COVID-19 has changed the way that businesses operate, in more ways than one. Emerging into one of the toughest global economic situations since the Second World War, many traditional industries have had to relearn the basics in order to stay afloat, and no sector has been hit harder than hospitality.
Chris Wayper from Search Hospitality spoke to Matthew Gough, HR Business Partner at one of our largest hospitality recruitment partners, Revolution Bars, about the impact that coronavirus had on their staff, and what the future looks like for the bar chain.
What measures did Revolution Bars Group take to combat the impact of lockdown?
Too many probably to mention. The essential workers that have been in the business throughout have given absolutely everything to ensure that Revolution Bars Group was given the best possible opportunity to reopen, and we will be forever grateful to those individuals who all went into the closure period with such a determined and positive outlook in such an uncertain and challenging time.
Clearly as a business, like every other hospitality company, we had to close our sites which was a surreal event. Getting all of our managers and support teams onto a call and making them aware was such a strange one to make. Everything we have done after that has been to make sure that we are giving ourselves the very best possible opportunity to come out of the closure in as strong a position as possible.
We quickly got our heads round the furlough status, but we didn’t make any rash decisions, meaning when we did make our mind up on how to use it we didn’t have to make any big amends to it. This helped our teams have clarity on what they were going to expect, and not have to chop and change the guidance for them.
We have then spent the following 4-5 months, with just a small number of essential workers initially getting us into a hibernation type state, where everything was just ticking over for however long it needed to be, such as looking at all contracts with suppliers and ensuring all sites were properly closed down and safe. We then set about looking at what opportunities we had in lockdown. Online training and development was a big one for us, so we used the time to make changes to our career path and all essential training courses and started to drip feed courses into all populations of our teams to keep them learning and engaged during the down time. This has really helped us when we are coming back to opening, as we have a huge percentage of our teams all returning to work and being engaged and excited by the prospect of their sites opening.
As a HR Business Partner within the business, how did your role change during lockdown? What were the biggest challenges from a people perspective?
My role changed massively. We are normally trying to plan 12-24 months ahead of ourselves, and overnight this changed to having to focus on the immediate issue at hand. The biggest challenge has been the speed and volume of information to get into the detail of. We have had to make so many plans and back up plans (90% of which have never even been used) for the JUST IN CASE scenario.
An example of this is that no one had ever heard of furlough before COVID-19 and now it’s one of the most used words this year I imagine. Getting under the surface of the headline information, digesting it, ensuring that as a business we know what it means for us and our teams, how to process it and be compliant of the law and then communicate all of this to teams within the matter of just a couple of days. It was relentless. People saw the headlines but we had little info for days afterwards so it was a real scramble when it started to come through to understand it and implement it asap.
The biggest challenge has been to give our teams the confidence and security during this period, and communicating with them. Finding ways to communicate brand new and potentially confusing information to over 3000 employees to ensure they all feel supported has been a real headache. The recent survey we carried out though internally showed 80% of our team members felt that the communication from the business has been outstanding, with the other 20% saying good….so it feels like it worked.
How did you ensure that team engagement was still a focus when the majority of your staff across the estate had been furloughed?
We set up new ways to communicate using Microsoft Teams for all conference calls, both internally day-to-day and externally to our managers and support teams every two weeks, giving them business updates.
We bought in a new interactive newsletter called “Rob’s Recap” that goes out on pay day each month giving people a full update on the business’ position and what we've been doing in that last month whilst they have been off. This, along with some fun and exciting content; updating them about new sites and introducing them to new people in the business, as well as light hearted chats like Pets Corner, where people can share funny pics of their pets in lockdown!
We also changed our internal Facebook pages to create one for Revolution and one for de Cuba that centers around business updates and positive news stories from across the business. This has been really positive during the reopening stage as people have been able to gain more confidence that returning to work will be ok, and they can have transparency about what’s being done across the business.
