Staff Housing Department

Banff Hospitality of a Different Kind:

BEHIND THE SCENES OF A LODGING COMPANY’S BUSY STAFF HOUSING DEPARTMENT

In terms of travel destinations on the world map, Banff is high up there on the wish-list – and it’s not hard to see why.

 

With its undeniable beauty, mountain town charm, and global status as a Canadian National Park icon – combined with a thriving tourism industry – Banff is a #1 choice not only for travellers, but those seeking to stay a while, find employment, explore the mountains and get accustomed to local life.

 

For the many hundreds of jobseekers, new graduates, students, international workers and working holiday travellers that arrive into Banff to do just this each year, securing employment is just the start of the journey to settling here.

 

Imagine the scenario:  You’ve arrived after a long trip and Banff is everything you expected it to be.  The job opportunities are looking promising, and you’ve been handing out resumes across town and interviewing for various roles.  Then you receive the call that the job you’ve been holding out for is all yours.  Excellent.  Then comes the question, “but where will I live?”

 

With its zero % vacancy rate, finding a suitable place to retreat to after a work shift come to an end becomes a harsh reality to life in this beautiful Park.

 

Hostels and couch surfing are only going to cut it as a temporary option.  You’re keen to have a place to call your own; an affordable pad that feels less like a hostel room and more like home – this is where the solution of staff housing comes in.

 

For Banff Lodging Co, having move-in-ready, well-maintained accommodation options open to employees – carefully managed by a dedicated, expert housing team; on hand right from check-in through to departure – is essential for supporting its employees right from the outset.

Staff Housing Department

Photo: Claire Smith, Residential Divisions Manager

Staff Housing Department

Photo: Ian Lamb, Claire Smith, Annie Lebel

But, arranging accommodation options for hundreds of new employees each season, managing residents’ daily requests, handling any relocations and all check-ins, and keeping every one of the twenty staff housing buildings in tip-top shape and running smoothly, isn’t a walk in the Park.

 

It takes sheer organization, regimental processes, and lots of teamwork – something that Claire Smith, Residential Divisions Manager, knows only too well.

 

Claire, supported by Assistant Manager Annie and Resident Assistant Winchester, has been in her role for seven years.  A no-nonsense operations leader and accommodations specialist with exceptionally high standards, Claire was formerly in charge of the school residency of a boarding school in the United Kingdom.  Hailing from South Africa, Claire uses her many years of experience within property management to lead her small yet mighty team of three.

 

Annie’s role in the team is organizational powerhouse.  Everything from managing payroll, introducing new software systems for increased efficiencies, and matching accommodation requests to available rooms on a regular basis, no two days are the same for Annie, who has been with the company for five years.

 

Assisting with the management of a staff housing department wasn’t necessarily where Annie expected her career to lead, having had no previous experience in property management.  But Annie knows hospitality, high standards and what it takes to keep a hotel spotlessly clean and welcoming, having previously worked as a Room Attendant at Banff Lodging Co.’s Hidden Ridge Resort.

 

Despite the high number of employees that take residency within its staff houses each season [this past summer, the company housed 400 of its employees across 20 properties], Banff Lodging Co.’s efficiently managed Staff Housing dept. ensures things run like clockwork, and with issues resolved immediately – no exceptions.

Staff Housing Department

Photo: Annie Lebel, Assistant Manager

Staff Housing Department

Photo: Annie and Claire before weekly inspections

For Claire, it’s about being fair yet firm.

 

“We promote respect at all times,” she says, “and we’re serious about all of our residents adhering to that.”

 

Claire continues: “It’s about having respect for fellow room-mates, the company, and the community; understanding what’s acceptable and being considerate.  This is the only way we can have things, to keep the accommodation standards high, and all our residents safe and happy.”

“Our colleagues are coming to us, and asking how we do things; how we keep the resident houses so well-maintained, professional and peaceful.”

Understanding the balance between enjoying a social life outside of work commitments and being a respectful neighbour, is something that Claire and her team instill in all employee residents.

“We have employees of all ages, all cultures and all walks of life that join us to work and experience all that Banff has to offer – and we understand there’s a social aspect to this, and that our residents want to relax after their shift ends.

