Few in the hospitality industry have been able to get a handle on the ongoing labor shortage, both before the pandemic and especially since, when many workers were subjected to layoffs, followed by a reluctance to return to the industry, leaving hoteliers scrambling to staff properties at a time when occupancy was in a state of flux. Although technology cannot supply the actual human resources so sorely needed, executives from M3, a hotel software and services provider, say that labor management software can help hotels to better manage labor in real time, including by electronically posting crucial information such as scheduling changes for direct access by employees on their smartphones. Steve Pappas, product manager—time management, Casi Johnson, chief operations officer/innovations leader, and Scott Watson, chief sales and marketing officer, spoke with LODGING about how business intelligence and data analytics can help hoteliers better support teams that have for too long been stretched too thin.
Understanding the Problem
So, how does the current labor shortage compare to the previous one, when hotels at full occupancy struggled to provide the level of service their guests expected?
Without going into the reasons employees have not rushed to return to their hospitality jobs, those interviewed focused more on the complexity of the situation now—especially fluctuating demand—and how their technology can help.
Pappas describes a very different business environment now than the one that existed before the pandemic. “Pre-COVID, some aspects of our business—such as group business, which was typically booked 90 days in advance—were relatively static. So, if my hotel was regularly at 70 percent occupancy, I knew I didn’t have to have everything cleaned every day.” But now, things keep changing. Early in the pandemic, there were shutdowns that led to widespread cancellations and layoffs; but, apart from some thriving markets, this has been followed by fluctuating demand due to unpredictable circumstances—some of which are good for business, like when a company scheduled to open its offices in September pushes the date to January, creating unexpected demand for hotel rooms and meeting space. This, he says, demonstrates what is at the heart of labor management—having the information to fully understand what is occurring in order to determine and arrange for staffing needs.
The Technology Solution
As Pappas explains, that is where labor management software can help. “Hoteliers need to see that big picture, using analytics tools that consolidate all the metrics and compile them in usable format, giving managers at the property level a fundamental view of changes occurring in their business so they know how to adjust for their staffing needs, and be able to communicate with the resources they have to be sure they’re in the right place at the right time.”
Rolling out labor management technology may be a tall order at a time when hotel staff is stretched thin as it is. So, how should teams approach implementing new technology? Johnson describes the answer in terms of an old joke. “How do you eat a whole elephant? One bite at a time.”
Those bites, she says, are the steps involved in the initial process, starting with “capturing the fundamental information” needed about employees after they clock in: “Where are my people? When are they working? How long are they working?”
To calculate pay correctly for employees who are wearing many hats, it also requires identifying the different tasks and their rates.
Ultimately, says Johnson, the information is used to create key performance indicators, the metrics that are built into the system to track and compare, and to generate useful reports that can be viewed at the property levels and the corporate office. The data also enable companies to easily respond to a compliance audit.
However, as Pappas points out, collecting data from disparate sources on the front end alone isn’t enough to produce those reports. It is its integration, says Watson, with business intelligence tools—including the accounting system, the labor management system, and the time clock software—that enables them to consolidate that data into a usable format, so they can make smart decisions on the back end.
Not for Everyone
Johnson says the decision to implement any technology solution should not be made lightly. “I like to tell our customers, ‘Make sure you know what you’re solving before you try to solve it.’ Technology is a tool to accomplish goals. We would rather people have the right value-add technology than to just jump into any solution, including ours.” For that reason, says Pappas, “It’s important to bring in everyone—from senior management down to the general manager—to be sure that everybody’s comfortable with the tool and that it will benefit everybody throughout the workflow chain.”
Impact on Employees and Guests
Johnson says although the technology focuses on efficiency and productivity that benefits the bottom line by reducing operational costs once in place, it can also have a noticeable impact on the guest experience in that the right staff is on hand to serve guests. It can also improve the employees experience, she explains, saying, “Employees want to work for a company that can make their job as straightforward and as easy as possible, a company that’s organized, and that can do the fundamentals—providing advance notice of their schedules, paying them accurately and on time—properly.”
Pappas says M3’s tools have been “best embraced by operations” but mentions how the growing focus on human resources in hospitality, saying, “I do see HR becoming a bigger and bigger piece of the picture in the future.”
Johnson says mobile access makes it especially important that hoteliers have more simplified streamlined solutions, removing those that don’t add value. “For mobile access, things need to be shrunken down into little bite sized, manageable pieces.”
Mobile App in Action
Steve Pappas, M3’s product manager—time management, uses the example of the longstanding practice of physically posting employees’ schedules for the week to demonstrate a typical example of an inefficiency his company’s M3 Labor mobile app can easily address. “To get the crucial information they need—e.g., exactly when they are scheduled to work—they either need to be at work to see the posted info or ask someone who is there, like a colleague or manager, to check.” With technology that enables employees to access that information on a mobile device or computer, they can see for themselves what their schedule is, and be notified if it changes, saving time and aggravation for employees and their managers by putting up-to-date information in the hands of both. “Automating any piece of the regular daily information that individuals rely on can make life easier for everyone,” he says.