Buzzworks Holdings is one of Scotland’s fastest growing independent restaurant and bar operators, managing twelve prestigious venues across Ayrshire and beyond with over 500 team members.
Surveying two months into lockdown, not only had the company increased employee engagement levels, they have laid the foundation to continue performing at an outstanding level in the months to come.
We spoke with Carole Lamond, People Director, to find out more.
“The leadership team held a meeting every evening to discuss the next steps and how to keep the team as settled and as informed with the facts as we could,” explained Carole. “Our approach was never to speculate about what was about to happen, and to keep all communication factual and reliable. This helped to build up trust with the wider team and they were thankful of that more so than ever when living in a world of extreme uncertainty. This was a big factor in laying the foundations for a successful lockdown.”
“Our approach was never to speculate about what was about to happen, and to keep all communication factual and reliable.”
The timing of communication was also vital. “We were one of the last restaurant companies to close, because we wanted to see the details of the furlough scheme. We then went out with a message to employees that was based on fact and the whole leadership team could stand behind.”
However, getting these communications right was challenging at times.
“We poured over words, there were many Zoom calls with the directors to assess how the communications would look and feel from an employee’s perspective.”
From the outset we made the decision that our messaging would be regular, transparent and always based on fact. We were acutely aware of everything that went out – at one point I think I’d written fifteen different versions of one letter!”
What Buzzworks also focused on was managing expectations of employees. 360 degree communication was vital to employees being able to raise concerns and get answers as quickly as possible. A daily blog was released each night to keep employees informed of company news, Government updates and upcoming activities. “This was vital to keep employees in the loop when on furlough. We didn’t always get it right, but we tried as hard as we could to reassure employees.”
In analysis of employee comments from their survey from across the business, team members expressed their optimism for the future as they felt reassured about their job security.
“We’re really proud of this; it’s a great achievement but we’re now thinking about what we can do right now. Our next survey might reveal a different picture, especially as we are potentially going into an unknown trading period.
“We want to capitalise and improve on the great communications work we’ve managed so far, that’s going to be our focus for September. We will be looking at building support for junior managers, as our data shows there is an opportunity for development here, and surveying again to see how employees are feeling post opening and what impact our actions are having.”
One of the major challenges for Carole and the team was keeping furloughed team members engaged without their daily roles. The company’s previous employee engagement data has always shown employees believing that Buzzworks is a community-conscious organisation, and Carole saw this as a way to keep teams engaged and foster a sense of togetherness in lockdown.
“We knew volunteering would be great for the teams. Lockdown is particularly challenging for individuals working in hospitality who normally enjoy a fast-paced environment, with lots of customer contact and teamwork. With the change of pace, we wanted to give options for different people to support their wellbeing during lockdown.”
Buzzworks partnered with Centrestage to make and deliver over 40,000 meals to vulnerable members of the community. “Our chefs could volunteer to attend shifts in kitchens with Centrestage and our front of house teams were able to pack and deliver the meals to vulnerable members of the community.”
“Giving something back is key to engagement in general but also mental health support. From that perspective if you haven’t got a routine it can lead to depression and anxiety, so the idea was to give everyone an opportunity to keep busy.”
As lockdown has began to ease and the restaurants opened up, a different sort of challenge began to rise.
“We’ve been so busy with the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. Pre-opening we conducted orientation events in venue and Zoom training with the teams on compliance and health & safety to alleviate any fears they had before returning. It has paid off, but our teams have had to adapt really quickly, leading to a big shift in their routine. They work long hours to meet our customer needs, and we’re making a more conscious effort to support our employees’ mental health.”
Before lockdown, a number of Buzzworks’ leadership team trained as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs), who have been highlighted to the business as people to talk to about any concerns an employee may have. Buzzworks also has an Employee Assistance Programme for teams to go to should they not want to approach someone internally.
“Our Operations Director in particular is really passionate about supporting the holistic person, not just the employee at work. Our employees work significant hours for us, so we want to make sure that we take care of their whole wellbeing.”
On site visits, the leadership team don’t just stop to see how things are going; they muck in with teams on front line duty to find out more about what’s happening and to see how things on the ground really are, helping with the aim of improving employee engagement. “I’m not really cut out for waiting on or bar work (as the broken plates will testify) so I get involved in the cleaning! Some of the other leaders have hosted at the venues; really the goal is to make sure we’re visible and approachable.”
Going forward, Wellbeing is something that Carole wants to emphasise. “We want to utilise video calls to have more face-to-face conversations and talk more about our wellbeing strategy to really get it out there. If there is anxiety, we want to know and help our employees do something about it."
There may be tough times to come for hospitality, but the engagement of Buzzworks’ employees is something that remains a priority to ensure the company continues to help both its teams and the community.