INTERVIEW : We spoke to Varun Arora, CEO and Co-Founder of Ekostay, a homestay venture to understand about nuances of managing Human Resources in the hospitality industry.
Tell us something about your company?
Ekostay is a hospitality firm specifically catering to the homestay audience for their holidays in tier 2 cities. We thrive in providing with hygienic, cozy, affordable as well as luxurious homestay options with private and common pools across cities like Lonavala / Khandala, Goa, Alibaug, Mahableshwar / Panchgani, Karjat, Nashik& Igatpuri.
Initially I was into construction of second homes in Lonavala and after developing couple of villas and realizing that there was a great potential for them on aren’t basis I decided to start Ekostay as a homestay venture with like-minded partners. My partners and I then co-founded Ekostay together and immediately saw a tremendous demand for our services. Then along with my partners we expanded to various other cities mentioned above.
Moreover, India is a landscape of incredible beauty. That’s no secret. We wanted to make neighbourhood travel, conscious travel, weekend getaway and the choice to go places in India more accessible. After a dark year, sea-sun (season) to travel and explore local beauty is springing, we aimed to make Ekostay a happy and safe place for everyone sans the worries, mundane chores like dishwashing! At the price of a short stay one can enjoy a long getaway.
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What role does HR play in your organization?
One of the biggest challenges in managing human resources in the hospitality industry is that of employee retention. The key for us is in reputation, to build it and then continue to maintain it. A brands reputation makes or breaks businesses in the hospitality industry and for us customer service is the most important aspect for us which our employees front line. This makes the role of human resources critical to hospitality industry businesses as it is important to maintain all stakeholder expectations starting with the managing expectations of our employees. Keeping employees happy means they will look after our brand as their own which is key for sustained overall growth.
As a hospitality brand have you invested in innovative HR strategies? If yes, which ones?
We would still call ourselves a startup and hence we have not invested in many innovative HR strategies but we have invested in the right tech that is required to run our HR function effectively. For e.g. we use Slack, a collaboration app for internal communications which enables smooth remote work. We have also invested in professional development programs (in-house) for our employees so they can constantly upskill and learn. We believe that preparing employees for future leadership opportunities within the company shows employees that their time with the company can be a viable career option.We think that the hospitality industry can improve its HR function by hiring employees who believe in the company’s overall vision and mission because when they see that their own values align with that of the company’s, they tend to do a better job than usual.
We are also integrating a new software which will enable all operations to be worked upon from one place, which would include new employee induction or back end employee work.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to people management? Do you face it in your company?
In any company, the leader will have an idea of what a good working style is. Usually, it’s their own – after all, it got them to where they are today. And when we have people on our team that don’t match our own working style, the fear (and frustration) is that they’re not working hard enough. Although we, as a brand, have learnt to overcome this mind-set and personally I have realized over time that everyone has a different style of working and I think all leaders must recognize this. As a leader you must allow your employees to work on closing tasks in a way they would be most comfortable with, often leaders forget this and that is where the real HR/ people problems begin. Management has its share of perks and rewards. Managers/leaders are usually in a better position to influence and lead change and hence they must be flexible and inclusive with their work methods.
Moreover, the amount of time and effort that goes behind training a new employee as per the company’s style of operation might completely go to waste if the employee decides to leave us midway.
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How do you prefer to communicate with your team to assign responsibilities to them?
In an ideal workplace, communication between employees would be open, friendly, and professional – this is the principle we live by at Ekostay. We have a strict open-door policy in place at Ekostay, this really sets the precedent that anyone in our company is allowed to ask questions, voice concerns, and pitch ideas at any time. This is an important part of building trust within our team. Making management inaccessible sends the message to lower-level employees that they are not as valuable. Keeping the doors of communication open is crucial and we really live by this principle. We use communication tools like Slack, WhatsApp and zoom calls, etc. (during this remote work era) and in pre-COVID times we would have weekly personal meetings to ensure smooth communication.
What kind of a leader are you? What personality traits make a good leader?
Leadership can mean many things to different people. One good definition of an effective leader is “a person who creates an inspiring vision of the future, motivates and inspires people to engage with that vision, manages delivery of the vision and coaches and builds a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision. Being a good leader is not a cakewalk. One must possess effective leadership qualities that help one achieve higher goals and objectives. I would define myself as an ‘honest leader’, honestly according to me is one of the most essential leadership qualities. Honesty is expected from leaders to garner trust and respect from people for reliability.
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How are you planning to scale up in the current scenario and post-COVID era?
EKOSTAY has been successful in marking its territory in Maharashtra & Goa so far and is further expanding to the North & South of India before the end of this year. We’re targeting Ooty, Coorg and Coonoor down south & Shimla, Manali & Kasol up North. International travel seems to be restricted for another 6 months or so and even once it opens up we don’t know how comfortable will all be travelling overseas until the vaccination drive has been successfully implemented. So until then, we’re definitely looking at great demand for the domestic tourism market.
How do you foresee your startup’s future as per the current scenario of the market?
Well to be honest, we can’t foresee our company’s future based on today’s scenario alone as that would be unfair, keeping in mind everyone’s restricted to domestic travel pretty much and that too till almost the end of this year. However, if we still had to I would say it’s looking “LIT” for sure. If the vaccination drive takes longer than this year to be executed then we could be looking at the same kind of demand even next year.