With the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in many parts of the world, hoteliers need to be more agile today than ever before. As newly crafted safety and operating protocols continue to evolve, hoteliers must react quickly to ensure that changes are carried out effectively by their frontline employees.
In a recent webinar titled “Communicating for Agility,” Anja Luthje, Group Director of Rooms and Quality for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, shared with me the company’s employee communication strategy amidst this pandemic. She revealed how MOHG’s 33 luxury hotels, resorts, and residences are engaging and motivating their colleagues on the road to recovery, and she stressed the importance of continually collaborating with teams to keep everyone apprised of daily changes and to encourage ideas from frontline workers on how to improve processes and deliver a superb guest experience.
Here are a few excerpts from our conversation:
Paraschiv: How is Mandarin Oriental using technology to assist you operationally during these unprecedented times?
Luthje: From the onset of the pandemic, we as hotel operators had to ask ourselves two important questions: ‘How do we keep guests and colleagues safe?’ and ‘How do we stop the spread of COVID-19? One avenue and tool that helps us achieve these goals is simply ‘Digital Communications.’ While many of our hotels remained open, some closed and teams were furloughed. We knew we needed to stay engaged with our furloughed colleagues to keep them updated on the company and re-opening plans, etc. Fortunately for everyone at Mandarin Oriental, we have been using the Beekeeper employee communication platform for more than five years. Through the app, colleagues can access an RSS feed from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to keep apprised of new guidelines and they can receive alerts from us showing the many layers of protection we are putting in place with our “We Care Program” to keep them and our guests safe.
Many procedures that our colleagues used to follow have changed. For instance, previously, when housekeepers entered a room, the first thing they did was strip the beds. Now the first step is to open the window before stripping beds, and even that is done differently; linens need to be removed slowly, without shaking them, and they need to be carefully placed in a double bag that is tightly sealed and immediately removed from the room. Communicating these new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is crucial to preventing the spread of the virus. We must get it right, and the Beekeeper app is helping with that. We developed SOP summary cards with icons that visually show the steps needed to complete each task. These SOPs can be accessed via mobile app, so our colleagues have digital instructions at their fingertips. This not only helps staff, but managers can check on new tasks assigned and follow the sequence of service. It’s not a matter of policing our teams; rather, it’s a way to ensure that everyone is working together for safety’s sake. Beekeeper is very quick and accessible, and our colleagues enjoy accessing it on their own device; it makes them more comfortable.”
Paraschiv: How do you prevent staff from cutting corners if they feel the virus threat isn’t as serious any longer?
Luthje: Because of our digital communication strategy, we don’t have employees who want to cut corners on the new procedures; instead, they are more engaged and prouder to do their part in keeping everyone safe. Many offer ideas on how to improve processes. We attribute this success to Beekeeper; the platform really makes a difference in empowering our colleagues to deliver a delightful and genuine guest experience. We can explain in the app how colleagues can find the tools they need, and in return, they tell us what we can do to make processes better. Being agile is key.
Paraschiv: As a global company, how do you stay on top of all the local regulations that are required today and share those updates with colleagues in a way that is easy to understand?
Luthje: Hotel groups with a global portfolio are required to regularly update procedures and protocols that match local regulations. During COVID-19, those updates are needed on a real-time basis and sometimes even daily. Regulations are changing constantly in every country and every state. And again here, Mandarin Oriental relies on the easy-to-use mobile employee app to quickly adapt any necessary safety measures and disseminate key information directly and quickly to our colleagues, on their devices. It’s situations like this where we must remain agile and constantly available to change. Beekeeper gives us the flexibility we need to adapt to those changes quickly.
When we need to make teams aware of a change, we share it in Beekeeper. We often use video to say ‘A new step was just added to an SOP. Let us break it down for you by watching this video.’ People are happy with this approach. It’s making the difference in ensuring that our colleagues are in the known and take pride in delivering outstanding service.
Paraschiv: As a 5-star brand, the pressure is high to get things right. Are guests more sympathetic and forgiving today if things don’t go as expected or are they more demanding when it comes to their safety?
Luthje: We get compliments daily about how clean we are making our hotels. Most guests in Asia, for example, are okay with us taking their temperature and with everyone wearing masks. They are used to it. But they still want and demand all the services they have come to expect at a Mandarin Oriental hotel. They don’t want to bypass colleagues; they want to interact. They want to check in at the front desk and they want turndown service. So, to interact effectively, we are teaching our colleagues to be conscious of what guests are hearing and how to talk and articulate properly through a mask. We hold training classes on how to speak clearly and slowly. After all, no one can read lips when your mouth is covered.
