Hospitality at a Crossroads: Is a Remote Work Model Essential to Retain Talent?

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated hospitality’s shift towards remote work, challenging the sector to adapt roles for remote environments, ranging from customer service to event planning. While remote work offers advantages for both employers and employees, it also presents multiple challenges for them. Companies must balance attracting younger talent with the limitations of remote work, identify roles suitable for remote settings, and invest in the infrastructure necessary to support this model.
Court Williams At one time, the concept of remote work simply didn’t fit into the hospitality paradigm. After all, the very idea of hospitality required a physical presence to facilitate the customer experience. The onset of COVID-19 changed everything, compelling this traditionally in-person sector to reimagine its operational models. In the aftermath of the pandemic, remote work has burgeoned into a significant trend in hospitality. This raises a crucial question for the industry: Is the adoption of remote or hybrid work models essential for attracting and retaining top talent, particularly among younger leaders, or does it present a complex array of challenges and limitations for the industry to navigate?

The Rise of Remote Work in Hospitality

The industry’s shift towards remote and hybrid work models is driven by changing work preferences and technological advancements. Deloitte research indicates a growing demand for jobs offering these flexible working arrangements.[1] Customer service roles have successfully transitioned to remote environments, leveraging digital channels to assist guests, and this trend extends to virtual event planning and remote reservation management. Training and education within the sector have also adapted, with trainers and educators increasingly using digital platforms to remotely impart skills and knowledge to staff.  
However, the feasibility of remote work varies across different roles. Senior-level positions, including CEOs, CFOs, and HR executives, often require a physical presence for effective on-site collaboration. Conversely, roles such as COOs and IT professionals may be more conducive to remote work. For those unable to work remotely, whether this is due to the company culture or the nature of the position, hospitality organizations must offer alternative incentives to retain talent. These could include options such as in-house childcare, free meals, and paid gym memberships.

Challenges and Limitations

While remote work offers hospitality multiple benefits, it also presents distinct challenges and limitations that require careful management. These include: 
Communication struggles
Communication and collaboration are both primary concerns for remote teams. The absence of face-to-face interaction can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of cohesion among team members. A study by Buffer on remote work highlighted that 8% of remote workers struggle with these functions.[2]  This can be a significant hurdle in the hospitality industry, where teamwork is crucial for seamless service delivery. 
Service consistency
Maintaining service quality and consistency is another challenge. The hospitality industry thrives on providing exceptional guest experiences, which can be difficult to standardize across remote employees. Ensuring consistent service quality can be problematic without the direct oversight and immediate feedback of traditional settings.
Privacy and security concerns
Data security and privacy concerns are amplified in remote work settings. The hospitality industry handles sensitive customer information, and remote work can increase the risk of data breaches. Ensuring secure data handling practices and robust IT infrastructure is essential to protect both the business and its customers.
Other oversight challenges
Training and supervising remote employees also pose unique challenges. The hands-on, experiential nature of many hospitality roles doesn't always translate well to remote environments. Training staff remotely requires innovative approaches and robust digital tools to convey practical skills and uphold service standards effectively.

Impacting Talent Acquisition & Retention

Talent acquisition in hospitality is increasingly influenced by the availability of remote work options, particularly when attracting younger leaders and professionals. According to the latest Work Trends Index, 49% of Gen Z workers are likely to consider transitioning to a hybrid model in their current role, and 46% are likely to go remote.[3]  These groups value the freedom to choose when and where they work more than any other generation of workers. Offering remote work options can be a decisive factor for potential employees in choosing an employer. From a retention viewpoint, it’s important for hospitality organizations to update their policies without delay, or they risk losing talented workers. 

