As we positively prepare for re-opening, let’s not forget what has helped to support our colleagues through times of anxiety at work and at home
These have been tough times, whether supporting each other through furlough or dealing with daily dilemmas as part of a skeleton crew keeping premises ticking along while either closed or only open to key workers. And then there are the additional ‘away from work’ worries such as the health of a family member or the trials of home schooling. Now there is growing confidence that we will return to some sort of sustainable New Normal but it will still be necessary to support colleagues who may face longer periods without their usual work schedule. Similarly, many of our guests this year have been through their own experiences and will welcome reassurance and ‘fuss’, which housekeeping teams can help to provide well beyond keeping rooms and public areas sparkling.
Thank goodness for online meet-ups and specially-developed platforms. For instance, Amelia Lawrence, executive housekeeper at The Grove, says Workplace, which her business signed up to a couple of years ago, “has proven to be worth its weight in gold during the lockdowns.” Beyond simply keeping in touch, staff have been learning how to make recipes with their chefs, taken part in classes led by the spa’s personal fitness trainers and enjoyed therapists’ wellbeing tips. Directors provided live videos keeping everyone up to date.
“The executive housekeeper at the Runneymede had posted 15 different cleaning tips throughout the three lockdowns!” reveals Lawrence. “For a bit of fun, I had each of my team send a photo of them carrying out a cleaning task at home and we made a video and posted it on Workplace to the ‘Times Like These’ song.” With shared news on everything from painting a kitchen to knitting a blanket, combined with quizzes, a lot of the usual work ‘chit-chat’ was maintained.
During the first lockdown the whole team came in for training on future cleaning procedures and to alleviate any safety concerns, while mental health fitness workshops were held online later in the year. Lawrence says: “In this current lockdown I am also doing quizzes with my team and if someone has a birthday we all try to connect on that day to wish them happy birthday. I am also getting the team in for more training, which is a welcome distraction.” At Gleneagles safeguarding the well-being of the team as they went through three lockdowns with as many as 945 employees furloughed, has been the primary goal, reveals Sarah Kassem. Here too they have made the most of Workplace. Kassem says: “Virtual coffee mornings and live Q&A sessions with the senior team enable our colleagues to raise questions and concerns directly, allowing us to better manage any anxieties.”
The housekeeping team of around 150 are among those working through unfamiliar territory, be that living in isolation, home schooling, caring for family members or just dealing with the shift in working routine. “Each fortnight we committed to make a direct call to each team member; a wellness check, an informal chat or just to share a little light-hearted fun,” she explains. “Personally, I have engaged with the team directly three to five times per week with a simple check-in, sharing motivational videos I’ve come across or a simple statement to lift morale.”
The whole team cannot wait to get back to the hustle and bustle that is The Glen and to again see their colleagues. One positive outcome of the pandemic is the sense of unity and camaraderie that has emerged stronger than before.
One motivating theme during restricted operations has been in charitable endeavours, whether as individuals or with colleagues. Initiatives have supported causes within our industry, while others have helped projects for communities and keyworkers. For instance, at Durham’s Seaham Hall preparing food for NHS staff, then free school meals and even cream teas for care home staff and residents provided a sense of purpose and has been extended this year to food bank essentials. In January they began ‘Team Wellness and Morale’ workshops on Zoom to help colleagues through the gloomy winter.
More than 300 brand leaders took part in the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Europe Day 2021 virtual gathering to focus on the next steps and heard that taking care of present and former colleagues was vital. There was also a warning that in future guests might want to know how a hotel dealt with the challenges, what happened to laid off staff and what was in place to support current colleagues dealing with stress.
The EHL hospitality management school believes the changing profile of guests in years to come mean that tip-top customer service skills will be vital. They will expect to be entertained, not just provided with a professionally cleaned base for resting in between going out. Millennials will see the hotel as a destination in and of itself, an important part of the entire experience of a trip.
This goes beyond lots of technology in guest rooms and lobby experiences such as wine tasting events or even snuggling up with puppies (there’s one for housekeepers to look forward to!) but unique roles such as a concierge dedicated to helping guests recover from hangovers, while another might be charged with flattering guests with positive messages that make them feel good. These may be specialty positions or incorporated into another role.
And it’s already happening. The Cadogan, the Belmond boutique hotel in Chelsea will be offering a Sleep Concierge service to guests troubled by insomnia when it reopens. They’ve teamed up with Harley Street hypnotherapist and sleep expert Malminder Gill to offer a sleep-inducing meditative recording, pillow menu for those most suited to favoured sleeping position and a weighted blanket, a specially developed bedtime tea and a scented pillow mist. Sweet dreams, housekeepers, and see you all on the other side of this.