We also ran a “People Gauge” survey at the start of the lockdown to see how our teams were feeling and to see how else we can support them further during this challenging period. Most people felt that the business has acted in a really positive manner and that the communication was really good. There were clearly people concerned about money and so we did another push on our partnership with Salary Finance that’s all linked through our Revs with Benefits platform. This gives people tools and information on being more financially stable and they also get access to financial support when needed.
How did you come to finalise a plan for re-opening?
We have made the decision to reopen gradually, due to safety and confidence for our teams and our customers being the absolute biggest thing for us. We decided by opening gradually, we would be able to ensure all the plans we made and safety precautions we put in place would work. We therefore only opened 6 sites initially on the Monday after we could legally do so. We chose these sites due to a whole host of reasons. We took into account the managers and team in the sites, the layout of the venues for safe trading, the split across Revolution and de Cuba, the differences in trading patterns to try and get sites open that did have day time trade, to test our sites and plans across the whole day.
These six sites were given constant guidance and support throughout the two weeks that the managers were back in prior to opening, and were on very regular and scheduled calls and updates. They worked so closely with the central support teams to make sure they were all up and running, and they did such a fantastic job in delivering exactly what was laid out in front of them. Having just six sites open allowed us to be agile and where any small changes needed to be made to the opening plans, we were able to implement them straight away and for all future openings.
What has been the biggest challenge from an operations point of view on getting your sites ready for re-opening?
Ensuring that our teams and customers are confident is key. We have spent months trying to create safe ways for us to reopen. For our teams this has meant creating and delivering online training with all of the key information on safety, cleanliness and actions etc. For our customers it has meant countless numbers of videos and walk throughs and clear signage from the moment they think about coming to us.
To do this we created Team and Guest charters that give people the insight into what to expect when they come back to us.
Our teams have made our lives so much easier though, they are all so responsive to the new ways of working and expectations and have been so supportive of what we have implemented for them upon their return.
This period is not all about breaking the bank and making profit, it’s about giving our teams and customer the confidence that we are a business they can trust and that they can return to for years to come.
How do you envisage COVID-19 impacting recruitment at Revolution Bars Group moving forwards? What will be the biggest challenge from a recruitment perspective?
We have seen the recruitment market completely u-turn, and for the first time in a long time, it’s a buyers market. There are so many people finding themselves in difficult positions which is such a shame, but from our point of view it is giving us a whole new challenge; trying to keep up with demand. We have recently had 400+ applicants for a General Manager role in London. The last time advertised, we had about ¼ of that. Of those 400 thhere have been so many amazing candidates all looking for a new role or more security. It’s really sad to see how people have been impacted but but it’s great for us to have such a great candidate pool.
We struggle now to keep up with these applicants, as we try to give them an amazing experience through our process, but things are taking slightly longer than normal.
Into the future – who knows. I expect it to stay like this for another 12 months in all honesty. I think that people may be more conscious than ever before on where they apply to and who they work for to give them stability. Hopefully the work we have done during the lockdown period has demonstrated our ability to look after our teams and give them confidence in our company.
The challenges faced by the Hospitality industry as a result of the pandemic is unprecedented. What is the general outlook for Revolution Bars Group in a post lockdown world?
As much as we can be right now, things are actually looking positive. Clearly there’s a very long way to go for us all but the hard work and commitment of everyone who has been working throughout the lockdown period is all paying off. We are seeing our sites gradually open on schedule, and the feedback from our teams and customers has been fantastic. Our sites so far are operating at a better level than we had forecasted which is a really great sign that there’s good times ahead.
With Rob Pitcher (CEO) and Mike Foster (FD) leading the way, we have been able to put the business into a really stable state that allows us the time to get us back up to delivering those records again. Who knows what comes over the horizon beyond that.
I can’t tell you how good it feels to get the doors open again though and to be able to deliver on our purpose of of creating fun and memorable experiences with our guest and teams.