Sincerely, BLLA

How to Best Communicate with Your Team in Uncertain Times

I’ve been liaising with a number of frenzied hotel managers over the last few days who are faced with closing down food and beverage outlets, rebooki...

I’ve been liaising with a number of frenzied hotel managers over the last few days who are faced with closing down food and beverage outlets, rebooking hotel guests, negotiating cancellations for groups (and praying said groups will postpone versus completely cancel), and considering the potential short and long-term furlough of workers.

These are unprecedented times and those of us in the hospitality industry are facing extraordinary decisions related to guest service, operations, and human resource issues.

While many managers might be in the position of not yet having to make the difficult decisions, the reality is that your staff is worried and the rumor mill is working overtime. And while employees and associates are so fixated on what might happen next or potential bad scenarios, the high levels of guest service you demand — and your property is known for — could potentially suffer harming your hard-earned reputation in the process.

How can a boutique hotelier — or anyone in the luxury boutique business — best communicate with the team? Here are five key strategies.

Open the lines of communication — and keep them open.
While you may not have all of the answers right at this moment, no one expects you to. If all you do is spend five minutes at the start of your morning standup meeting to thank everyone for their hard work, tell them how much you value them, recognize these are uncertain times and you can completely understand if they have concerns, admit you honestly don’t know what is going to happen in the short term, and offer them the opportunity to ask questions, that is a great start. Showing your humanity, empathy, and concern is the best way to operate.

Be open-minded about their concerns
Some hoteliers on island destinations have team members concerned about working the front line and being exposed to the virus. Rather than be mindful of their concerns, one hotelier demanded the employees show up for their shifts or they would lose out on hours going forward. This is not a smart way to show compassion. Right now, pretty much every hotel is operating at reduced capacity, so there really is no need for every employee to have to show up for work. If someone is telling you they are fearful and have concerns, show understanding and work with them to perhaps assume a back-of-house job or to take some time off if they prefer.

Offer frequent updates.
As daily operations move forward and cities and towns are faced with mandatory or looming F&B closures, etc. you can and should communicate this information to your staff. It is better to have a slow build-up of what might happen than a sudden closure no one saw coming.

Create opportunities for support and team building.
Maybe you want to add in a 15-minute team ice cream break or a morning rally, inspirational message, or quick meditation to help ease stress. Recognizing you are all operating in unchartered territory and giving staff the opportunity to release stress is important and shows you care.

When tough decisions have to be made.
There may come a time when you can no longer put off the decision for layoffs or furloughs. It’s happening even at the big brand level. While these are extenuating circumstances and a highly capable and much-valued employee did absolutely nothing wrong to warrant losing their job, how you communicate the loss is key. Doing so with empathy, compassion, and an understanding of their fears is paramount. While each company, no doubt, has its own human resources policies for letting an employee go, it never hurts to show you recognize and understand their fears, anger, hurt, and dismay and will try to support them as best you can — even if it’s giving them some pre-cooked meals from the food supplies in the hotel kitchen as the entire property goes into shutdown.

About the Author
Jane Coloccia is a former Director of Communications for The Leading Hotels of the World and has operated her own award-winning public relations and marketing communications agency for nearly 20 years. An expert brand storyteller and consummate luxury hospitality marketer, Jane has spoken to travel and hospitality groups around the world about communicating the experience, leveraging social media, defining a brand story, and much more. Her company, JC Communications, has also issued a White Paper on Hotel Reputation Management. A former journalist in the travel space, Jane has myriad contacts among travel, luxury, and hospitality industry media editors, and also issues a weekly #Trending newsletter to keep hoteliers, restaurateurs, and travel operators worldwide up-to-date on innovations in the industry. JC Communications works with both boutique properties as well as big brand hotels, culinary clients, and travel and leisure related services on a global basis.

Originally posted on March 22, 2020.

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