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Three Key Strategies in Communicating with Hotel Employees During a Crisis

Your employees are your hotel’s most valuable asset, and it’s important to protect both them and your guests in times of crisis. Without a solid communication plan that accounts for frontline employees’ needs, you run the risk of a chaotic internal environment, which ultimately leads to a negative guest experience.

And in crisis situations like the current pandemic, inconsistency or errors in communication can have far more serious and tragic repercussions. Use these three strategies to facilitate communication with frontline employees during a crisis.

With the coronavirus pandemic closing hotels and keeping employees and guests at home, communicating in real time with your entire staff has become even more important — and more difficult. For hotels that are continuing operations, it’s crucial to communicate policy and process changes as soon as they develop. And once the situation begins to improve, everyone will need to receive the same information at the same time, regardless of where they are.

Even at the best of times, hotels without a solid communication plan that caters to frontline employees’ needs run the risk of a chaotic internal environment, which ultimately leads to a negative guest experience. And when a crisis hits — like a natural disaster, a live shooter situation, or a virus outbreak — inconsistency or errors can have far more serious and tragic repercussions.

The Industry That Never Sleeps

In the hospitality industry, 80% of employees are deskless. That makes them difficult to reach by email, particularly if they work at night and rest during the day. Yes, you can usually call frontline or remote employees to reach them, but it’s a massive effort for HR and an inefficient way of disseminating crucial information.

Plus, without a standardized process, it’s easy for messages — and people — to get overlooked and fall through the cracks. Some managers are inherently better than others at communicating, causing problems with timing (some employees could hear news hours before others), message consistency (communications can become a game of “telephone” when left up to individuals), and depth (some managers will just give a few highlights versus the whole story).

These inconsistencies can have extremely negative consequences in crisis situations, in which details and timing are absolutely critical.

Creating the Right Kind of Connectivity

Companies with frontline workers face a unique set of challenges that require very specific communications methods. Many companies struggle to ascertain what type of communication system will allow them to most effectively communicate with their workforce.

They want something that is as intuitive and as easy to use as a WhatsApp-style platform in order to encourage employee adoption. But they also need technology that meets data security requirements and doesn’t allow employees to “opt out” of updates that could be vital.

As pandemic-related hospitality industry closings and travel restrictions become more severe and widespread, and as more people become infected by COVID-19, employees are already dealing with the chaos of added childcare responsibilities, questions about sick leave, and wondering whether they will have jobs to return to.

It’s not unlike the situation during a hurricane when employees have to determine whether they should leave town to wait out the storm for the safety of their families. They may be holding out until they get the green light from you. The moment you have an update for them, it’s vital that you can reach them so they can make important decisions for the safety of those employees and their families.

If your hotel is one that has needed to close down for a few days, weeks, or indeterminate length of time because of the pandemic, a good communication system allows you to check on your team and keep them updated with the latest timelines. This ensures everyone is aligned and informed no matter their location or role. Plus, checking on employees shows that you care about them as people, not just as your workforce. 

Even for small issues, such as a rooftop being closed due to rain or an out-of-commission service elevator, a good communication system is absolutely necessary. In order for your guests to get real-time information, your frontline employees need to have the most up-to-date information to share with them.

By having a standardized, efficient communication system in place, you’re not only introducing smoother processes to your employees, but you’re also giving your guests a better experience and overall impression of your company.

Plan for the Unpredictable

No matter how tenacious your employees are — and no matter how great your managers are at thinking on their feet — you absolutely have to have a crisis communication plan. Particularly in the case of weather-related issues, a communication plan is imperative to ensure the continuity of your business while also taking care of your employees.

In the instance of bad weather, a set plan helps you keep employees updated on business-related issues, such as hotel closure and maintenance updates, but it also lets you check in on employees’ safety and give them tips to remain safe. The hotel industry is especially vulnerable to a number of types of crises, but unfortunately, it’s a difficult industry to regulate.

