Instead of the simple option of making excessive manpower redundant, Marco Polo’s Human Resources seized the opportunity for staff development and outside job exposure led to a win-win situation for both staff and business.

In the wake of the pandemic outbreak, Hong Kong hotels were hard hit as tourist arrivals plummeted, travels were suspended, and quarantine measures were put in force.

Occupancy rate fell to a single digit but, as a people-oriented company, Marco Polo Hotels – Hong Kong had no plans for large-scale downsizing.

Management analysis identified manpower mispairing as the crux of the problem. For example, while the rooms division had excessive manpower, the housekeeping staff was working overtime as demand for cleaning rose.

Food & Beverage needed extra hands as the hotel’s restaurants became the main revenue source, while Sales and Marketing had time to spare with fewer events and functions to organise.

Putting job security as its top priority, HR aimed to better utilise manpower while sustaining revenue by initiating their ‘Flex Team’ project, in which all staff, including administrative staff, was equipped with specialised skills and deployed to high-demand positions.

Cross-functional in-house training, open to all staff, ranged from cleaning and hotel product knowledge to basic cooking and introduction to wine. Special skills such as thermal scanning and disinfection were imparted by the hygiene manager and outside vendors.

The standard channel

HR also made a bold decision and secured temporary outside contracts to create new training opportunities and generate revenue for the hotels.

Clients included shopping malls that urgently needed thermal scanning staff, and offices and other hotels that needed professional cleaning services.

Communication is key to success

Three approaches were taken to clearly communicate the Flex Team project to its staff to prepare them mentally for change and avoid frustrations.

First, a ‘State of Hotel Meeting’ was hosted by top management to share their views of the situation and their assurance of job security. Focus groups were then held by HR with each department to understand their needs and concerns. Finally

Department Heads sat down with their teams to set KPIs for training programmes and deployment.

Flex Team made the whole company realise that what worked before may not work now. To survive, they need to step out of their comfort zone and go beyond established norms.

Flex Team benefitted not only hotel revenue but also staff career development. One example is Chief Concierge Lok Lung, who volunteered to lead the thermal scanning team in Harbour City for over a year, from 2020 to 2021.

During this job exposure, he developed rapidly from a team player to a team leader. He was subsequently deployed to F&B where his leadership skills and exceptional service earned him many customer compliments. Consequently, he was awarded the Wharf Hotels Worldwide Champion Associate of the Year 2021.

After this large-scale inter-departmental training project, staff members have become flexible and are open to taking up new roles.

An agile workforce is now ready for the new challenges in a dynamic environment, as showcased in the smooth re-opening of the newly renovated Prince Hotel earlier this year. – The Standard (HK)


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