When you are a hotel group operating 49 corporate, leisure, and lifestyle hotels across the United Kingdom and Ireland, a pandemic can have a devastating impact on employee communication if digital safeguards are not in place. When the 2020 pandemic first hit, Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotel Group had to close all but three of our properties that remained open to accommodate essential workers. Most of our 3,000 employees were furloughed. Thankfully, when we needed to bring our people back in July to begin reopening, we were able to reach 100 percent of them thanks to a new relationship with Beekeeper.

Early this year Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotel Group had the foresight to digitalize our workforce to stay engaged with all workers regardless of their locations or job classifications. Until we implemented Beekeeper, only supervisors and managers had a corporate email address, or they used Microsoft Teams; employees relied on notice boards and in-person daily briefings to receive vital information. In March, when most other hotel companies were scrambling to find ways to connect with their teams, we were able to share relevant company information with everyone — no matter where they were, what job they held, or which language they spoke — and alleviate safety and employment concerns.

Had our hotel company not digitalized communications, getting our people back to work would have been more problematic. One of the  first things we did was make a movie with employees from the three hotels that never closed and uploaded it to the digital platform to show our furloughed workers all the post-COVID changes that were taking place. Active employees talked about their work experiences and showed what it was like to wear personal protective equipment and how meals were prepared and presented. They said they were safe and showed they were safe. We also leveraged the app to send “Welcome Back” messages from the managing director vowing his commitment to employee safety, and we sent a health questionnaire to ensure everyone was physically and mentally ready to return. Those efforts ignited a spark, and soon everyone was eager to get back to work.

Giving our workers access to consistent information is one of the biggest benefits of digitalizing our workforce. No matter who they are or what they do, our employees can access quality, well curated and consistent messages. Learning they would have a way to send and receive information to managers and even corporate, furloughed workers eagerly onboarded because they were desperate to connect. The platform gave us a forum to reach every single person within our organization in a minute’s notice.

Today, people feel as though the corporate hierarchy has been equalized. Local managers don’t feel disenfranchised. Everyone has access to the same information, and communication flows two ways. Every single employee has direct access to leaders, and this creates a transparent culture. And, because we chose a self-regulating, user-friendly platform, it is empowering our people to engage with us and each other.

Digitalizing Employees, Not Just Guest

A lot of focus has been placed on digitalizing the guest journey, and less on the employee journey, even though they are equally important. Perhaps it’s because there is fear of the financial investment. Some hoteliers believe that notice boards in break rooms are sufficient, so why spend the money. Others look at it as an HR function rather than an IT expense, so no one takes ownership. Our return on investment from Beekeeper was instant. It’s difficult to quantify employee satisfaction, but in difficult times, digital communication kept our people together. Without it, many would have become discontented from the company during furlough.

COVID-19 taught us many valuable lessons — one of which is that digitalizing employee communications must take precedence. If you don’t take care of those taking care of guests first, you won’t have a team to support the operation. You either digitalize your workplace or risk employee dissatisfaction, especially among the younger, more social generations. If workers don’t feel they are part of the conversation or information is not timely, they may leave.

Today, when we send out a digital campaign, we insert each recipient’s name to personalize the message. It means so much, and happy employees are loyal employees. When communication flows two ways, it levels the playing field. It’s that type of culture today’s employees want, and we are proud to facilitate it.

This technology migration taught Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotel Group a valuable lesson — namely, that digital communication drives productivity. It helps us work smarter, not just harder. It improves onboarding, and it has afforded us better training, more efficient questionnaires, and expanded document libraries. More importantly, we can be more productive while remaining socially distant from guests and each other.

Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotel Group likes to spend its money well and generate good value. We perform considerable due diligence before considering an investment. For instance, eight years ago we purchased a learning management system; that was a big deal, and employees were eager to engage with it. Beekeeper, however, has taken employee engagement to new heights. Today it’s the No. 1 way that we communicate with our teams, and vice versa. For that reason alone, digitalizing our workforce has delivered tremendous returns.

We continue to get the most of this investment because Beekeeper remains close to us, supporting us. They are consistently reaching out to see how they can help us overcome new challenges brought on by the pandemic and economy. Productivity is a key driver to profitability. Digitalizing the workforce is enabling our employees to work smarter, not just harder, and it’s this type of smart communications that will ensure Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotel Group remains strong as we continue the recovery in the new normal.

About the Author

Edward Gallier is head of learning and development for Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotels UK and Ireland. He has more than 30 years of experience as a “people development specialist” working within the lifestyle industries of hospitality, leisure and tourism gaining experience in business operations and human resources. Gallier is a past chair and committee member of FLIGHT (Future Leaders in Global Hospitality and Tourism), was named a Bacchus Society Mentor of the Year winner by Oxford Brookes University,  and is a member of the Hospitality Skills and Quality Board responsible for aligning workplace skills and vocational education activities in the UK. He believes in developing positive people behaviors for workplace success.