By Robert Reitknecht.

As hospitality managers, decision-makers and influencers, we keep hearing about the “future of work.” This can feel like an ominous presence looming over us, but it’s not as daunting as it seems. In fact, some of the most powerful forces driving this “future of work” are the simplest. Times are changing, yet in many ways they aren’t. With that, here are the four core pillars of what the “future of work” will look like and how hospitality leaders can adapt:

 

  • Technology

 

We've all watched over the last decade as technology exploded across every business sector, hospitality included. From bringing personal devices to work to the growth of software-based applications in business environments, technology has permanently shifted the future of work. 

Research from Salesforce shows that 49% of employees are interested in more innovative technology for boosting productivity and 71% want their employer to provide them with the same level of technology they use in their personal lives. For managers and decision-makers, the question is how to get on board with new technology in a way that de-risks the investment while seeing real, measurable results. 

Despite the pressures you might feel, you don’t have to make leaps and bounds when it comes to technology. All that matters is that you move forward, step by step. An easy way to take that first step is to integrate real-time communication and collaboration capabilities into the tools your teams already know and love. These tools must be accessible on any device. In hospitality, this could mean adding real-time chat or video collaboration to your hotel management software app for easier and faster decision-making versus having to move between different communication apps or tools. Plenty of communications software providers offer solutions that can flexibly integrate into your existing technology environment. 

In terms of results, research makes clear the benefits of improving in this area. A survey of 400 executives conducted by SHRM found that small businesses with 100 employees lose about $420,000 per year because of inefficient communication among employees. Naturally, this number increases along with the company size. Meanwhile, research from McKinsey shows that incorporating collaboration technology into daily operations can drive up to a 30% increase in productivity.

 

  • Flexibility

 

When you give employees flexibility to meet their family and personal needs, they are more willing to give you their all. A recent study from Stanford found that over a nine-month period, flexible workers achieved more, were out sick less, worked longer hours and were generally happier. 

The idea of increasing flexibility can be concerning. For employers, it can be seen as asking for "special treatment," which discourages employees from getting what they really need to be happy in their work and home life. Employers may also think that if they "give in" to what employees want, others will ask for more flexibility as well and no one will get any work done. Of course, this isn’t true. 

The first step toward providing flexibility is to change your mind about what flexibility means in the first place. Flexible work comes with a stigma. Those of us over a certain age probably never dreamed of a world where so many people would work from home or elsewhere and be productive while doing it. While certain industries may not have as much opportunity for providing flexible work, you’ll still find a chance every now and then to do so. 

In hospitality, for example, employees like event coordinators or those in corporate can easily work remotely if need be. This way, it’s no problem if one of these employees needs to stay home with his or her sick child who can’t attend school for a week. View flexible work as a way to empower your employees, encouraging them so that they want to do their best for you. At the end of the day, if you can't trust your employees to do their jobs anywhere, then it may be a bigger issue with your workforce as a whole and not necessarily the fault of a flexible work model.

As with implementing technology, the benefits of flexibility in the workplace are clear. In a 2017 study from Businesssolver, 80% of employees said they would be willing to work more if their employers were more empathetic to their needs and how they need to work. The study also found that for each remote person on a workforce, employers save around $11,000 each year in reduced turnover. 

  1. Individuality

Individuality is about meeting employees where they are, encouraging them to grow, and celebrating their differences because those differences are the ones that will make your business more successful than your competitors. Consider a recent study from Salesforce, which found that employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.5x times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

We are beyond telling employees what to do, how to do it, and just having them do it. We are entering an era of thoughtfulness, unique work environments and custom flexibility. This is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. When people feel they can be themselves, they become more autonomous in the work they do. So long as boundaries are clearly enforced, you will not lose any sense of structure or management across the organization. All this comes down to is simply giving employees the chance to show their individuality. And when you do, your business will thrive. 

So, how do you do this? The goal is to make every person feel as though they can make meaningful contributions and impact at any level. For starters, you can begin to approach group work in different ways. We often think, "I'm going to put the people on this project who can do it the fastest,” which makes sense. Yet think about the benefits of infusing different skills and perspectives. If you add people to that project who weren't necessarily going to work faster but would contribute a different perspective on how things could be done, that person would feel valued and that team would likely be more successful as a result. 

The benefits of celebrating individuality are real. According to research from LinkedIn, 50% of employees believe feeling comfortable with being themselves at work is important. Over half of employees also said that feeling free to express their opinions at work was a huge component of their belonging and wellbeing. 

  1. Autonomy

This one is a balancing act but it's crucial for the future of work, especially as it relates to millennials. Autonomy is about enabling employees to shape their own story as opposed to forcing them to fit into a mold you’ve created. Of course, employees do have to meet basic requirements of the job. Autonomy is simply about making them feel like they aren’t a number; that their ideas matter and they have control over their work, at least within the confines of what you need them to do.

If you want to provide your employees with more autonomy, start small. Of course, you don't want to give employees too much control and then be forced to backtrack later. You can, however, slowly increase autonomy so people feel they have more choices and independence. How can you do this? A Gallup study of 20,000 workers over two years found that female employees appreciate autonomy more in terms of scheduling and location, and male workers appreciate it as it relates to task allocation and pace of work.

Again, start small. For example, you could increase the degree of autonomy an employee has in their twelve-month roadmap with the company. You can create the roadmap with the employee so that the person has control over how they’ll grow but keeping in mind key goals you’ve set for them. Even just the process of asking employees for feedback on how autonomous they feel may give them a greater sense of empowerment. The goal is to have employees feel as though they are working on things because they want to.

In the end,

You're looking at the following when you embrace these pillars of the future of work:

  • Improved productivity
  • Higher retention and lower costs related to hiring
  • Greater fulfillment in roles, translating into a better guest experience
  • Greater opportunity for self-expression, which builds better relationships with guests
  • Increased revenue, either through the creation of new products/services or additional new revenue streams

It’s our responsibility as hospitality managers and decision-makers to foster this kind of work environment. We all must look at how we employ and engage people to stay competitive, and it starts with these four pillars.

About the author

A veteran customer loyalty professional and guest experience expert for over two decades, Robert has provided service-focused insights to a number of Fortune 100/500 companies while holding positions as General Manager, Director of Operations, Regional Human Resources Manager, and Director of Fitness Operations to name a few. 

He has worked primarily in the hospitality and guest relations verticals, crafting cultures of excellence by spearheading quality standard initiatives, process improvements, and hands-on training and development programs. Robert has held many customer-facing positions throughout his career, working at the AvalonBay Communities, Marriott International, Town Sports International, Costco Wholesale, Inc., and Dolce Hotels & Resorts, among other companies. 

His promise to help clients by driving their internal teams to go beyond today’s expected level of service to create a “wow experience” is driven by his passion for professional development. He has completed The Ritz-Carlton Executive Education Series and several performance and operational excellence leadership courses throughout his career to further maximize his reach and impact. He is currently a board member of the National Diversity Council and has been awarded several accolades that honor hospitality leaders who exemplify legendary customer service. Most recently, Robert led a series of customer experience training seminars across Southern CT.

Robert