The 2017 Las Vegas shooting, for example, showed us how quickly an entertainment function can turn into a nightmare, and the current pandemic is revealing how precarious the industry can be. That makes it all the more important that your staff is equipped to make guests feel comfortable not only during their stays with you under normal circumstances but also when an emergency situation arises.

These three strategies and technologies will help facilitate communication with frontline employees during a crisis:

1. Require crisis training

Provide and mandate crisis training for all your employees, regardless of their shifts or hours. A crisis can occur at any time, anywhere, and involve any employee, so you want to make sure your entire workforce is equipped to handle anything that comes their way.

As you develop your training program, think through what you need to happen from each employee’s viewpoint. Every employee should know, in a crisis, which specific tasks they are expected to complete. From a high level, you can delegate crisis tasks into the following buckets: HR and internal communications, external communications, operations leaders, business leaders, and IT leaders.

In the event of a crisis, each of these groups should be prepared to send in-the-moment updates and expectations to their teams, and all non-desk employees on the frontlines should be prepared to receive and react to these updates.

Make these situations more immediate for employees by sharing case studies and real-life examples during your training. Then, give them a chance to role-play or take part in actual simulation exercises in which you “test” team members on how they would react in certain situations. That way, the content and best practices you are teaching become truly real to them, rather than hypothetical.

2. Implement a real-time communication tool

The use of a real-time communication tool will improve operations and guest experiences at any time, but it’s especially vital in a crisis. All of your crisis response documents, such as emergency exit routes, safe zones, and evacuation plans can be stored in one central digitized hub. As soon as something happens, you can reach out to employees with a quick link so they can reference the appropriate documents.

In addition, the sooner your team members know about a crisis, the sooner they can react and act in accordance with their crisis training. As the crisis unfolds, leaders can provide real-time updates with their teams, which is particularly vital in life-threatening situations.

For example, in the case of an active shooter, a real-time communication app would protect your team by keeping them informed of the shooter’s location, help you check in on individual team members, and verify that everyone has completed their respective tasks as outlined in their crisis training. This could include locking down certain doors, notifying guests to stay in their rooms, or calling the authorities to help take down the intruder.

All of these tasks are vital to the well-being of your employees and guests alike, and whether they are completed in a timely and proper manner could mean the difference between life and death.

3. Implement technology and processes proactively

A good communication tool is valuable only if people use it. You may be in a crisis and you need to quickly contact your entire workforce — but half of them don’t even have your communication app downloaded. Maybe you can reach your desk employees via email or in-person, but what about your non-desk workforce? You invested time and resources in putting the proper technology in place, but it’s useless if no one even downloads or checks the app.

Start by establishing best practices for your communications tool or app. Provide training for employees on the best way to use the tool — and make sure they are using it. For instance, start funneling all of your important communications through the app well in advance of a crisis. Has your all-hands meeting date been moved? Send an update through the app. Is a complimentary lunch available on the seventh floor? Put it on the app.

Resist the urge to also send the same information via email, if you have made it clear that all updates will now come through the app. Otherwise, people have no reason to change their old ways of communication. Employees are naturally resistant to change, but if you help guide them through the way they are expected to use the new technology, they’ll get it — especially if the alternative is missing meetings or free lunches.

This international emergency is making it profoundly obvious how important it is to have these types of best practices established. Having a digital communication hub already in place that all employees, regardless of role, are already accustomed to using can make or break your hotel’s response to a crisis. The speed and efficiency with which your team responds can directly impact the safety and well-being of your guests and employees alike.

Your employees are the most valuable asset to your business, and it’s important to protect both them and your guests in times of crisis. By implementing and standardizing internal communications now, you’ll ensure that all employees receive real-time, vital information in the same way and at the same time going forward, regardless of whether they are at a desk or on the frontlines.

And because you’ll provide training and best practices on how to react, they’ll know exactly what they’re supposed to do to provide the best possible outcome for your hotel, your team, and your guests.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from

Click here to read the original article on Hotel Executive.