Why Accor's HR head is excited about the future

The SVP of talent and culture at hotel group Accor talks to HRD about embracing change, hybrid work schedules and flexibility

Why Accor's HR head is excited about the future

Sarah Derry lived a jet-set lifestyle before the COVID-19 pandemic struck with weekly work trips to exotic locales like Fiji, French Polynesia, New Zealand and around Australia.

As hotel group Accor’s senior vice president of talent and culture in the Pacific, visiting some of the most beautiful destinations and hotels on the planet was an important part of Derry’s job description.

With border closures, quarantines and other restrictions Derry has been grounded at her home in Sydney, but she is not complaining.

It has been an eye-opening experience and perhaps a look into a seismic shift of how travel and tourism industry executives and other employees will vastly reduce their travel schedules and take up hybrid home/work schedules when pandemic restrictions fade.

“It has been amazing to see quite a traditional industry like travel and tourism go completely virtual,” Derry told HRD.

“It was all about the face-to-face and the contact, but honestly it has been amazing and I’m excited about it.

“We can compete with other industries who had amazing flexibility and hybrid ways of working. This has forced leaders who maybe were not as open to it have to be open to it because they can see it works.”

Hotels traditionally had static rosters with 7am to 3pm and 3pm to 11pm shifts, but Derry believes work schedules will become more flexible.

“Now, if you want to finish at 12 o’clock because you need to pick you child up from daycare or take your dog to the vet, that’s OK. Work from 6am to midday,” she said.

“Even in the roles where there is a face-to-face element, we are finding ways to give people more flexibility.”

Accor, with more than 430 hotels in the region and around 21,000 team members, has been a world leader in training programs. The company is a finalist in four categories for this year’s HR Awards, with nominations for Simon McGrath in the HR Champion category, for Best Change Management Strategy, Best Learning & Development Program and Best Leadership Development Program.

Derry said the company is set up to create pathways for team members not just in traditional hospitality careers, but in architecture, information technology, designing, marketing and other roles.

The company’s “Heartist” organisational culture program has been a guiding light for Accor during the difficulties created by the pandemic.

The Heartist fund has given $A3.7 million in grants to team members who faced financial hardship, suffered a COVID-19 medical condition or for international students in Australia not eligible for government assistance.

Accor also provided accommodation during the pandemic to people facing domestic violence or homelessness and inspired team members to come up with inventive ways to keep international guests positive during mandatory 14-day quarantine stints in their hotels.

Derry can see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, with New Zealand and Queensland in particular leading the recovery.

“We have been impacted as an industry, but we are still strong, we are still positive, we are seeing green shoots and I think there will still be a positive future for travel and tourism,” she said.

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