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The hotel industry is facing a colossal staffing problem as recovery gets underway. At some point this year, guests will come surging back with renewed traveler confidence following widespread vaccine distribution, but because hotels furloughed so many employees last year, there won’t be enough quality frontline team members on hand to deliver service according to your brand standards while also abiding by the new COVID-19 safety guidelines. 

mogelonskys Your reputation and revenues will suffer if you don’t address this staffing issue right now before guests start booking again and you have your hands full.

In the ‘antecovidian’ times, most of these variable labor requirements were solved through the use of a temp agency. Hotels largely ignored the intrinsic flaws of these provisional staff sourcing companies because, well, business was good. We could afford to have a temp worker show up late (or worse) for a banqueting event or arrive in the wrong uniform because any perceived slight from the guest’s perspective could always be buffered by a steady influx of new customers. Now, however, the shortcomings of using these third-party entities will cost you dearly.

The pandemic has irreversibly changed labor conditions for hotels. It has led to a significant exodus of knowledgeable workers from the hospitality industry and the introduction of numerous brand standards to heighten proper sanitization, as well as guests who are hypersensitive to any COVID safety infractions. Temp agencies are not able to properly prescreen, train and hold their workers accountable to act as a trustworthy partner in the new normal. 

But much like how ridesharing apps – Uber and Lyft primarily – revolutionized the taxi industry by enhancing driver accountability through a rating system, technology has arrived to help hotels fix the seldom-discussed headache of traditional, unreliable temp agencies.

In searching for a solution, we reached out to Steve Anevski, CEO and Co-Founder of Upshift, an on-demand staffing platform with the backing of Recruit Holdings (parent company of Indeed) that can deliver qualified temps – Upshifters, as they’re called – by giving hotels full transparency on each prospective worker.

Full Accountability for a Temporary Workforce

“One of our main inspirations for Upshift came from the ‘dance of the lemons’ problem within temp agencies,” started Anevski. “A hotel recruits a temporary associate who then doesn’t perform as expected. The HR manager complains to the temp agency, but instead of reprimanding or firing the worker, the company just shuffles them off to another property or waits a few weeks before sending them back to the same hotel. It’s an infuriating lack of control.”

What intrigued us most about Upshift was its three strikes approach – what is internally referred to as the ‘Strict Account Ability’ policy. Managers have direct access to file a transgression with the app, and just like in baseball, each Upshifter can only screw up three times before they are booted off the app permanently. The database is both global and verified against a person’s government identification, so there’s no way for a misbehaving individual to ever get back onto the network, thus eliminating this dance-of-the-lemons obstacle.

Adding to the end-to-end control of the recruitment process, Anevski showed us the app’s prescreening process. Upshift accepts 65% of candidates who pass the initial personality assessment, and only 12% are subsequently approved as Upshifters following an in-person interview and orientation (with all the necessary COVID safety procedures in place). This effectively weeds out potential interlopers from making it onsite.

The third key vetting feature is the ability to see each individual’s profile, giving hoteliers direct insight into any Upshifter’s work history, aggregated ratings from past shifts completed through the platform, and any training badges they’ve accrued. Effectively acting as a résumé that’s updated in real-time by the app, such a tool can help HR managers see if a prospect has completed a required COVID safety education course, if they have been certified to serve alcohol, or if they have been recognized for excellent service by customers. 

Other Digital Staffing Advantages

Automation is the name of the game in 2021 and the next decade. Even with a full recovery in the next few business cycles, hotels still have to run on threadbare margins to stay afloat. This means keeping a lean team – one that can’t get bogged down in training and having to deliver specific instructions to every single frontline staff member. In this sense, moving all temp worker processes to an app has a strong cost savings benefit.

So, what other processes can a shift work app help automate? Here are a few based on our conversation with Anevski:

  • Cutting out the middleman. This should be fairly obvious by now, but it’s worth restating. The platforms that work best are those that instill convenience and time-saving utility. A hotel posts jobs that are seen and evaluated directly by workers with no other companies getting in between to filter the entry.
  • Networking power. Temp agencies are, for the most part, localized businesses that obtain their labor from specific sources. On the other hand, turnkey apps can rapidly expand awareness to engage with a far more diverse recruitment base, encompassing former industry folks looking to pick shifts back up, students aspiring to be hoteliers, or even mothers seeking some flexible part-time work. This ultimately benefits the hotel by elevating the bar for the labor force.
  • Specific work instructions. How do you get temps to use the BOH employee entrance instead of ambling through the FOH lobby without having to manually tell each one prior to a shift? A nuisance before COVID, controlling traffic flow is now mission critical to prevent viral spread, especially if workers require a temperature check before being admitted inside. Instead of relying on a temp agency to pass this information along, an app can easily send out bulletins in advance and provide a graphical map of where the BOH entrance is.
  • Programmed rehires. One of the main gripes against the gig economy has been that you get a different person every time. But suppose you really liked a specific worker — how do you draft them for additional shifts? With all past performance logged in a cloud-based system, an HR manager can easily find and solicit a temp for extra work, and possibly even extend an offer for a full-time position within the hotel organization.
  • Fractional shifts to save labor costs. Whereas before a hotel may have had to assign shift work in minimum blocks to abide by the contractual terms outlined with a temp agency – for example, a five-hour prerequisite for all catering hires – now the direct employee-hotel interface deregulates this. If a job is only three and a half hours, then you can post it as just that. And all those hours saved will add up to a huge amount on the annual bottom line.

Altogether, given the way technology and apps have progressed over the past decade, it’s clear that a labor revolution is upon us. While our guestrooms and halls are relatively vacant amid the ongoing pandemic, now is the time to rethink how you can expedite the management of your shift-based and part-time workforce using a platform such as Upshift to both increase accountability and save costs. And then, once guests start surging back, you will not only be ready for any scenario, but also have a strong tech backbone to handle these developments with a lean team.

About the Author
Together, Larry and Adam Mogelonsky represent one of the world’s most published writing teams in hospitality, with over a decade’s worth of material online. As the partners of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice, Larry focuses on asset management, sales and operations while Adam specializes in hotel technology and marketing. Their experience encompasses properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service.