The impact of COVID-19 has been felt far and wide; across industries, the global pandemic has pushed companies to temporarily shut their offices and shift to remote working. In particular, the hospitality industry had been hit hard and fast, with many employees placed on furlough or being laid off. For others, their job descriptions changed overnight from ‘front desk agent’ to ‘part-front desk agent, part-housekeeper, and part-hygiene officer’. While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the workplace remain unclear, perhaps one thing is for sure – the exact same pre-pandemic work environment is no more. In a webinar with EHL, Shelley Perkins, Chief Talent and Culture Officer of the Rosewood Hotel Group, shares some of her thoughts on the impacts of COVID-19 on the workplace and how the future of work may look like.
Impact of COVID-19 on the workplace
Many have said that COVID-19 did not actually change anything. Rather, it has simply accelerated trends which had already been in play. In that regard, what has really changed for the future of work in hospitality? What new roles are being created now?
It’s interesting because everybody was referring to robots and AI when it comes to future of hospitality. In our business, it has always centered around relationships and a machine can never replace that. With COVID-19, I think it’s actually reinforced that the need to go back to the basics – providing surgically clean rooms and restaurants, being sensitive around what people might be going through, adopting the highest standards of safety and security, and providing flexibility to meet guest needs – in other words, that true exemplar of Relationship Hospitality that our company is founded upon.
As a result of that, there are new roles that are rising to the top in terms of their importance. Now, every hotel around the world has a hygiene manager – some of them even sit on the executive committee. Who would have imagined that six months ago? The executive housekeeper role has also been elevated and they bring some serious expertise in hygiene – they had been in the background, but now as a critical part of the business they are really moving to the forefront. We’ve also seen how vital it is that communications teams are really armed up in a hotel to deal with anything. Things change so quickly every day; your communications leader of a hotel is more than just PR and marketing – it’s really about crisis management and reacting to situations promptly and in a skillful manner.
Where does the GM (General Manager) sit in all of that?
I think this [pandemic situation] has put the role of the GM on the back foot in terms of recognizing that they are not the ones with all the answers; and the best GMs are the ones that can accept, “how can I ask for help?” GMs have to be very collaborative these days – the old saying, “This is my way and I know what I’m doing,” are really over. On top of that, the value of corporate expertise has become clearer, as the properties are relying on us [the corporate office] and receiving service from us.
With the workforce becoming increasingly lean because of cost-efficiency and effectiveness, people need to multitask and be multiskilled. How do you recruit and train these people?
[Due to COVID-19,] it has become very clear, and a few things have been fast-tracked with us as a result – number one is remote communication and learning. The people that we’re looking for would really need a flexible approach to where they start, as well as an interest in learning multiple roles. If you have a love for the industry, stay flexible, and have your ego aside – that’s the people that we’re going to be looking for and they’re the ones that are going to be successful.
Rosewood London. Source: Rosewood Hotel Group
Building and Maintaining a Corporate Culture
As the workforce continues to change, how can you build and maintain a corporate culture in this constantly shifting paradigm?
Fostering collaboration – many companies have this on their values, but does it really happen? Eliminating silos; and placing increased importance on communications, and talent and culture – being a true partner to the business and a trusted advisor – is essential in building a strong, engaging culture.
It can be challenging to build a culture of engagement without a lot of face-to-face time. One of the things that our CEO does with her global executive team – sometimes we have a virtual huddle where there’s no formal agenda, and we ask about each other, tell funny stories, or even have a glass of wine virtually together. This helps to take the pressure off and get to connect with one another on a personal level. As we continue to evolve and learn from this [COVID-19 situation] I do think that companies with a solid culture are going to survive in a way that others will not.
The role of leadership is very much linked to the organizational culture. How is the world of leadership going to change in the future?
I believe that one of the most important skill sets moving forward is going to be empathy – the ability to put yourself either in the guests’ or associate’s shoes. I say trusted advisor a lot, but I think it’s so important that you can be counted on to be transparent.
When we communicate with people especially in flux and uncertain situations, there are three rules in engaging with people and building trust: “I’ll tell you what I know; I’ll tell you what I don’t know; and then I can tell you what I am going to find out for you.” Don’t pretend that everything is okay. We remain transparent and that shows people the human side of what you’re doing.
Corporate Office Trends – Remote Working and Leaner Structures
Most of the corporate offices have their staff working from home. Do you think there will still be a need for physical office space in the hospitality industry in the future?
I think physical office spaces are here to stay – when we surveyed our people on their preferences, the majority opted for flexibility to come to the office in addition to work from home. We might not have huge offices anymore; but people do want a place to work that’s an office, to meet each other in person, to mingle, and share moments. In Hong Kong we’re actually moving to a new office which will probably be the same size, but it will be different. Instead of two floors, we will only have one; and we’re going to have a lot of hot desks, shared offices, and small meeting rooms, to foster collaboration, and creativity.
We are also seeing more collaboration across geographical distance. People are talking to and working remotely with others whom they may not have crossed paths before. Even as we migrate to conference calls, the interpersonal interactions – or the spontaneous ‘water cooler moments’ still happen on the side on WhatsApp – I think that’s interesting and it shows that we all yearn for the spontaneous, human contact with one another in-person – and I hope that we can resume some of that soon.
Rosewood London. Source: Rosewood Hotel Group
Career Advice in a COVID-19 World
Looking forward in this kind of ‘new world’, what are some non-role-specific skills or attitudes you will be looking for in individuals?
In terms of behaviours or ways of thinking, it would be intellectual curiosity and learning agility – avoiding the thought of, “I will only go to this track” – or – “I want to do that”. It’s about having a humble approach and a real understanding of where we are. Being observant, curious, and humble are the attributes that I find very important in the future.
What advice would you give to a hospitality student graduating soon; how would you suggest they approach this current climate?
Seek some experience in any industry and turn them into learning opportunities. Drawing parallels between hospitality and food delivery for example, there are still three steps of service – anticipation of needs, great service, and follow-up. And if you’re interviewing with me and you said, “Look, the only job I could find was X, Y, Z, but here’s what I learned and here’s how I can apply it – I think that would be fabulous, versus holding out for the perfect job.
There are also other e-commerce platforms or retailers – again, maybe not what you were planning for, but with any experience you can get, think “how does this apply to the industry; how does that apply?” Even if you want to go into development or communications or HR, there’s something to learn from any job experience and I think that will go a long way and people will understand – “you were doing this, it’s different from the hotel business, but I’m going to hire you based on [all of] your experiences – not just [one] experience – and what you learned and what you can bring”.