Hotels reimagine training to deal with pandemic
Hotels reimagine training to deal with pandemic
04 AUGUST 2020 8:27 AM

Operators are providing training to off-site employees and enhancing programs to deal with health and safety issues.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As the industry navigates the pandemic, operators have had to focus on new ways of training employees to deal with a radical reset of required skills as hotels reopen or experience higher occupancies, including training employees who are not on-property and developing entirely new skill sets for the long term.

Training employees during a pandemic has inspired a whole new category of operations. The Baccarat Hotel New York quickly created a new position, director of environmental health and safety, and named Tanja Hernandez to lead the property in those areas through the crisis. Among her tasks is to train employees at all levels on the newly required safety protocols and procedures and “instill a sense of security and well-being for our guests and employees.”

Even as the hotel remained closed, it retained 200 employees, and Hernandez is working with other managers to reintegrate them with a training app platform before they return to the hotel. The online on-boarding app provides all training information on the virus, general safety, company policy and history. In addition, the hotel anticipates a select number of employees spending time training on-site at the hotel in advance of guests arriving, Hernandez said.

Raymond Co, SVP of human resources, Americas and global learning, InterContinental Hotels Group, said the company is developing and delivering “new, quick essential learning modules” to help teams adapt. These bite-sized “just in time, just enough” offerings have ranged from how to conduct virtual sales calls to implementing evolved food and beverage operations. Additionally, the company has adapted some of its previous offerings to the current environment.*

For hotels that are currently closed, the company has created a ramp-up and reopening learning guide with specific guidance on new expectations and considerations, depending on hotel role, he said. For furloughed employees, the company is continuing to provide access to learning and professional development resources that they can choose to explore voluntarily with content varying slightly based on what local regulations will allow in each country for furloughed associates.

The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, remained open through the pandemic and trained employees on COVID-19 safety and sanitization protocols, said Dee Patel, the hotel’s managing director. It consisted ofmore comprehensive training required for teams with frequent guest contact, including housekeeping, F&B and hotel operations. Following each newly mandated training, signed acknowledgements of the new policies are required from each team member. This will continue as policies evolve, she said.

From high touch to contactless
Even in the most luxurious property, like the Baccarat, service will look different. Hernandez said that transitioning from high-touch to contactless guest service will be done “with warmth, care and heart.” As the hotel adapts to the new normal, “we will strive to be more welcoming than ever,” she said.

Some training will be general and some more specific. Different operational areas, require their own specific tasks and safety measures, and these are addressed department by department, Hernandez said. But ensuring the health and safety of everyone in the building will be achieved with staff training hotel-wide and across all departments of protocols on a broader level; increased communication about the importance of hygiene and cleanliness; and a focus on how collective human behavior impacts the environment, she said.

Frank Lavey, SVP of global operations for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, said many digital enhancements are being rolled out to minimize contact while maximizing care and giving guests more options for how they connect with the property throughout their stays.

New partners in training
Hotels have had to look to non-traditional sources to find partners who can help them in the new world of hospitality. Hernandez said she has and will continue to undergo extensive training on cleaning and maintenance of equipment and F&B handling. This includes multi-day seminars and sessions devoted to the implementation and execution of required health and safety measures.

This kind of immersive training for herself and all associates will be continuous and ongoing, Hernandez said. As the hotel expands capacity in accordance with regulatory guidelines, it will strive to provide solutions that address the short term, while establishing templates “to enhance guest convenience and satisfaction long term,” she said.

Hyatt launched the Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment on 29 April which includes an accreditation process by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) at all hotels, reinforced by regular auditing, Lavey said.

As part of this commitment, all staff will undergo detailed training in accordance with GBAC standards, reinforced by regular auditing, he said. For specific roles, additional guidance has been provided to address enhanced cleaning procedures across all departments.

The Hermitage Hotel partnered with Meharry Medical College on a health and safety program. The college’s president, James Hildreth, and his team toured the property and reviewed all enhanced procedures, Patel said. They then advised on all front- and back-of-house practices, including dining at the restaurant and bar. Meharry will continue to advise on the hotel’s practices monthly as procedures evolve.

Seeing advantages in a crisis
Mark Driscoll, managing director at the Hamilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., said his property launched “Hamilton University” when the pandemic hit, enabling it to continue trackable progress for all departments with the ability to work from home while getting paid. The hotel decided to take advantage of the extra time the employees had while staying home to train them in additional skills, as well as newly required skills around safety measures.

The hotel has remained open throughout so that engineers continue to train on site. All other departments saw a combination of working from home and on-site, which allowed for personal development training and growth with a work-from-home training component.

As Hyatt’s hotels reopen, all associates will undergo training under the Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment, Lavey said. Additionally, every hotel will have at least one person on property trained as a hygiene and well-being leader. That person will be responsible for ensuring the hotel adheres to new operational guidance and protocols, including: colleague certification in hygiene and cleanliness; increased frequency of cleaning; enhanced food safety; hand sanitizer stations; exploring purification and sanitation devices; insuring masks are worn by colleagues; and enforcing social distancing.

Co said that the evolution of IHG’s global learning strategy to move toward “a more task-based, learner-centric approach” was already well underway. The pandemic has not changed the company’s strategy, he said, “as much as it has helped us to reprioritize and expedite work already underway.”

IHG has adapted to virtual instructor-led delivery, including for priority programs that have traditionally been offered only in a physical setting, he said. While there will continue to be a role for in-person offerings, flexibility will be critical to an increasingly blended approach moving forward “so we are designing content not only for the current situation but also for the foreseeable future,” he said.

*Clarification, 14 August 2020: This story has been updated to clarify IHG’s approach to adapting training during the pandemic.”

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