Paraschiv: How is technology helping employees to do their jobs right the first time?
Luthje: Beekeeper offers failsafe communication in how tasks need to be performed. If a colleague forgets how to do something, they can open the Beekeeper app and see what needs done. To go a step further, Beekeeper integrates to other technologies like LUA (formerly Whispr). LUA provides digital checklists in the user’s own language to personalize the room cleaning experience. Housekeepers see step-by-step instructions on how to perform each task on the list. It also forces accountability by requiring housekeepers to confirm when tasks are complete. This tool is also a big help in public area cleaning. Management can use it to provide checklists for cleaning public restrooms. A rule can be set that every 20 minutes an attendant must refresh the space. If 25 minutes have passed and the bathroom attendant has not confirmed cleaning, management will get an alert.
What is special about LUA is that this checklist is interactive and personalized to the colleagues, as they receive the information in their preferred language. It is a great technology that you can start using in less than 24 hours, very user friendly and our housekeeping colleagues adapted to it instantly. They feel proud that they are making a difference in the overall goal we have as an industry, to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep our guests safe.
Paraschiv: What is your secret to keeping employees motivated and engaged?
Luthje: Beekeeper breaks down the hierarchy and fosters a transparent culture. Our colleagues love it, our CEO loves it, and it has been particularly helpful in this time of COVID. For instance, we post a podcast a day. Some are educational or speak about topics such as dealing with anxiety. Others are fun and show off what’s happening at various properties. A very successful campaign centers on our Group Chief Executive Officer James Riley answering colleague’s questions. His comments aren’t edited; questions are asked and answered. He loves being engaged with all teams and our people really appreciate it.
Paraschiv: How do you ensure that your employees are ready to come back to work when you need them?
Luthje: Giving people transparent updates through Beekeeper has really helped us with retention. Most of our colleagues are committed and loyal to our brand because they know we are committed to providing them with the best employment experience. A ‘Working Better Together’ campaign has been launched through our Learning & Development department offering self-development courses where people can learn new things through the Beekeeper app. These are not necessarily Mandarin Oriental courses but classes that teach leadership skills that colleagues can sign up for. We’ve received great feedback from colleagues saying we are helping them with their personal development. By investing in our people, we are retaining their loyalty.
Paraschiv: How is Mandarin Oriental maintaining its agility?
Luthje: As our hotels prepare to reopen, many are sharing their ‘We Care’ guest and colleague journeys via Beekeeper. This type of digital collaboration is really having an impact on the brand. Our agility is supported through Beekeeper and by living through COVID-19. Because we are a global hotel company, there are cultural differences among our hotels. Some properties are more reserved in how they communicate with their teams. Since the pandemic began, hotels are realizing what is successful at one hotel can also be effective for them. A hotel in Asia may learn a lot from a hotel in Europe and vice versa and with Beekeeper we have the platform to exchange ideas and innovations.
Together with Beekeeper, we developed a fun Innovation App. Here, every hotel has its own stream where colleagues can post their ideas about enhancing the guest journey, support our sustainability efforts or how to enhance our colleague experiences, anything really. As employees post, managers can vote on those suggestions and consider implementing the winning idea. Today the feedback loop is more important than ever before. Leveraging colleague ideas and adjusting our programs accordingly helps to keep our company culture strong.
A lot of valuable information was shared by MOHG during the “Communicating for Agility” webinar, and I want to thank Anja for her presentation. Here are 5 important takeaways: 1) Hoteliers need to stay connected to all employees whether they are active or furloughed in the language of their choice; 2) Digital communication is the most effective way to engage, train and motivate employees on new procedures by showing them what needs done, not just telling them what to do; 3) Digitalizing the workforce breaks down the hierarchy and fosters a transparent culture from the top-down and the bottom up; 4) Recognizing colleagues for hard work in front of their peers goes a long way towards building loyalty; 5) Giving employees a voice via a digital communication platform and requesting their input and feedback on procedures will result in a better guest experience.
About the Author
Andrada Paraschiv is head of Hospitality for Beekeeper, a mobile-first communication platform built for frontline employees that reaches every shift, location, and language through real-time messaging, targeted streams, and automated workflows.