Advantages of Remote Work in Hospitality

One of the most significant benefits for employers is cost savings. By adopting remote work models, hospitality businesses report reduced operational costs, particularly in areas like office space rental and utilities. Research shows that organizations could save almost $11,000 per employee per year by going remote.[4] 
Improved productivity
The flexibility employees gain from remote work allows them to design their work schedules around personal commitments. This provides the work-life balance they crave and promotes productivity. Statistics show that 44.9% of remote employees report being just as productive, if not more so, compared to their in-office performance.[5] In the hospitality industry, this translates to more efficient and motivated employees capable of delivering high-quality service.
Reimagining recruitment options
Remote work also broadens the talent pool from which hospitality businesses can recruit. According to McKinsey, companies embracing remote work have access to a more diverse range of candidates, including those from different geographical locations and backgrounds.[6]  This diversity can inject new ideas and perspectives into the business, fostering innovation, and growth.
Optimizing technological opportunities
In terms of service delivery, remote work enables the use of advanced technologies like AI and robotics to enhance customer satisfaction. For instance, AI-driven customer service tools can provide personalized recommendations and support, improving the overall guest experience.[7]  Successful case studies of remote work in hospitality include major hotel chains implementing remote customer service centers. For example, Holiday Inn Club Vacations and another leading vacation provider both employ remote agents to handle reservations, customer inquiries, and even concierge services, maintaining high service standards while reducing the need for physical office space.[8] 

A Blend of Opportunities and Challenges

Integrating remote work into the hospitality industry presents a blend of opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, it offers cost savings, increased flexibility, access to a broader talent pool, and the potential for enhanced customer satisfaction through innovative service delivery. On the other hand, it poses challenges in communication, maintaining service quality, training, and data security, and is not suitable for all roles.

The verdict, however, is clear: remote work is not just a fleeting trend, but an integral part of the future of hospitality. It's a strategic tool that, when implemented thoughtfully, can benefit the industry. To integrate remote work effectively, hospitality businesses must invest in robust communication tools, develop standardized remote training programs, and reinforce data security measures. Additionally, it’s crucial to accurately identify roles suitable for remote work versus physical presence.

Aligning with Workforce Expectations

The evolution towards remote work in hospitality is not simply a reaction to the pandemic, but a strategic move towards a more flexible, technology-driven future. By embracing this shift, companies can align with the workforce’s evolving expectations and ensure they continue to attract and retain the talent necessary for innovation and growth.

[1] Deloitte, Remote, controlled – This changes everything: Five key actions companies can take now to operationalize their remote work program,  Retrieved Jan 26, 2024.
[2] Buffer, State Of Remote Work 2023,  Retrieved Jan 26, 2024
[3] Microsoft, Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work,  Retrieved Jan 26, 2024
[4] Ebn, Views The financial savings of a remote work model,  Retrieved Jan 26, 2024
[5] Statista, Share of employees that feel more productive while working from home during the coronavirus outbreak in the United States as of June 2020,  Retrieved Jan 26, 2024
[6] McKinsey, How virtual work is accelerating innovation Retrieved Jan 26, 2024
[7] Cresta, Unlocking personalization at scale with the power of AI,  Retrieved Jan 26, 2024
[8] Cresta, How Holiday Inn and Cresta partnered to boost revenue and improve agent experience,  Retrieved Jan 26, 2024

Court Williams is Chief Executive Officer of HVS Executive Search based in New York and has over 33 years of retained Hospitality Executive Search experience within the Hotel, Restaurant, and Travel/Leisure industries. He also leads the global growth strategy for HVS Executive Search. Court directs his team in senior hospitality executive searches across all functional areas including Operations, Human Resources, Sales/Marketing, Finance, Real Estate, Franchise Development, Technology, and Supply Chain/Logistics, working with clients in the private equity, hotel management, restaurant, hotel investment/REITS, and leisure venue industries. Court is on the Advisory Board of Shift One and remains an active Cornell alumnus through student coaching with Cornell University’s Hospitality Leadership Development Institute. Court began his career in the restaurant industry after graduating from Cornell’s Hotel School gaining multi-unit operational experience prior to launching a career in Human Resources/Recruiting. Having gained experience in executive recruitment from the brand side, the desire to work with a broader range of hospitality clients led Court to a career in retained executive search beginning in 1990. Court and his wife reside in both Connecticut and Vermont and have two young adult children. He enjoys boating, skiing, and fly-fishing in Vermont, travelling, and food/wine.


  1. Very Well articulated Court, enjoyed reading

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