Kew & A with Holiday Inn East Kilbride's Operations Manager

Managing COVID-19

What challenges has your hotel faced with COVID-19?

The pace of change has been unreal! Beginning with the enhanced cleaning measures then through to the closures of the public areas and ultimately closing to the public entirely and operating only to support Key Workers. Each stage required a total overhaul of what we do in a very short space of time. A lot of what we do is built on years of tradition and best practice passed down through generations, gradually being carefully cultivated and to suit your brand, your guests and the time. Then all of a sudden everything changed not just overnight but in a matter of hours. I’ll never forget that Friday, waving goodbye to my regulars as I left our bar for the day, only to be back an hour later closing it down. Distance has been a real challenge for us too because our brand is literally built on making genuine connections with our guests. When your brand service standards are “Put Guests at Ease”, “Make Genuine Connections” and “Create Moments of Delight” and you are now having to greet guests, whose stress levels are through the roof, from behind a perspex screen two meters away, you have to get creative! Little things that are woven into our DNA like helping people with their bags or holding open a door are now a big no-no so we need to really work hard to make people feel seen and cared for without our usual tricks.

What support did you feel you got from KGH?

I am amazed at how quickly SOPs and equipment reached us. We are in a situation with no precedent, nobody has any experience of this, there is no “global pandemic” page in the crisis manual to refer to, yet in a matter of hours we had a playbook and a plan. The online game has been really strong too. The KGH Stands Together campaign is really uplifting. It’s important to me to feel like part of a team so the online campaign has been a real source of strength. The Covid-19 page on Kew To You has been great too. The internet is a bit of a scary minefield just now so it’s been quite reassuring to have a single source of clear, accurate information presented in a non-alarmist way. The thing that really got me though was the email from Ros Hardiman thanking the KGH volunteers still working (or prepared to work) in hotels. I was surprised and a bit overwhelmed by how generous the appreciation package was but more so, I found the email itself to be really sincere. Even though it went out to hundreds of people, I felt personally seen.

How has this experience affected your opinion of KGH?

Honestly, I really do feel a lot more valued. I didn’t feel particularly undervalued before, but I think you can really judge a company based on how it behaves towards its people and its communities when the chips are down and I feel like Kew Green is standing by us, even when doing so would be the harder or less profitable option. I am obviously not privy to the conversations taking place at any sort of senior-level so I can’t speak to anyone’s motivations, but the view from here certainly looks like the decisions being made are being made because they’re the right thing to do. When there is no precedent, acting with the best interests of your people at heart and just trying to do the right thing seems a pretty good place to start and I think we can all take pride in being part of that.

What has been your biggest personal challenge through this time and how have you overcome it?

My biggest personal challenge (other than the realisation that I LOVE touching my face) has been finding myself in a situation where everything I need to thrive and which usually motivates me has been taken away. I love hotels because there is always so much to do, the environment is vibrant, no two days are the same, shifts are fast-paced and in few other places will you ever experience such camaraderie. My strength absolutely is my team… and now I’m working largely on my own, distanced from guests, no hustle and bustle and it feels a bit like Groundhog Day! I also really like to be in control which is not something that’s an option for any of us right now!

I’ve overcome it by focusing on finding new ways to make connections and focusing on the things I can do – a lot of our guests are going through hell on earth right now so any small way we can make life better for them feels like a very worthwhile use of my time. Moments of delight are a bit harder from 2m away and we can’t use a lot of the things in our usual arsenal so you have to be creative. We have one lady who arrived back after about 14 hours at work, dead on her feet and in tears. Eight of her nurses are now self-isolating and she is stretched to her limit, so she was exhausted and hadn’t eaten all day. The next morning, when she collected her breakfast, we had done a second bag with a packed lunch for her to make sure she ate through the day. It’s a small thing but it meant a lot to her. I also spoke to my GM about making time to continue with my personal development throughout this period, which he was very supportive of. I am on the Operations Progression Puzzle and I am finding that working through something that has a structure with specific tasks and learning outcomes is really helpful in a time when it would be easy to feel like chaos reigns. I also find spending time working towards my future goals a really positive way to stay mindful that there is a future. This isn’t forever.

It probably also helps that I have a head full of nonsense. Laughing is so important. Just because we’re in a crisis doesn’t mean we can’t make time for silliness!

What’s the biggest thing you’ll take away from this experience?

Our people are everything. They are strong, creative, resilient, brave and compassionate human beings who genuinely care for one another and when the going gets tough, all that matters is taking care of them.

What has been the most memorable and inspiring moment for you in this? 

When we got the email to mobilise the Mental Health First Aiders, it felt like my own personal “Avengers Assemble” moment. Until that point, I had been really struggling with the sense of helplessness but when I read that email I was like “YES! PUT. ME. ON. THAT. LIST! ”. Perhaps nobody will ever need to call me and that’s fine, but I’m glad my details are out there and people know they can talk to me if they need to. For me, it felt like finally doing something. When the helplessness and hopelessness were setting in, that’s when I realised there is work to be done and made it my personal mission to put as much positivity and hope as I can out there for anyone who needs it.