Industry Update
Opinion Article 2 September 2021

Lean Teams Require More Time Automation

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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In the face of COVID-19 and the need for a contactless, sterilized and traceable environment, hotels rapidly pivoted by implementing a myriad of hard and soft solutions to make all onsite stakeholders (guests and staff) safer while also enabling remote work, more data-driven decision making through deeper integrations and faster service through automation.

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After all this, one would think that we’re done with tech for now and that it’s time to refocus on the ‘real’ hoteling of high-touch service. While true on many accounts in that hospitality will always be a ‘people business’ and that ‘smile with a service’ is an all-but-irreplaceable quality of a great guest experience, there is one critical area where this is dangerously wrong.

During the opening salvo of the pandemic, most hotels cut back a large portion of their teams, both at the frontline level as well as within the senior ranks. Whether your organization called it ‘furloughs’ or operating on a ‘skeleton crew’, properties the world over were forced to do more with less as previous roles were amalgamated amongst those that remained.

The problem with these lean teams is that by clustering all the daily minutia into a few select personnel, those individuals aren’t left with any prolonged chunks of time to think and devote their focus to projects that will advance the business beyond steady-state management.

As an example, consider a revenue manager who is the sole executive left standing after two others on their team were furloughed in conjunction with two marketing coordinators and two front office managers. When will this knowledge worker find the time to devise a well-researched rate plan for next year if they are already handling reservation requests, updating OTA listings, adjusting rates to adapt to erratic market conditions, filling in at the front desk and attending executive committee meetings?

Compounding this new model of continuously interruptive workflows is the fact that, coming out of the pandemic, many hotels have opted to keep their teams lean. Whether this decision was made due to the omnipresent uncertainty over where the coronavirus will take us or as a means of recouping from the losses of 2020 by keeping administrative costs at a minimum, now in the second half of 2021 it’s clear that this utility player operative standard is here to stay.

So, if lean teams can be assumed to be semi-permanent going forward and we know that this in turn creates a problem insofar as creating too many short, immediate and coordinative tasks, the solution is to then look at both the cultural shifts and technological tools that will help to protect managers’ time from all these somewhat toxic attention dividers.

More Efficient Meetings

How much time is wasted in small talk at the beginning of a group meeting when four attendees are waiting on a fifth key player to join? How much short-burst time is spent in endless email chains coordinating a one-off meeting time? Coming out of a meeting, how do you ensure that everyone knows their exact responsibilities and due dates?

To start, we advocate fewer meetings overall. Additionally, lots of calendar systems can help with coordination by setting up recurring timeslots and attaching collaborative agendas so that everyone stays on track. Importantly, there should be an easy way for any attendee who isn’t a major participant to opt-out and get access to a recording or minutes on a cloud-based work management system so that all this never devolves to crowding an email inbox.

To set up a time, many are already deferring to scheduling software so that the endless email threads can be efficiently replaced by ‘office hours’ blocks of available time for someone to select their preference. Once implemented, it’s then just a matter of omitting certain periods of the day, devoting these to silent concentration – no meetings, no calls, no texts, no emails, only the work.

Email Reduction Platforms

As a simple example, a guest emails you asking for the address and what rooms are available on a given night? While your address is likely plastered all over your website and social media, and all room types can be queried within the booking engine, this customer laziness is still an unavoidable problem because you want the revenue.

But instead of keeping costs down by letting the prospect choose what they want online and on their own time (with the cost being the monthly fee for maintaining the website and booking engine), now some manager has to spend the time to courteously reply and reply again if there are follow-up questions, all of it zapping their ability to focus on more cerebral thoughts.

In this case, one solution is the deployment of chatbots that are able to automatically offload all these basic inquiries and reservation requests so that managers are only looped in when it’s a more complex situation or error escalation event. Similarly, card-not-present payment platforms can eliminate the time spent emailing back and forth (or on the phone) to confirm a credit card transaction. Third would be a solid and well-connected operations management system that can seamlessly deliver all the necessary service tasks to the appropriate staffer without ever notifying a manager unless it’s required.

Time Trumps Cost Savings

We could list off another dozen or so prominent automation tools that can help your managers save their time and, more significantly, save them for a barrage of interruptive emails or texts that prevent them from focusing for a solid hour on a singular project. The obstacle to implementing all of these technologies is that it is difficult to quantify the ROI.

How do you put in a monetary number the cost savings that are realized by deploying a new platform that can free up, say, 15 minutes of sporadic time for any given manager each day? A modest calculation could boil down that manager’s compensation in quarter-hour chunks then multiply it by the total workdays, but the true savings are actually far greater. Not only is there an opportunity cost where those 15 minutes can be repurposed toward a positive outcome, but psychologically the lack of interruptions as a result of automating that quarter of an hour can help to destress and inspire that manager so that they can be discretely more productive for the tasks that actually matter.

As is often said, you can always make more money but never time, so use the latter wisely. With the coronavirus under control, many hotels have put a pause on enhancing their tech stacks. This is a huge mistake because now is exactly the right time to start thinking in terms of the next phase – using technology to maximize the productivity of your lean teams.

This requires a cultural shift at the highest level. While time savings may not immediately translate into a discernable ROI figure, our hope is that this explanation suffices to elucidate the dangers of constantly distracting your managers with the everyday, and most trivial, tasks of running a hotel.

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