In the beginning when all this news about COVID-19 was making the rounds, my colleagues and I inclusive did not make much of it because we thought it would never reach our borders, let alone affect our jobs and lives in this manner.
The end of the first quarter of the year was good, business-wise, and the forecast for the coming quarter was even better. The occupancy figures looked really good for rooms as well as a plethora of bookings for events at property. Everyone was gearing up for a busy period. Departmental heads were reorganizing schedules and leave requests just to be ready to take on the anticipated businesses.
The first hint that gave us a shock was when a group of 168 people from the U.S. (our biggest group booking to date) cancelled their reservations and event space booking. The emails didn’t stop.
There were cancellations from every corner of the world as the pandemic was spreading rapidly. Forecast figures just kept going down further with each passing hour.
I heard stories of some of our brands closing down due to lockdown in other countries. Work WhatsApp platforms became a discussion hub as fellow employees were scared of losing their jobs. Everyone had questions and some gave answers to the best of their knowledge. Leaders tried to calm nerves as most employees feared they were at risk. Everyone became cautious of anyone arriving from a foreign country and the fear became more imminent when Ghana had it first cases reported. As expected, interactions with guests reduced, as staff were not sure who might infect them. The usual handshakes and hugs ceased among coworkers as well as with guests. COVID-19 was the hottest topic in every department as well as at the staff cafeteria.
Our Human Resource Manager (HR) quickly organized health talks and allowed health professionals speak on how to keep ourselves safe. I must say the general feeling of most us was to use sanitizers and follow protocols outlined by the experts. Management procured sanitizers and protective gear for frontline personnel. Fear was still the dominant feeling among members of staff as no-one could do anything to dislodge the fear of catching the COVID-19 virus.
The country’s borders were closed and a lockdown was placed on all movements in the country. Now we had to not only adjust to new measures and scheduling outlined by the government but also by management. An emergency workforce was camped in the hotel to take care of guests who were already staying in the hotel before the borders were closed.
Initially employees that formed the first group of workers tasked to keep the hotel running, loved the fact that they were going to stay in the hotel. They felt proud of being in this ‘special team’.
Fast forward 2 or 3 days into lockdown everyone came to realize it was not business as usual.
Hours increased and staff had to take on other tasks; more of multitasking. The emergency team had to be in-house for 2 weeks but most of the staff ‘run out of steam’ after the first week and a new team had to be brought in. It then occurred to us we had a huge task on our hands. And I must say the team has been hands-on and supportive during these times.
As a leader in my department this period enabled me observe the strengths and weaknesses of all my team members; how they individually tackled various tasks. Even though the way of doing things have changed, staff has been able to adjust. This was not always true at the beginning, as it was difficult.
Now that business is at an all-time low, management had to make a decision to cut salaries and take out certain benefits such as overtime and transportation. Personnel did not take this too well and morale among us went low. The General Manager took a step of creating a WhatsApp platform of all employees to give regular updates on happenings and how the hotel is doing. He outlines what other hotels are also doing and this made employees appreciate what management had done so far. Keeping the ‘lights on’ hasn’t been easy, however, each day, staff come in with one goal; to give their best despite not being paid full salaries.
What I observed and learnt is the way information was circulated even to the lowest paid worker. We had clarity on what the hotel was making and expenses that were being incurred.
Right now, almost everyone is in a cost saving mode. Morale has increased slightly.
We have all done more than is expected as per our role. I, as a night manager have been moved to assist the Front Office Manager who is now acting more like a Rooms Division Director. During this period, I have been a bellman carrying luggage up and down. I have driven guests (cargo crew members – cargo flights were allowed to fly despite ban on travel) from and to the airport countless times. I have been a door man, front desk agent, paymaster; I have even cleaned the pool and carried out many more tasks. Some tasks have been new to me but it has given me the ability to learn and also appreciate other people’s jobs. That is the feeling I am also getting from other members of staff.