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Five ways technology can help hoteliers navigate the labour crisis 

By Sebastien Sepierre, managing director EMEA, Fourth  

A perfect storm of challenges confronts the UK’s hotel and wider hospitality sector, like never before. The toxic combination of the pandemic and the fallout from Brexit has brought about the most significant labour market disruption the industry has ever experienced, with swathes of people seemingly vanishing from the sector. 

However, despite these headwinds of diminishing talent pools – plus rampant cost inflation – the sector is clearly in recovery mode. Our latest figures show that the hotel sector collectively worked 143% more hours than the equivalent period in 2020 – this was still some 22% down against the same period in 2019. Similarly, while hotel staff headcount has now grown for four consecutive months (up 26% on December 2020), it is still 15% below pre-pandemic levels. 

What has not yet returned though is inbound international tourism. This picture will inevitably change over the next 12 months and inbound tourism is predicted to reach £57 billion by 2025. It is a big number to play for and, as the industry moves forward, technology will help businesses to build and shape a more resilient future, maintain high brand values and exceed guest expectations. 

It is clear the huge challenges the industry has faced and continues to work through has provided an opportunity for hotel businesses to review every facet of their operation.  The climate has necessarily engendered a culture of innovation and improvement, with operators focused on building back better.  It is something that we have supported our clients with and here are five areas where we know that next-gen technology is helping hotels move beyond survival phase and confront the battle for teams and talent. 

Make your hotel an attractive workplace environment 

Senior management are clearly focused on ensuring that staff and candidates see the industry and their business as an attractive proposition with career potential. In practical terms this means building on benefits and rewards packages, to appeal to the next-generation talent pool. Many are changing the practice and perception of long, unsociable hours. The onus is on business owners and managers to elevate aspirational possibilities; inspiring recruits and allowing them to shine in an industry where they see their long-term future and an opportunity to become the leaders of tomorrow. 

Leading brands are recognising the value of tech in supporting their employee proposition. For example, data, forecasting and labour scheduling technology plays a pivotal role here, allowing managers to not only work out who they need and when, but also deploy more creative and efficient scheduling practises. This tech can calculate labour demand across every department and location within a business, leaving no shift over- or under-staffed.  It protects the guest experience whilst de-risking the prospect of over-worked and burned-out colleagues.  

Revolutionise the way you work by focusing on career potential 

There is a real focus on upskilling teams and broadening skillsets, using tech to highlight demand across departments and allowing hotels to meet that demand whilst simultaneously creating cross-functional job profiles that expose staff to wider areas of the business. This means staff are challenged, more engaged and exposed to more parts of the business. For employees this means making hotels more attractive and to be seen as places to progress. For employers it improves efficiencies and ensures the talent pool is retained and expanded.  We can see that this approach drives retention.

Place the power in their pockets 

The era of mobile has been coming for 10 years and has finally arrived. The pandemic has in a way helped accelerate mobile adoption, such that the primary communication device and work engagement tool is the smartphone – at all levels. Hotel operators are increasingly operating with a fully accessible workforce management and engagement app, transforming team engagement, communication and culture. It also offers a super-practical way of working; for example, department managers can react to on-the-go scheduling changes and engage with staff by allowing them to see their schedule at any time, swap shifts with colleagues and apply for open shifts. This, in particular, helps to address issues around work/life balance – something that the pandemic has brought to light – by giving staff far more control over their work patterns, driving team satisfaction and inevitably, benefitting the guest experience. 

We can see that giving staff access to digital management platforms, such as Fourth Engage, helps to create a strong culture of collaboration and encourages the sharing of insights, feedback and ideas that are essential to business development. Furthermore, research has shown that actively engaged employees are 80% happier and 45% more productive, which results in better customer service and a lower turnover of staff.

Get smart with salaries and tech 

With the National Minimum Wage about to rise again, and the intense competition for people generally, there will be extra pressure on salaries and how financial incentives can be used to attract and retain staff. Technological solutions provide immediate oversight of labour costs and third-party contractors, allowing hoteliers to keep a close eye on budgets and, therefore, calculate their wages in the most accurate and fairest way possible.  It sounds unbelievably simple but tech has transformed accuracy in this area and operators know how important paying people the right amounts is; and how easy it is to get wrong. 

Added to this, staff financial wellbeing is an area that is developing rapidly.  Driving this is becoming a key retention strategy, with tools like Wagestream successfully increasing staff wellbeing, retention and productivity by giving users more control over their finances.

Turn data into decisions 

Real-time access to data and analytics is helping management teams to drive vital efficiencies and profits within hotel businesses. Having rich insights helps drive smarter decision-making and saves valuable time and resources. This data capture can be turned into accessible and visual-led reports that shine a light on the key drivers of the business, helping operators access better and ever-improving performance across departments and locations.

Coming out of the pandemic it is clear that hoteliers are increasingly comfortable in leaning on technology to access better performance, whether it be managing the workforce, under-pressure margins or guest satisfaction. Harnessing and relying on transformational technology ensures managers can spend more time supporting teams, giving them the capacity to provide superior hospitality.

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