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Outsourcing: the perfect balancing act

Some see it as a dilemma, whilst others turn to outsourcing of the cleaning service as a natural solution so that they can focus on their core business. Which is right?

Anyone expecting Richard Arscott, sales director, Atlas FM to simply fly the flag for what we might dub ’total outsourcing’ could well be surprised by the pragmatic approach he takes. But getting it right for the specific needs of individual businesses and organisations on both costs and service levels is a key part of Atlas FM’s own success.

Today it’s a £200m turnover company with many clients outside of the hospitality sector, including The British Library and Bloomberg. Experience and flexibility meant Atlas FM was able to protect many staff from furlough and, as conditions have improved, scale-up for its hospitality clients.

Arscott is well aware of the dilemmas facing hotels and restaurants, whether parts of national and international groups, or operating as independents solely responsible for staffing policies. He says: “In-house solutions can work but at what cost? Conversations with hospitality organisations reveal the difficulty that they now have in recruitment following Brexit and Covid.

“In essence, there is a choice between securing a cleaning team at a cost, both monetary and organisational, or outsourcing to a specialist cleaning company whose focus is on procuring capable staff and arranging cover whilst ensuring that they are appropriately trained to deliver the service in a compliant manner.”

Outsourcing doesn’t mean workers aren’t valued members of the team. In April at The Hilton on Park Lane, an Atlas colleague, Americo Domingo, was presented with a certificate, trophy and £100 John Lewis voucher having been voted Stewarding Team Member of the Year 2021 by the chefs and hotel’s BOH team. Pictured are Jaroslaw Bednarek, Back of House Manager (The Hilton Park Lane), Trevor Olsen, Operations Director (Atlas), Americo Domingo, Steward (Atlas), Maurice Hart, Director (Atlas)

Whilst there are some who are committed to in-house cleaning solutions for both public areas and back of house areas, many are finding that outsourcing is the most appropriate solution in what we all hope will remain ‘the post-Covid era’. But, as Arscott says: “As always, there is no right and no wrong.” There’s no doubt that the period since the onset of Covid-19 has underlined the added value that outsourcing provides when addressing back of house and public areas cleaning, particularly in respect of scalability. The support of outsourcing professionals in the recovery of hospitality businesses cannot be over-emphasised, says Arscott – pointing to a ready supply of appropriately trained staff allowing clients to flex their labour requirements in-line with the volatile environment and so ensure that costs were capped. At the same time, he recognises how bedroom cleaning presents a different challenge, where the case for in-house capability to ensure a core of bedrooms are definitely cleaned to a high standard is stronger, with perhaps a top-up provision from outsourcing companies.

The provision of appropriate staff and compliance provide a clear perspective why outsourcing can contribute to enhanced profits for the client and improved guest service. But it’s not just the physical effort that the best outsourcing businesses can handle. “New cleaning processes, whether the implementation of robotics or chemical-free cleaning, requires a raft of health & safety documentation, focus on applicable legislation and not least, a commitment to identifying staff who want to work and are committed to delivering high standards,” Arscott says. “Our end-to-end technology platform ensures that appropriate staff are identified, trained, available for their prescribed shifts and supported by qualified and experienced operations management. Risks are mitigated to allow the client, to focus on their core business.”

As hospitality brands develop, the demands they make of their outsourcing partners grows, which is fine with Arscott and Atlas’s flexible approach: “They want a partnership that supports their sustainability goals, one whose structure and processes are predicated on Best Practice. Many of the most prestigious hotels and hospitality groups have demonstrated their confidence in Atlas by retaining our cleaning services for many years, including the Corinthia London where we supply the front and back of house overnight cleaning service as well as providing kitchen porters.”

Helen Davies and Kendal Swanepoel of Platinum Recruitment

Helen Davies and Kendal Swanepoel, front of house managers at Platinum Recruitment, have also supported hospitality business during what they’ve seen as cumulative ‘drastic hits’ and how housekeeping in particular has often borne the brunt, starting with Brexit ‘getting done’, with the hospitality industry losing a lot of good workers who chose to go home. Many stayed of course, but in Davies’s view: “A further two months down the line, and the world pandemic took out many of the rest of hospitality’s finest.”

Whilst the industry is undeniably rising from the ashes, recruitment in the UK is still suffering. Recent reports showed that there were 180,000 unfilled vacancies in the hospitality sector in July with one in five workers having completely removed themselves from the labour market entirely. Davies recalls: “Returning to the office in 2021 was like nothing we’d experienced before in recruitment. We had lost hundreds of enthusiastic housekeeping candidates because they had gone home to Europe. Then, during the pandemic, many of the UK’s hospitality staff turned to other avenues for work.” We now know that many hospitality workers turned to other sectors, even though they’d greatly enjoyed their previous roles. Staff reluctantly leaving care home jobs might have got more headlines, but with a scrabble on to fill roles in fulfilment, distribution, and logistic sectors, often better wages, and regular, sociable working hours at a time when much of the hospitality industry had ground to a halt was naturally attractive. This insight into ‘other avenues’ has seen a shift in dynamics from a client-led market to a candidate-led market.

Swanepoel adds: “It is clear to all that we must now view things in a different way to ensure the interest is there for housekeeping. We’ve had to look at salary as the primary objective. The employment market is competitive, and hospitality now has to revisit pre-pandemic wages and come more in line with the current market average.”

With the loss of skilled workers, they are advising clients to consider individuals who may not yet have the skillset or experience but who are passionate about investing in a career in hospitality. Swanepoel says: “Housekeeping is the keystone of a hotel. Without good housekeepers, there are no beds for guests – you essentially have no business, so we have no option but to succeed.”

Having both worked in the industry themselves, they can personalise the service to their candidates and relay the amazing opportunities available in housekeeping: “The way we talk to candidates is that we are relaying the passion behind working in hospitality. It may be not be the easiest of jobs to start with, but give it one year and you will never find yourself out of a job again.”

Brexit, followed by the pandemic, saw many hospitality workers return home, particularly to Eastern Europe, while others moved into other sectors
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