Of all the industries comprising our economy, among the hardest hit during this pandemic is, without a doubt, hospitality.
The industry has already seen numerous closures. The National Restaurant Association estimates approximately 100,000 restaurants, nearly 1 in 6, is closed either permanently or long-term. Every surviving business in this sector is facing challenges most of us never before deemed imaginable – even the simple act of communicating from manager to hourly employee, workers with supervisors or among employees themselves.
While we look forward to the promise of vaccines coming soon that will allow us to return to a level of normalcy, hospitality operators still need new ways to convey vital information to employees and create a team atmosphere, all while respecting social distancing guidelines to mitigate the spread of infection. That’s where technology comes into play. Here are three ways that technology can help hospitality operators tackle COVID-19 communications challenges and keep employees safe, scheduled and positive in an uncertain time.
Mobile workforce management platforms
Touchless tech and the resurgence of BYOD (bring your own device) to the workplace is essential today, as they enable us to leverage mobile apps to increase the speed of information dissemination, consumption and decision making. Using these workforce management tools, managers can easily create work schedules for hourly employees and push them out to their workforce so that everyone receives the schedule at the same time. If an employer is using a flexible self-scheduling approach to staff shifts (more on that below), employees can use the same application to select shifts that they want to work or swap shifts amongst themselves.
Company news and updates can also be disseminated through the technology, as can urgent messages if, for example, an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and must self-isolate, thereby creating an immediate need to fill the shifts they would have worked.
Mobile workforce management experiences also drive high engagement among employees. For example, the most effective platforms report 85% weekly engagement among employees using them, and over 55% daily engagement. This level of engagement dramatically speeds up information consumption, and action by managers and employees. What’s more, organizations that operate on a workforce management platform see 60% of their shifts are covered or confirmed within 24 hours .
Managing schedules when customer demand is uncertain
As state governments continue to issue restrictions on how and when hospitality businesses can operate, it can be exceedingly difficult to schedule the appropriate number of shifts to cover erratic levels of customer demand. To address this concern, a scheduling approach that gained traction in healthcare several years ago is finding its way into the hospitality arena: flexible self-scheduling.
With this method, managers can leverage mobile and cloud-based apps to define scheduling needs based on customer demand. Using the same app from their smart phone or tablets, employees then select, trade and fill shifts themselves. This practice allows managers to create schedules faster, with less effort, and gives hourly employees more control over their work life. It also protects employees from possible coronavirus exposure because they don’t all have to gather in the same physical space to find out when they work.
Prior to the pandemic, flexible self-scheduling was growing about 20% per year among restaurants and others in the hospitality sector. But with the arrival of COVID-19, that rate accelerated. The food service industry had a 60% increase in the adoption of self-scheduling over a span of just six to nine weeks. One factor that I believe contributes to this phenomenal growth is that workplaces that use self-scheduling resolve scheduling and coordination issues 20% faster than those who don’t. Flexibility, autonomy and employee empowerment are also competitive advantages.
Keeping up morale
Teams aren’t self-forming, which is why being proactive about team building is vital, especially as more people work remotely and opportunities to gather together after work have become limited. To combat a sense of isolation and keep your teams cohesive, consider adopting some fun virtual team building activities.
Additionally, managers can help boost morale by offering performance-based rewards as well as incentives to show that all of your team members matter. Whether it’s a gift card, extra break time, some bonus paid vacation hours, allowing employees to leave early when business is slow, letting your employees know they have value can go a long, long way to keeping their spirits up.
Leaders also should recognize the obligations their workers shoulder when not on the job – especially during this pandemic. Maybe they're working a second job to make ends meet, are supplying groceries for a sick loved one who must self-isolate or are home-schooling their children because schools have shut their doors for the time being. Whatever the reason, be considerate of their needs. Listen to them, and talk with them to find out how you can work with them through their situation.
Employers who adopt these practices during these uncertain times will demonstrate that they are putting the health and well-being of their employees first – not only is that a solid business practice, it’s the right thing to do.
About the Author
Chad Halvorson is founder and chief experience officer at When I Work, a market leader in hourly workforce management.