By Vikram Singh
After my last pandemic-focused article, my inbox was flooded with queries about remote work. I had urged hotels to embrace remote work and stop putting geographical restrictions on hiring the best talent. Most of the emails I received questioned the long-term feasibility of remote work, especially for a hotel organization.
I want to address some of these concerns and share some further thoughts on how work/office culture is already changing. Obviously, some jobs can never be performed remotely (front desk, housekeeping, etc). However, remote work is already having a direct impact on the hotel and travel industry, and this trend will continue. I recommend trying to embrace it. Not because it is trendy, but because it will increase your bottom line.
Dislike remote work? Ok, Boomer.
Much of the feedback I received about the idea of remote work was negative. Some people don’t see how it could possibly work. What if I told you that the majority of them are old? (Disclaimer: I am old too!) Sadly, the most apt response to a lot of these emails is captured by these two words: “Ok, Boomer.”
Memes and jokes aside, even some of the young(er) (40s-50s) hotel company CEOs are passionate about having their employees return to office-based work. Why the reluctance to embrace remote work? The answer lies in our past. If you do the math, you know that many of us did not grow up during the internet age. Bare bones commercial broadband really hit the market in 1998-99. That means that even geriatric millennials did not have access to internet in the early part of their lives.
Being older doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the past. As a senior person in the industry and as a parent, I never pass up an opportunity to check in with the youth on the latest trends. This is important, as they are the future, etc. I always try and avoid the “how do you do, fellow kids” situations. Please take the time to talk to someone whose first ultrasound was posted on Facebook. Ask them how integral internet has been to their life, and how quickly the way they use it continues to evolve. Then imagine them commuting for hours to go to a specific room to do something that they can do from their home. Imagine relocating them to an expensive city so they can be in that room from 9 to 5, leaving behind everything they love and the lifestyle their preferred location offers. I know: we all used to do that. (Cue the stories about walking 10 miles to school in the snow.) But times have changed.
Being a laggard is not tied to age, but to a mindset. The youth are speaking. Are you listening? People in departments like marketing, analytics, revenue management, content, and digital have no business being tied to a cubicle. Your middle-aged VP/CEO might not agree, but the writing is on the wall.
Where did all the good people go?
Fellow Hawaii resident Jack Johnson asked this question back in 2005. Employees are on the move, and good ones are getting harder to find. There has been a shift in the way people approach their careers. I’m sure you have heard of the “Great Resignation” looming over the workforce. Here are some sobering reads on where the job market is headed.
- Employees are leaving the workforce or switching jobs in droves. For many, employers’ behavior during the pandemic has played a big part in why they’re walking away.
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics saw four million people quit their jobs in September, which is the highest spike on record.
- An HR Company called Porsinio (UK and Ireland) conducted a study in which 38% of people surveyed planned to quit their jobs within 6 to 12 months.
- In a Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers, 41% were considering quitting or changing professions.
The hotel and travel business is not exempt from this trend. Being forced to work from home at the beginning of the pandemic exposed a new life/work model to many people who had been practically living at work. The realization that you are working on a laptop and doing exactly same thing you did from the office is life-changing, as we can see from the millions of people looking to change their work environment.
We know how much time, effort, and carbon emissions go into commuting! And how much more you have to pay for an expensive place that’s near the fancy office building! Free office lunch is great, but no perk can match the comfort of cold hard cash being saved on housing, gas, dry cleaning, etc.
By the way, this re-examination of how and where you want to spend your time was not limited to the job. The pandemic saw an increase in separations among married and live-in couples. People started questioning who they were living with, once they started spending more time together.
Let’s talk about the office jerks. The pandemic took away much of their power to harass fellow co-workers. When working from home, the jerk doesn’t sit behind you anymore. He has to log off when the mandatory Zoom call is done. This is a true galaxy brain moment: What if I did not have to work with jerks anymore? Not even on Zoom/Slack!
RIP “The Office”
People still want to work, but they do not want to join a cult.
I was amused by the texts and emails I got in response to my personal anecdote about manufactured company culture (last month’s article). It’s always great to connect with colleagues from time spent in the church of the office.
The old formula of: “Big Team + Big Office Space = How Successful You Are” no longer works.
Both companies and employees can see that people working on laptops at home are still producing the same results – or sometimes better results – in terms of overall productivity and mental health. Cutting down the commute and “office culture” time has boosted workers’ productivity. This phenomenon was outlined in several studies way before 2020. But it took a pandemic to force companies to really test out the WFH (work from home) system.
Result: A global WFH shift has shown that, even over an extended period of time, you don’t need an office for the majority of your departments. There is a reason why almost 20% of all NYC office space is empty.
