The travel sector has been one of the hardest hit industries to be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. As a direct booking solutions provider, multi-award winning Bookassist have been at the epicentre of the effects the global crisis has had on hoteliers. Sensing the need to understand their employees was greater than ever, they implemented Winnningtemp’s platform in October 2020. Kasia Domanska, HR Advisor at Bookassist talks us through the company’s motives…
As a multinational, forward-thinking company, many employees worked remotely, or in different offices to their managers prior to the pandemic. However, due to the worsening Covid rates in early 2020, the company, like many others around the world, were forced to ask all their people to work from home, indefinitely.
“For us, COVID sped up something that was slowly happening already. The company is spread between five offices across Europe with different functions in different countries. Our headquarters are in Ireland, but most of our employees are in Spain. For instance, I'm managing the HR function for the whole company here in Dublin, yet most of my employees are outside of Ireland. So, I'm a remote resource for them already.”
However, in the months following the office closures the travel industry was brought to its knees. The ONS reported that monthly air passenger arrivals to the UK fell from 6,804,900 in February 2020 to 112,300 in April 2020, a fall of 98.3%. In terms of room occupancy, Greater London saw the largest fall of any English region from 2019 to 2020, with just 20% of rooms occupied in July 2020 compared with 90% in the same month in 2019. The consequences were catastrophic and in 2020 alone, Statista Research Department estimated that the global travel and tourism market lost approximately 62 million jobs.
As the pandemic took grip, the travel industry felt its stronghold almost immediately with global restrictions placed upon everyone. As concerns set in, Kasia reveals that Bookassist knew they needed to understand how their staff were feeling to help them through this turbulent period. Bookassist are part of umbrella organisation Jonas, and, while managed separately, partake in an annual survey run by Jonas.
“The annual survey is sent to all their employees, but we felt once a year wasn’t enough. Moreover, because it is used across multiple countries it tends to be quite broad and generic.”
The Jonas survey gets sent to multiple global companies that are not necessarily in the same areas of business or experiencing the same challenges as one another. But the pandemic has of course affected businesses differently, and if ever there was a time that generic was not good enough, it’s now. Bookassist felt it was crucial they understood what their people were going through on a deeper level.
“Some companies were not affected at all and some of them suddenly ceased to exist. So, people had quite different experiences, and we were looking for the best way to understand how our people were being affected. We knew we wanted regular feedback from people that wouldn't feel intrusive or time-consuming for them to answer.”
Introducing Winningtemp gave their people the chance to express their feelings, whilst providing management with the feedback needed to help them.
“Every country we operate in suddenly had a lockdown in place. So everyone was working from home whether they wanted to or not. They were having regular calls with their line managers, but people don’t always feel comfortable sharing their feedback in person. Because Winningtemp is anonymous, they tend to feel more comfortable expressing themselves.”
The concept of remote working may have chiefly been how the company operated pre-pandemic, but without the option of an office at all, they soon noticed the disadvantages that brought about. Pre-pandemic, Bookassist were afforded the ability to share the care and wellbeing of employees in a way that just wasn’t possible once the Coronavirus took hold.
“As a manager in Ireland, I could have an employee reporting to me based in the Spanish office. While I wasn’t physically present in the office, other managers and colleagues would see that something might be wrong and inform me of their concerns. Suddenly, that was gone.”
They were finding that those conversations between managers and their staff that would naturally occur in an office setting, were not always happening remotely. If there is an incident, or someone is upset, it can be easily identified. But working from home can mean that people increasingly hide how they are feeling. And if you cannot see a problem, you cannot react to it.
“We needed to implement Winningtemp to help identify things that we would have noticed in an office setting. We needed a way for people to express how they are feeling. We needed feedback so that we could be accountable and actionable to our people.”
The company have been using Winningtemp throughout much of the pandemic and from the outset the platform was received well with a large proportion of employees using it and providing feedback. One of the primary functions of the Winningtemp platform is the ability to provide comments and feedback anonymously, crucial when there is so much uncertainty.
The hotel industry has been through a devastating couple of years and many of Bookassist’s clients were struggling to make the revenue they needed. “It has really been the toughest time and keeping morale high throughout the whole company can be challenging, even in ‘normal’ times.
“Of course the whole premise of the platform is keeping your company engaged, and that has been truly put to the test since we began using Winningtemp. We provide supports for hotels, but a lot of our clients have really been affected by the travel restrictions. Some had to pause services -or worse.
“Which of course has a worrying effect on our own people concerned about whether we would lose clients, and what that would mean for us as a company and them as an employee. So keeping people motivated became the priority. We needed that safe space for our people to voice their own concerns, while our clients took stock of their situations.”
And that’s a challenge when your people are based in different countries, and all receiving different levels of help from their own governments. In some regions they were able to keep people working the entire time, in other countries they had no choice but to furlough some staff.
“There are errors. People are very frustrated. They're not getting the money that they need, and it's nothing that we as a company can do about it because it's not on our side, it's on the Government, but obviously it affects people’s morale.
“It's particularly challenging and very demotivating for those on furlough because people begin to feel redundant, even though they're not really. So having a platform in which they could express themselves became especially important to us, particularly when they were feeling low and not communicating directly with their managers.
“People have had vastly different experiences. And for our managers, managing teams who are all having such different experiences has been difficult, but the platform has really enabled those conversations.
“If someone is giving positive feedback, they can have a conversation around how to sustain that. However, sometimes it transpires from the comments that something is not going all that well. But if your people can tell you the bad things as well as the good, it means the platform is doing its job and enables us to focus conversations on the correct topics and a closer working relationship develops.”
In January 2022, Boris Johnson offered the travel industry some much needed hope with the lifting of many restrictions, including the end of the pre-departure test, which he said: “discourages many from travelling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense.”
As the world finally begins to open again and the UK becomes restriction free, people are already embracing the opportunity to book hotels and accommodation again. Having chosen Winningtemp to better understand and help their people in the worst of times, what would Bookassist hope to achieve from the platform as the world opens for business again?
“I hope that people will engage and express even more. That’s what is going to help managers understand better. As people feel more comfortable providing feedback, and giving honest opinions, the more it helps develop our managers and help them understand their teams. When you have quality feedback you start meaningful conversations, even if it’s difficult to hear at the time. Because this is when you learn.”
“My hope is that managers will learn to really listen to their employees and in turn learn from them how they can be better managers. At the same time, the employees will feel much more confident that they can share openly what they think and how they feel and that it's going to be taken on board by their managers and used as much as possible.”
When you get negative feedback, use it as a learning experience. What are your people trying to tell you? What does the data tell you? You must talk to your people. What can we improve? What can we do better? And if it is me – as a manager, I need your input to help me improve.
You must have these conversations and it's not always going to be pleasant. But having an environment that encourages people to openly express their feedback to you, that's the best thing that can happen to you as a manager. It's the only way to improve and grow.