When talking about a return to pre-COVID occupancy levels in hotels, many in our sector are anticipating the time frame will be years as opposed to months. At this juncture, we need to be creative and reassess some central principles to make sure that every penny spent counts, and that we are in the best position possible to cope with demand surges and recovery.
Lean labor management has become paramount, and for operators of multiple hotels, the challenge is now how to achieve economies of scale without sacrificing the service experience. For years our industry has centralized business support functions like accounting, payroll and marketing, and now is a good time to review how and when it is right to optimize property operations in this way too.
The Principles of Clustering Housekeeping
Clustering the operational management of several properties makes a great deal of sense in some cases. The key benefit of this approach is that you can streamline your staffing, removing the need for multiple managers to be based at multiple properties. This can allow valuable managers to be redeployed as well as delivering operational efficiencies. Clustering gives one central team oversight over the movement of the housekeeping and operations staff and allows them to set a standardized approach across multiple teams. It also gives managers greater insight and control over pooling staff across hotels, evening out occupancy highs and lows within the clustered hotels.
And in terms of specific jobs that can be clustered, the starting point is staff supervisory and management tasks such as schedule creation, briefing, monitoring and team assignments. These jobs can be executed and centrally managed in real-time and across different properties with the right approach in place. Alongside these day-to-day tasks, training, recruitment and onboarding of staff can also be centralized and clustered.
Key Considerations for a Clustering Approach
When considering centralizing and clustering hotels, there are a few key factors that are well worth considering before embarking:
- Do you have the right technology in place to support clustering? It is essential that you have the software in place that enables your team’s tasks to be managed in real-time, facilitates communication and provides a degree of automation to handle smaller tasks. Additionally, consider a solution that provides monitoring with insights into multiple properties, so your management team has an accurate overview of tasks and productivity. Once you’ve found the right technology for you, do not rush the implementation, build a plan where the tech can be implemented in stages and create milestones such as daily centralized reporting to help stay on track of progress.
- Are you clear on your possible points of failure? Once you have this technology in place, you need a scenario plan for any points of failure that could affect the success of the centralized management approach—for example, if there is a power cut or loss of access to the internet or several key members of the team are away ill. There must be a contingency plan in place that can cope if the worst should happen. It may seem dramatic but preparing for the worst-case scenarios will save you a huge amount of time and will significantly de-risk a move of this kind.
- Have you got the right people on the team to run a centralized team or do you need to recruit? Put thought into who on your current team could lead and inspire a centralized team. Good managers have to have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to team’s performance and this will need to be even greater in a centralized system. Bear in mind that is a fantastic career opportunity for the right people. Also think about how you onboard and train your team for the new structure and mindset. Turnover is notoriously high in our industry so think about how you can motivate the team to buy into and be part of the new vision.
The idea of centralizing and clustering housekeeping is an very current debate in our industry, and it will be very interesting to see over the next year how many hotels will adopt this approach to help them reduce their costs and tackle the uncertainty of occupancy. My best piece of advice for any hotelier is to not let the fear of the unknown stop you from embracing new or innovative approaches to managing your hotel management. The world is different now and it is calling for a fresh thinking in many areas. As the largest single line item on a hotel balance sheet, operations should be top of the list for creative reassessment.
Soenke Weiss is the founder of Optii Solutions.