 

But, with our properties based in downtown Banff locations, we have to be mindful of our neighbours.  We encourage communal socializing in the properties and have designed our houses to have open spaces for residents to get together and enjoy each other’s company, but there has to be rules that we all follow as good Banff citizens,” she says.

 

One of the department’s keys to success is its commitment to consistency, and the regular housing inspections conducted every Thursday by the team.  It’s this focus on maintaining the highest standards that has made the department a leading example in the community, with other hotels in Banff following the protocols set by Claire to guarantee their staff housing is also expertly-managed.

 

“We are known as the ones setting the standard,” says Claire proudly.

 

“Our colleagues are coming to us, and asking how we do things; how we keep the resident houses so well-maintained, professional and peaceful.”

Staff Housing Department

Photo: Weekly inspection visits

Staff Housing Department

So, what does a typical routine look like for the Staff Housing team?

 

Days usually start with managing the check-outs of the day; those employees that are leaving their accommodation – either because they’ve found a long-term rental, or leaving Banff to return home or continue their travels.  Claire and Annie will then typically work through their full inbox of emails, answering queries from hotel General Managers and Heads of Department who are seeking housing for their new, or soon-to-arrive employees [Claire’s team can often find accommodation for employees within a three-day turnaround].

Afternoons can then involve appointments with landlords [Banff Lodging Co. also has ongoing relationships with Banff homeowners that lease their properties to accommodate busier periods in the calendar, all managed through the Staff Housing department], working through lease agreement paperwork, and handling the move-in process for new residents.

“I admit, our Thursday inspection day typically takes all day, yet often overruns due to the housing team having our little conversations with residents along the way.”

In addition to these daily commitments, Claire maintains an open-door policy, with all residents welcomed to visit her office on a drop-in basis for anything resident-related.

 

“Our employees, especially when they first arrive, often need our support,” says Claire.

 

“Yes our team are here to assist with getting our employees all set up in their accommodation and explaining the practical what-to-knows, but it’s important for us to also help them settle into life here,” Claire continues.

 

Claire admits this often involves understanding and sensitivity on the team’s part.

 

“We might have an employee who’s experiencing a feeling of loneliness, or they might not be gelling with their roommates as quickly.  It’s our job to make sure they’re happy, and so we talk it through with them to find a solution.  Often, we’ll relocate them to another house, as we understand we’re dealing with people.  We’re here to help, and part of that is being a sounding board.”

 

Part of Claire and Annie’s competence in being that solid sounding board for all employee residents, comes from not only their caring natures, but their openness to external training and sharpening their skills in order to deal with interpersonal situations.

 

Both Claire and Annie trained as “community helpers” with Bow Valley Victim Services, a program that equips its helpers to appropriately handle various scenarios surrounding communal living, and identify residents that may be experiencing with mental health struggles, for example.

Staff Housing Department

Photo: Weekly visits can also involve a great chat, and connecting with residents.

Staff Housing Department

Claire also says that her and her team will often accommodate housing changes by request, to suit changes in needs.

 

“If we have employees that have been great residents, we’re going to take good care of them,” Claire adds.

 

We will always try to accommodate requests.  For instance, perhaps an employee has been with the company a while and has recently received a promotion and needs a housing option with more privacy, or perhaps two employees have developed a long-term, serious relationship and now want to live together.  We will look at the situation and see if we can make accommodation changes to suit them.  Again, it’s about respect; two-way respect between the company and its employees.”

 

For Claire, heading up this busy Staff Housing department is nothing less than fulfilling – but then it would need to be, as Claire’s home is based on one of the properties and she’s often called on to take care of an issue outside of the nine-to-five.

 

“I get lots of satisfaction from this role, and doing what we do,” Claire says.

 

“We get to know our residents over time, and some of our employees stay with us in staff housing for years.  It’s almost like they become part of the family.”

 

Claire continues: “I admit, our Thursday inspection day typically takes all day, yet often overruns due to the housing team having our little conversations with residents along the way.  We get invited to try food when residents are cooking, we chat about their lives, work and what’s happening with them, and that’s really nice.”

Staff Housing Department

© 2017 Banff Lodging Company. All rights reserved.
Banff Lodging Co. is an employee owned and operated company with accommodations, restaurants, spas, and retail/rental shop all located in Banff National Park