7. July 2020

How COVID-19 will change working life in Hospitality

By Riccardo Giacometti

The coronavirus crisis is putting our industry under pressure and forcing it to take action.

After a decade of prosperity and a fight for the best talent in the market, many companies are switching to pure labor cost management. The battle for talent is interrupted. Switching to “crisis mode” presents companies with many challenges, such as:

  • Planning of liquidity measures
  • Maintenance of business-critical operations
  • Reduction of cash out
  • A reorganization of the business model

The essential question that now concerns us leaders is:

What happens when we are all back at work?

The challenges for employers will be the same in the post-coronavirus phase. These are, for example, how to:

  • Attract the right talent to the company
  • Retain and develop the right talents in the company
  • Develop the workforce in a correct and performance-oriented manner
  • Implement a modern management system
  • Encourage a modern and constructive corporate culture
  • Organize a flexible and employee-oriented form of work
  • Implement a flexible and modern remuneration system
  • Develop a feedback culture
  • Advance sustainable analytical systems for better planning with a higher probability of forecasts
  • Develop talent management and succession planning system

I think the list is incomplete and will remain so. Every company is welcome to add the elements that suit them.

COVID-19 is a disruptor

Unfortunately, many companies have not learned anything from the labor shortage. Expensive advertising and intensive battles for the best talents, which have been going on for years, have been filed away in a drawer. Recruiters take care of bottleneck vacancies, but overall, recruiting has been very slow, sometimes even stopped. This is neither particularly clever nor far-sighted.


We’re going to have to get used to being at a distance. In many countries, it is a custom to greet one another with a handshake. Much could be inferred from the handshake—too firm, too lax, gripping, shy. In the end, an attitude was established in business as well, where one could show respect with a handshake. This intimacy will be over for the foreseeable future. Thus, I praise the greeting in Malaysia with a hand on the heart.


I foresee a change of approach from transactional leadership to transformational leadership. This is our chance to put an end to transactional leadership. After all, leadership has been top-down for many years. Leadership often focused on input (long working hours, strong presence, opinion orientation) and was practiced negatively. Anyone who did not fit respective manager’s expectations in a streamlined way did not have an easy life. Things like troubleshooting and searching for the guilty party always took up a lot of space. Thus, over the decades, we have created a joyless, meaningless, and emotionless system. You can find out more about my leadership thoughts in this article:

Digital Transformation

It is dawning on many people that the digital transformation does not necessarily describe the introduction of a system such as SAP or other systems, but includes workflows, common processes, and decision-making processes.  Here My article on change management.

“Who will lead your digital transformation? a) CEO, b) CTO or c) COVID-19?” If it weren’t so creepy, this question would be funny.

No transformation in any company has experienced such consistent and rapid implementation as the one catalyzed by the coronavirus crisis. Because it just had to work. The employees could not, should not or did not want to commute to work, as the risk of infection was simply too high. Within a few hours or days, entire workplaces have been virtualized, even those whose presence requirement in the recent past was still close to 100%. What will this look like in the hotel industry in the future? The Four Seasons global sales office in Frankfurt has been closed, and the remaining employees are now working from home. Will this also be possible in the future for hotel departments, not only for the head office? Or will there be no head offices at all in the future?

We need to invest much more in digital networking and make far greater use of data analysis. Collective intelligence is at the heart of our everyday work, far more than the individual intelligence of the superstar leadership culture we have lived in until now.

Digital tools and applications are becoming much more critical because decisions have to be based on real-time data and not on static Excel spreadsheets with old data.

New work organization

Rigid work arrangements are no longer appropriate. After the crisis, companies will become aware of what is an essential part of the business model. What was important during the crisis will be what is important in the future. Which work organization will best support this new part of the business model? Especially for large hotel groups, the question of self-responsibility and hotels and their management team will come to the foreground. The cookie-cutter strategies controlled by the head office will no longer be that important. All competencies that have been withdrawn from the hotel teams over the years will be delegated back. Will all teams be able to cope with this?

The end of micromanagement

Stop simulating work. Now it’s really about value creation. The maxim “trust is good, control is better” stands for micromanagement and has fallen into discredit because it generated a degree of regulation in companies that twisted processes to absolute dysfunctionality. The approach of managing everything in detail causes a bottleneck situation for managers, especially for those with low thresholds. The time pressure to understand, receive, influence, decide or contribute to the development of the issues is growing immensely. Are you declaring something a matter for the boss? You know everything better? Your employees can never please you? You appreciate control over everything? Then you are a micromanager, not a modern manager.

Making work more flexible

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted to his grandchildren that in a few years they would only have to spend 15 hours a week at work. No more would be necessary. Well, that turned out differently! Today, the focus is very much on hours worked, but the focus on results must become much more pronounced. Labor law must also grow accordingly because we still conclude an employment contract on a “time for money” basis. We need a further decoupling of work and working hours, and a move towards performance-oriented work with flexible working models.

Definition of career

In the hotel industry, we still have a very classical view of what a career is. This starts with the creation of the job description and the job advertisement, where some things are actually not available on the market. There are also the criteria for personnel selection, which have nothing to do with the probability of future performance on a role. But these aspects do differ when it comes to evaluating performance and assessing potential. We need a completely new idea of what “career” actually means. In doing so, we can acknowledge that changing jobs every two to five years is part of a reasonable cycle for many people. However, most in-house careers are not designed for this. You first have to earn respect over many years of good work.

Look at which skills are essential for which role. You need a competency model because today’s career is defined by the skills that someone has and brings to the job. The competencies of the task and skills should be aligned. Do not consider this description as being set in stone. The future of a career will be defined much more agilely than you already suspect today.

And what do we people leaders stand for?

In the hotel industry, we are known for empathy, especially the human resources department, which is usually the first point of contact for employee concerns. People trust the HR department. Only human resources management can offer this form of psychological security in the face of maximum uncertainty. The HR Manager also helps executives to make good and sometimes courageous decisions in uncertain times. 


Everything we do at the moment is also about trust. Trust within the workforce, from the employee to the employer, from managers to their employees and vice versa, among all stakeholders. HR has long searched for the meaning of its existence. The HR department was often perceived as only responsible for punctual salary payment, quick recruiting, and no stupid questions. Now the opportunity is here—HR managers have to take care of the company values, encourage the right culture, and possibly adjust the business model in these difficult times. People management’s role becomes more critical in this crisis, as the stress, unpredictability, volatility, and dynamics reinforce actions and create lasting memories.

We need to develop a results-oriented culture and arrange cooperation with the hotel owners and head offices. The importance of personal responsibility increases exorbitantly, as does the creativity of each individual and the innovative capacity of the “employer” in general. It is important to realign the work culture and to adapt quickly and swiftly to the effects resulting from our actions. Companies have now learned that no hotel can afford business models that are too rigid and a guest mix that is too narrow. COVID-19 has brought this impressively into the light. That is why our work is also focused on enabling the culture of the company with more agility so that the necessary diversification and adaptation of the business model can be carried out. In doing so, there cannot be rigid and slow-moving managers to stop this from happening.

With COVID-19, we have experienced new shifts in boundaries in crisis management. Let us learn from this!

Do not repeat the same mistakes. Learn from it and see which warnings or voices remain unheard. Prepare yourself for any crisis with solid business continuity management and appropriate plans. Think about it today and save money for the next crisis.