Employee Training in a Post-Pandemic World

Weeks of classroom training and shadowing experienced employees is no longer a possibility for hotel and restaurant brands. Instead brands should consider short training videos, gamification and embedding training within the tools their employees use daily.
Manager teaches two new hires how to set a table

Editor's Note: This is one of three installments in HT’s Workforce Technology Series covering hiring, training and retention.   

Think back to before the COVID-19 pandemic. Were your training processes similar to this? After a frontline employee was hired, a manager was tasked with onboarding the new employee. For some hotels and restaurants, this might have meant having the new hire read through a printed manual, shadow a manager or senior level-employee, or even participate in classroom-style training that could last up to a few weeks.

Daily huddles to inform employees of new products, menu specials, productivity goals, processes and hires were standard. And hotels hoped that new hires (specifically front desk agents) would be ready to check-in guests using the property management system within a few months. 

“Training follow-ups, necessary to reinforce vital knowledge, would be carried out at yearly or less frequent intervals, leaving employees to learn mostly on-the-job and hope that an experienced colleague would be nearby to help,” explains Jacob Waern, Founder & CEO, eduMe

Modern Training Trend: Micro Learning

Micro-learning is a new approach to training that emerged in the middle of the last decade. Since young adults prefer to consume media in small snippets – think TikTok – training experts have found that making short videos (3-5 minutes long) and that cover a single objective can be very powerful training tools, says Jessica Carey, Head of Customer Success, Knowland

These short videos often contain catchy music, a specific phrase, a meme, or pneumonic device to help the trainee remember that objective. The point is to make the training as memorable as possible and for the learner to be able to immediately use what they’ve learned, she explains. Many trainers curate a playlist of these mini videos in a suggested order but the learner still has the freedom to search for a specific topic and watch the video in any order they please.

Micro-learning has also begun to be applied to live training opportunities with great success,” Carey adds. “To build the skills of a team, managers or trainers include micro-learning in team meetings. The leader teaches one new concept or skill to the team, shares why it’s essential that the employees embrace the idea, and gives actionable steps to use this information today. This simple coaching structure has shown great dividends as we upskill the post-pandemic workforce.”

Post-Pandemic Training Hurdles

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on how employees are trained. 

"To begin with, training of new employees slipped during the pandemic, so now it’s more difficult to get hotels back up to speed and maintain brand standards," says Scott Schaedle, founder and CEO of  Quore. "Additionally, applicants typically have little-to-no previous hospitality experience, so onboarding and training can take a lot longer. And hotels commonly rely on immigrant and migrant workers, so training often needs to be presented in multiple languages."

On top of this, there just isn’t time to spend weeks – let alone days – in formal workshops or classrooms and shadowing more experienced staff members, says Jessica Carey, Head of Customer Success, Knowland

“Plus, this model requires a lot of bodies to execute, but staff to support training is scarce,” she adds. “And it no longer reflects how employees consume learning today.”

Bernardo Thierstein, General Manager at The Zero Hotels based in Portugal, agrees. 

“In today's labor market, we don't have the luxury or resources to do that,” he notes. “It is much harder to find employees these days. Five or six years ago, we used to get around 200 applications for an open housekeeper position, and today we are lucky if we get around 20. So running official training programs are costly and inefficient.”

Instead, Carey notes that successful education has been influenced by social media models that focus on short multimedia means of information sharing.

Old models of training also relied heavily on shadowing long-serving employees with high levels of institutional knowledge, says Tanya Pratt, VP OPERA Cloud Strategy, Oracle Hospitality. But the reality is that many of these employees quit or retired during the pandemic.

“Staggered work schedules makes aggregate huddles nearly impossible,” notes Steve Kramer, CEO, WorkJam. “And managers are often too busy to keep track of who needs to be trained.”

But the pandemic has had another, perhaps unexpected result, on employee training.

“Now that the talent landscape has changed, workers expect more from their employers, and they’re not afraid to go elsewhere if they’re not receiving adequate training,” Waern explains. “In fact, more than 60% of frontline restaurant workers cite lack of training as the main reason they left a job.”

