While many companies have been able to utilize the stay-at-home model to increase associate safety, the hospitality industry requires ongoing assessment and adjustment based upon demand and the structure needed to support that demand.  

To ensure long-term profitability and viability, you must ask yourself if it will work. If a virtual environment has been in place temporarily, has it been working to date? The workforce that you ran your business with may not be the best suited for the workforce you currently need or may need going forward. It needs to work for you and your organization, associates and customers.

Choosing the Right Infrastructure

There is an old saying: “Plan the work and work the plan.” A lack of structure, or having the wrong people within that infrastructure, inevitably impacts productivity. A solid infrastructure for your virtual workforce maintains the strong foundation you have established. Here are areas to consider:

Technology:

Is it compatible, secure, consistent and reliable? Does it integrate, or better yet, enhance your current technology? Online task management tools will allow you to create customized task categories to measure time spent against productivity. Many hospitality companies have relied previously on VPNs that do not work well remotely and need to switch to a more fluid technology.

Support:

Working virtual does not change what your business needs or how it is organized. Your remote accounting support team still has the same deliverables and expectations. Regarding your help desk or technical support staff, while virtual or dial-in support is readily available, how would you handle a catastrophic loss caused by a corrupt system, computer malfunction or replacement, security breaches or ransomware?

Communication:

Hoteliers, and hospitality in general, by definition, tend to thrive on human interaction. Without that face-to-face contact, each set of interactions needs to be well thought out, sequenced with the next task and organized appropriately. Frequency must increase as distance increases. Who is involved also needs to be reconsidered so efficiency is maintained.

Leadership:

Current hospitality leadership training is based upon one-on-one or face-to-face interactions. When this environment changes, the leadership team must adapt their coaching and communication style. Given the lack of in-person interactions, they need to re-evaluate how they measure performance. The need for clarity and equity is heightened even further in the remote environment. Keep in mind that the team may need to balance on-site, face-to-face leadership with remote associates as well.

Target the right people:

Your current workforce has more than likely been screened against your traditional/pre-COVID-19 office setting profile. The skill sets required to work at home, the lack of the same level of socialization, and the increase in isolation that home-based work requires necessitates quite different skill sets. With the current circumstances, it is imperative to consider the following:

  • Change screening requirements of your profiling tools to isolate, and put greater weight against, specific home-based work traits. Sample screening tools for the hospitality industry are Traitify, Taleo and SHL.
  • Revamp productivity measures for home-based workers.
  • Use task management tools that allow you to track employee hours, tasks and overall productivity.
  • Audit leadership to ensure they can effectively manage and communicate in this type of workforce.
  • In conjunction with your infrastructure, evaluate whether whether you can utilize a contractor or need a full-time associate. FTE cost, tax implications, consistency of service delivery and integration of technology systems are all considerations if you choose to selectively outsource.

Execution strategy

The current state of hospitality dictates that your approach be equally dynamic, involving ongoing evaluation as our industry recovers.

Consider who will be involved in your implementation plan and engage them from the beginning. Identify your gaps early and engage the appropriate resources. In some cases, your need may be temporary, so outside resources should be considered rather than adding long-term expenses. A Gantt chart approach for project schedules allows you to map out specific steps by area, timelines, accountability, impact and effect on productivity before it is too late to adjust. It also becomes a roadmap of where you have been and where you will need to go.

Throughout the entire process, your goal is not to preserve the successful foundational aspects of your business but to continue to grow and improve those areas regardless of the location of your Team. It needs to work for you and your organization, associates and customers.

This article was originally published by Hotel Business on 1/6.