Hotel guests want more flexibility and choice today. So, post-pandemic, why shouldn’t hoteliers, their line staffs, corporate support teams and just about everyone who has chosen hospitality as a career want the same? Yet, the very nature of this 24/7 business makes that concept a challenging proposition.
The post-COVID hybrid work model is a work in progress and it remains too early to tell where the dust will settle. But for some early insight, the industry has a great example in Marriott International, not only the world’s biggest hotel company but the owners of a new global headquarters in downtown Bethesda, Maryland, that opened in September with 785,000-square-feet of LEEDv4 Gold-certified space for corporate associates supporting over 8,100 hotels in 139 countries and territories around the world.
Ty Breland, executive vice president and chief human resources officer told HOTELS that the Marriott brain trust wanted to get their teams back to the office as soon as possible because they felt it would help bring travel back. But there was a new learning curve and Breland says the big takeaways from 2020 were the ideas of flexibility and choice. Those concepts were used to “round the edges” as the final touches were put on the office design as well as to support the execution of new work-life protocols.
“This idea of flexibility and choice is something that we’re really trying to do across all of our jobs, definitely here at headquarters and at all of our continent offices, but also the property level,” Breland said. “New associates are requesting career development and then flexibility. That flexibility piece used to be much further down on the list, but it’s in the top three now. So, we’re challenging ourselves to look at how work gets done differently.”
Marriott is also trying to engender a lot more flexibility on shifts at the property level. “Yes, it’s a little bit more challenging to schedule more part-time. But we’re seeing this open pool of talent coming to us that we couldn’t touch before,” Breland added.
Facilitating work, culture
Breland said Marriott designed the new headquarters to facilitate work and career development rather than as a “place you came to work.”
“We think about the new office as a living, breathing organism that’s a part of the solution coupled with people and technology all coming together to produce this new way of working,” Breland said. “When people are here, and they have purpose for why they’re here, we’re able to better connect with our properties and our associates around the globe. So, it feels more fluid.”
In fact, Breland said the new corporate headquarters has some of the look and feel of a hotel, especially when associates enter the lobby of the building and how F&B is programmed.
The biggest change the design team made to the plan as it managed through the pandemic was backing out about 25% of traditional workstations and creating more soft seating areas for teams to huddle for, perhaps, a pop-up meeting. There are also little pods and areas to work away from desks. “I’m really glad we did that and probably could have done a little bit more,” Breland said, adding that about 50% of meetings are still taking place in traditional board rooms and meeting rooms, while another 50% are occurring in the “avenues” that connect the “neighborhoods” of each floor.
“We are seeing a lot more one-to-one meetings happening along the windows and the avenues,” Breland said. “We’re also seeing larger group meetings with four or five people exploring a new way of doing something and trying to innovate on a process or technique. In the past, they would have piled in and huddled in a small conference room without any natural light and tried to do that same work. So, we’re seeing our associates a bit more energized by having that flexibility when they’re here.”
Marriott also dedicated the 21st floor, the top of the building, to its associates, as a growth center. While those development meetings would have taken place at various company hotels, now emerging leaders from around the world have an opportunity to come to headquarters to better immerse in the culture and, so far, it has been a huge success, according to Breland.
Marriott has also tried to take some of life’s friction out of the workday by housing a start-of-the-art gym and locker facilities, a childcare facility that holds up to 90 children and a food service offering focused on wellness and healthy offerings. Marriott is also just starting to provide a service for associates to pre-order dinner from the in-house kitchen, ready for pick-up on the way out.
Blending work, life
Managing flexible work patterns both inside and outside the office is still a learning process for Marriott, Breland admitted. “We’re trying to find that right blend for the type of work and other commitments that we have with life… If the pandemic taught us one thing it’s you realize very quickly that everyone has life going on in conjunction with work.”
That has made blending work and life even more important and flex scheduling is just starting to get rolled out. “Sometimes you have to dial harder one way or the other, giving everyone a little bit of grace along the way to deal with life and work,” Breland explained, adding Marriott is getting a pretty good capture rate of associates wanting to come into the office.
Breland added that Marriott has very few of what he would call policies or rules about when associates need to be in the office because, “by definition, that’s the opposite of flexibility.”
What he has seen is staff meetings and senior staff meetings predominantly taking place in the office if everyone is in town. “When the senior executive team is in, you definitely see a lot more other individuals in the building,” he said.
There is also more programming at the head office, bringing in outside speakers, and that has also had a net positive impact on office attendance. “These are not big cost items,” Breland said. “But it just gives that proactive shaping of ‘it’s going to be a lot of value to me to be in the office that week.’”
While it’s early to calculate how a new headquarters and post-pandemic realities are affecting in-person work, Breland said average time in the office hasn’t changed at all with average time in the office at seven hours and 58 minutes. He said Mondays and Fridays are a bit lighter, but mid-week attendance is very similar to pre-COVID times. “I was a little shocked by the data,” he added. “But as I’ve had conversations with others and learned that they realize they’ve already made the commute and want to be as productive as possible.”
At the end of the day, Breland believes being responsible for these flexible work options has created this sense of empowerment. “People want to show up and do a good job, and I think we’re seeing that across all of these offices.”
Breland added that while going through the pandemic was tough, the investment Marriott made in its headquarters and commitment to more flexibility is making an impact.
“We just had a summit for our technical leadership development program, inviting some of our very best talent from around the world,” Breland said. “They were literally skipping in the hallways because they were so excited about this building. I’m quite confident they took that energy back to their part of the world. So, it’s a huge motivator. It’s a piece of something you can be proud of and people want to talk about it. There’s definitely a lot more swagger.”