HR Helpline Case Study – Last updated March 2021

Best of Suffolk – Surviving the pandemic and coming out the other side

Our latest mini-series blog sees us catching up with Abi who works for our client Best of Suffolk.  They are an award-winning, independent, family-run holiday cottage lettings agency, bringing the experience of a boutique hotel to self-catering cottages in Suffolk.

How long has your sector been closed over the pandemic year?

With every government announcement, there came another challenge for the self-catering holiday industry. Best of Suffolk markets over 400 holiday cottages and all will have been closed for approximately eight months in total over a 13-month period. For the five or so months they have been permitted to open their holiday homes in 2020, bookings were still subject to Covid-19 restrictions, such as the ‘Rule of Six’ or the Tier travel restrictions, meaning severely restricted use.

The Best of Suffolk office closed for a period of three months at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, with key team members working from home. Throughout the pandemic, Best of Suffolk has remained contactable for guests and clients even when staff were working remotely.

In a nutshell, what has that meant for your business?
The business saw a large drop in income last year during the lockdown closures and due to other travel restrictions. As a result, the independent Suffolk holiday letting agency carried out a complete review of all costs. With no guests ‘in house’, the business was streamlined to be as cost-effective as possible, giving it long-term sustainability in an uncertain world.

The key now for Best of Suffolk is to maximise occupancy from 12th April 2021, when restrictions allow overnight stays to happen again safely.

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How difficult has it been to manage your people throughout that time?
The pandemic year has given Best of Suffolk so many challenges and they have aimed to rise to each one! The only way this has been achieved, is through the dedication and hard work of the Best of Suffolk team.

Director Alex Tarry and Director of Operations Tim Ripman had regular daily Zooms with the team when they were working from home, to provide encouragement and support as well as strategic direction.

Tim also has regular catch-ups with team members to discuss their needs individually. This means the working plan during Covid-19 can be tailored to both the individuals needs and the needs of the business.

They have team members who are essential to the every-day operations of the office, and as such are in-house at their HQ in Badingham. They have tried to keep this to an absolute minimum in accordance with their Covid-19 workplace risk assessment, and to allow for sufficient social distancing protocol. Other core team members work remotely from home, happy to jump on a Zoom as and when needed.

To keep up staff morale, they have enjoyed numerous Zoom quiz nights. Some of them have even involved fancy dress! It’s essential to ensure team members don’t feel isolated through remote working, and the team have a chance to interact socially as they would have done under ‘normal’ working conditions at the staff summer party or Christmas do for example.

The team at Best of Suffolk is a small one, with just seven members of staff. People often think with a portfolio of properties above 400 that the staff size will be much higher. This means during the unpredictability of Covid-19, departments have experienced demand and pressure at different periods. By being a small team, the business can be swift of thought and nimble of foot to allocate resource where it is needed. The ethos of Best of Suffolk is that it doesn’t matter who they are, or what they do, everyone can answer the phone and confidently take a booking, or help with an enquiry or customer service issue. This has never been more apt than during the pandemic year.

Has it made you feel differently about the HR requirements of your business going forward?
The pandemic has forced the company to think on its toes and for certain working practices to be rightfully challenged. Working from home has not been previously considered at Best of Suffolk, but the advantages have been clearly seen. A happier workforce who are able to fit their working hours around childcare, who are more motivated and able to concentrate without distraction and as such productivity levels are considerably higher. As a result, with working from home set to continue post Covid-19 restrictions, there may be a need to address this in the staff handbook and working practices.

What’s your big wish as you reopen, and what are you most looking forward to?
The big wish for Best of Suffolk is the same as what they are most looking forward to; to be able to welcome guests back safely to Suffolk.

Having been awarded the Feefo Platinum Trusted Service Award, they know how to look after their guests well. The thousands of five-star reviews from satisfied and happy customers speak volumes.

The housekeepers have been briefed to be ready for April 12, and for the busy period of back-to-back lettings that will swiftly follow. The Covid-19 extra cleaning measures have been in place since 4 July 2020 when holidays homes were first permitted to re-open, so they are well-versed in Covid-19 cleanliness and have the Visit England ‘We’re Good to Go’ green tick of authenticity to prove it!

Find out more about Best of Suffolk at https://www.bestofsuffolk.co.uk/