Modern Training Trend: Gamification

Gamification of training is a hot trend that proponents say makes the training process more enjoyable, improves retention, and creates greater engagement among employees. 

In a lot of cases, gamification is also a great tool to reward employees for achieving certain milestones, meeting upsell goals, and other accomplishments,” notes Tanya Pratt, VP OPERA Cloud Strategy, Oracle Hospitality. “Integrating a team-oriented culture with a healthy dose of competition like leaderboards can help employees thrive as teams, as individuals, have more fun, and exceed metrics like check-ins and upsells.”

Village Hotels is one brand that has found success using gamification. It partnered with Attensi to rollout game-based training that specifically allows employees to receive cross-department training. By allowing employees to upskill in a variety of roles and departments, the brand has a staff that can fill in where needed when short-staffed while also improving its ability to promote from within. 

As an added bonus, the game-based training can be done anywhere and at any time: at home, on a lunch break, while commuting, when work is slow, etc. Village Hotels said that 52% of playthroughs were recorded in the staff’s free time and 97% said they preferred game-based training compared to other methods, such as e-learning and videos.

Of course, gamification won’t be for everyone. Some employees might prefer a “less competitive and more methodical approach to learning new responsibilities,” Pratt explains. “If so, hotels should offer different training modules that can give employees the option for how they want to best learn to master their position.”

Technology Can Help

While the above paints a grim picture, there is help available to those who want it. Training programs have become very sophisticated in recent years and now offer restaurants and hotels a training process that is more efficient, consistent and convenient. 

“Technology can fill the gap by speeding up the training process and minimizing the time commitment of trainers while creating a dynamic learning model that meets the preferences of today’s learners,” Carey notes. “Using microlearning – short videos that instruct how to do a job-related task – paired with hands-on opportunities to practice, staff can train up quicker. Plus, managers can review data to evaluate competencies and more quickly identify when new team members are ready to go solo and who might not be a good fit for their assigned role before there is any impact on customers.”

Having an intuitive system combined with self-guided training has been the winning combination for The Zero Hotels. 

“Our properties use Cloudbeds’ platform, and one of its biggest draws is how integrated the entire system ... as well as how easy it is to learn and use,” Thierstein explains. “It also offers self-guided training for all employees via Cloudbeds University, which means employees can learn the system on their own time, between the hands-on training they're doing while on the job.”

And, of course, improving the training process “ultimately leads to higher productivity, engagement and retention,” Kramer notes.

Consider this, with the help of technology, lessons can be presented in a “familiar social media style and surfaced within tools that workers already use day-to-day, such as Microsoft Teams or Workday,” Waern explains. “Providing one-tap access to training content within the flow of work drives higher adoption and means workers are more likely to put what they’ve learned into practice.”

And brands need not worry that employees will be put off by this style of learning.

“Members of younger generations are self-sufficient learners, so embedding additional context and information directly into their workflow applications really helps new employees learn on the job and continue their training even after they’ve taken on their full-time roles,” Pratt says.

Digitized training can also help hotel and restaurant workers benefit from simulation-based training, Waern notes. Simulated environments allow employees to learn by doing in a risk-free setting. For example, they could work on how to deal with difficult customers, executing on a specific type of request, or something else.

“Learners can practice in their own time until they feel confident enough to apply those skills in real life,” he adds.

And don’t forget that workers want long-term career development.

“Research from McKinsey found that more than 70% of frontline employees have applied for a career advancement opportunity either within their own company or at another organization,” Kramer says. “Technology can help employers clearly map out the different career development paths that are available internally and then facilitate the additional training each employee needs to be able to advance to the next level. Investing in training technology yields multiple benefits across productivity and customer experience as well as worker engagement, satisfaction and loyalty.

In app training videos
Lessons can be presented in a familiar social media style and surfaced within tools that workers already use day-to-day, such as Microsoft Teams or Workday.
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