By Andrada Paraschiv
In just three months, the coronavirus spread from Wuhan, China, to every corner of the world. Everyone is affected by this global pandemic, and few industries have been as negatively impacted as hospitality and travel.
As in any crisis, communication with employees is essential. With hotels closing daily and workers being furloughed, hoteliers are quickly realizing that they do not have effective communication processes in place to stay connected with their valued workforces. Although hotel companies are working diligently to triage this crisis the best they can, each are facing limitations. But there is some good news. Digital employee-communication platforms are enabling hoteliers to engage effectively with active and furloughed hotel workers in real time—including those who are normally on the front lines and don’t have a formal company email address or even a home computer.
To weather this storm and emerge strong and ready to reopen, it’s important for operators to understand the three phases of employee crisis communications:
Phase I: Enabling real-time, top-down communication with active employees
When a crisis like the current pandemic occurs, the first thing businesses do is reduce staffing. Because the hotel is operating with a skeleton crew under totally new circumstances, management will need to communicate procedural changes to everyone working. In the case of a global health pandemic, things such as new cleaning processes, social-distancing parameters and guest-interaction practices will need to be explained and enforced.
Because things change daily—or multiple times throughout the day—it is extremely important that top-down communication reaches everyone and as quickly as possible. No man is an island. We are all in this together, and each person needs to be notified and informed in real time if he or she is to carry out the operational plan. The cascading communication strategy of the past is no match for this crisis. There needs to be consistent, top-down digital messaging to ensure every employee is connected. Forget phone calling; this is no time for telephone tag. A digital communication platform not only ensures that each employee has been contacted, but it will provide an audit trail of who responded and who did not. Management can confirm that communication campaigns were launched and measure their effectiveness.
There also is no time for elaborated training. New procedures are going into effect minute by minute. Therefore, posting videos on “how to clean common areas” or “how to properly social distance oneself from guests (at least six feet apart)” is the quickest and most effective way to get operational messaging to workers. We are fortunate that digital demonstrations can be captured by smartphone in minutes and shared with teams via streams or chats in seconds rather than having to ship training CDs by overnight mail.
Phase II: Providing clear and consistent updates to furloughed workers
As the global health situation evolves, more and more properties are being forced to close, furloughing millions of employees in North America alone. Just because these workers are out of site, does not mean they should be out of mind; at a minimum, managers must be able to convey benefit and unemployment insurance information and mitigating concerns. Again, tackling this challenge is far easier with a digital employee communication platform versus trying to cold call each employee.
Today’s hospitality leaders have the unfortunate task of delivering difficult messaging to their employees. While that makes for great leadership, it’s easy to forget that not every employee has an email address or a home computer. Some employees have taken to Facebook to connect with co-workers and discuss what is happening at their hotels. This is risky because messaging is not controlled by the hotel company and information is only reaching a fraction of the employees. Managers can call their furloughed workers at home to check on them and offer resources, etc., but it’s time consuming, and connecting is hit or miss. Besides, a lot of the time, human resources has an updated physical address, but no phone number or personal email for the employees.
What we are learning from this pandemic is that relying on in-person cascading communications and on-site bulletin boards isn’t enough, although it’s historically been the No. 1 way of communicating in hotels. It’s time for a change. Hoteliers need to communicate with employees and be responsive to them while they are not on property. This is where an operational communication tool offers value—there is no need for hoteliers to mail letters, send emails or dial the phone.
Managers can send important messages instantly and receive read receipts (see who has read messages and who hasn’t, enabling managers to focus only on those that have not seen the digital communication) via mobile app, saving considerable time for everyone.
Phase III: Communicating reopening and return-to-work plans
In the coming weeks/months, properties will start getting ready for recovery; this includes reopening the hotel and preparing teams to return to work. The success of reopening will be determined by the success of the hotel’s communications efforts during the crisis. Those with a digital communication platform in place and who met the emotional and practical needs of its employees during the crisis will emerge stronger than before.
The coronavirus has changed our world, and that will be evident in every aspect of our lives going forward. Employees will need to understand their new roles in this new world. They will want to know how policies and procedures have changed, and how those changes will impact their futures and livelihoods. Likewise, hoteliers will be looking to recruit and retain the best and brightest employees to take guest service to new heights. How effectively you communicated with workers while they were furloughed will speak volumes to their willingness to come back to your hotel…move to the property next door…or even remain on unemployment insurance for as long as they can.
Employee communication shouldn’t be a burden; it should be an enabler for success.
The time to boost morale and preserve future productivity is now. Yes, change can be very scary. But when hotel doors reopen, operators will need to have passionate frontline employees who are eager to get back to work and do everything possible to make sure guests return, too.
Andrada Paraschiv is head of hospitality for Beekeeper, an employee communication platform that connects and empowers entire workforces, including non-desk and frontline workers.
This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.