Offices have long been the extension of CEOs’ egos, with their higher floors, corporate logo on the building, lavish spreads, fancy digs. I get it, people like bling. But here is a not so novel idea: Why not use that wealth to create a happier workforce? Instead of paying rent, give employees bonuses instead. There will still be enough money for several team gatherings throughout the year.
Rethinking Middle Management
As soon as “the office is essential” façade was lifted from the corporate world, a crucial issue was exposed in the hotel corporate structure: middle management, aka The Workforce Police.
Some CEOs have the mindset that they essentially “own” the their workers during certain hours of the week, and need to corral them into an office during those hours. This desire has added a whole layer of middle managers to watch over them and whip them into shape. This is not how the youth want to live their lives. Why are we surprised that they don’t want to work in an outdated system?
Remote work eliminates much of the need to have middle management on your payroll. Most hotel management companies have a team of people employed just to make sure other people are physically present and doing their jobs. Middle management becomes redundant with remote work, as you start attracting and hiring people who are already doing the work on their own. What a concept.
Hotel and travel companies have always struggled to find people who actually do the work instead of managing the work. That’s why we have a parade of Vice Presidents and middle managers towering over lower waged, younger employees who actually can do the work they have been hired to do.
Leaders and middle managers fighting against remote work are afraid that their job is being rendered obsolete by remote work (which it is). But I don’t know how you justify paying for offices and managers when those funds can be given to your best performing employees, the ones who do the work that drives more profit.
Remote Work Culture Wars
For any good idea, there is always pushback from the establishment. It is not just hotel brands, but also global powerhouses like Apple and Chase, who are throwing shade on remote. Ironically, one of them makes phones and laptops that enable you to work well from anywhere in the world! To quote Alanis Morrissette “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”
It’s important that you read and memorize this: Remote does not mean that we never meet anyone in person ever again. It is not a prison sentence! People will still travel and meet up with their co-workers. It is not all or nothing. Teams will need to get together every now and then.
I see a lot of leaders posting about the “power of in person” on LinkedIn. It only takes about five minutes on their company’s Glassdoor page to learn about the bullying, back-biting, favoritism, or borderline illegal “happy hour” experiences that are taking place in their organizations.
Not all office culture is toxic. But idolizing in person as a singular/magical way to connect is overplayed. Remote work saves organizations tons of time! It is time that workers can use to… do actual work! Another plus is that people don’t have to focus so much on appearances. (I mean, do you even care about your company if you are not wearing Salvatore Ferragamo shoes to the next meeting?) Women are affected by this issue the most, and I’m guessing many of them would rather put more focus on their work and less on how they look.
When it comes to taking sides on the remote culture wars: Don’t pick the shiny embossed office mug, as it is not the holy grail. I recommend doing humble work while drinking from your well-worn cup at home to prevent your face from melting off.
More Flexibility, More Profits
Finally, let’s discuss the feature of remote culture that I think we can all get behind: the financial windfall!
Working in revenue optimization, I am not shy about admitting that I am all about the profits. It’s the reason people hire me! So, let’s talk about how remote work can help you cut costs and boost revenue in three easy steps.
- Save Office Rent: How much can you save by reducing or eliminating rent costs? If you’re not ready to completely let go, keep enough conference rooms to host teams when they need to meet in person. Twice yearly, you can book extra workspace and hotel rooms for larger groups. **Since you are in hotels, plan it during the slow season and get the best rates (tip of the hat to revenue managers).
- Hire Globally: I am not saying that you need to have your entire team based in another country, but how about people from another state? A state with lower taxes, for example? Or a lower cost of living? The possibilities are endless, so please Google “cost of living calculators by state and country” for a shock.
- Trim the Fat: People working remotely need less management. Eliminate management positions and spend the money on better talent.
Your profits were always there, my dear Watson. You were just spending them in the wrong places.
The office has long been the gym membership of the corporate world. It’s a place where your team is expected to show up, interact with each other, and keep up the appearance of working, even when they are not working. Commute, look busy, repeat. Look at any historical e-commerce stats: the majority of online research and shopping is happening Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Yes, during office hours! This was a fact way before the whole work from home thing hit the scene.
The pandemic revealed that office-based work can often be an excuse to spend time away from home and family. For many of us, 100% of our work can be done from literally anywhere in the world. And a lot of us would like to do it from the comfort of our own home, or even on the road. Anywhere we are happy and have WiFi, we can thrive.
As for the younger generation, they are deciding that the human cost of constructing your life around a physical office is too high. People who are good at what they do – the ones who don’t need excessive amounts of meetings or supervision – are flocking to flexibility. The A Team is working from home and running circles around people still trapped in the office. As we enter this new era of work, during a pandemic that refuses to go away, just remember one very important thing:
That meeting could have been an email.