Who will you get to staff your hostel? And how will you find them?
Staffing is one of the most time-consuming aspects of owning a hostel. You need to be able to rely on the person to arrive on time, do the tasks you have set out for them to do, *actually* clean properly, greet other guests with a smile on their faces, and not burn the place down. Also, the very nature of the hostel is transient, so many of your staff will likely be exactly that, "short-term." Once you have excellent staff completely trained, they buy their onward ticket and leave you searching for more crew.
The type of staff you ultimately decide to use will depend on where your hostel is located, and what your goals are in terms of staffing. Having a hostel in Wellington, or Madrid or Toronto is taxing enough to keep good staff onboard. But, if your hostel is located in an isolated village or has a more designated "Tourist Season", then you may find it even more difficult to find help.
The two main categories of concern are Paid versus Work for Accommodation, and your country will have its own laws governing both categories. For example, New Zealand has had a major crackdown on "woofing" in the last two years, actually sending out immigration agents to investigate various businesses and issuing hefty fines for anyone using the "work for accommodation" premise. So be sure to check with your governing bodies when deciding how to staff your hostel.
Hiring paid staff seems like the easy thing to do. Paid staff are likely to stick around longer than volunteers, thus your time finding staff and training them is considerably reduced.
However, hiring paid staff can also be fraught with legal pitfalls. You will want to know what steps to take from the start and follow them to a T. This is especially true in the United States where lawsuits reign, but just as necessary elsewhere.
A few things to keep in mind about hiring paid staff:
- Ideally, you will want to sit down with your lawyer when coming up with your initial contract agreements and employment offers.
- Make sure the candidate has the legal right to work in your country.
- Once the offer is accepted, ensure both you and the candidate have initialled every page of the job agreement. Give them a written role description, with tasks fully lined out.
- Do you need to offer them insurance? Check with your own lawyer and insurance agency to ensure that you are working within the law.
This is one position that should be paid and well compensated. Given that managing a hostel can be a pretty full-on affair, you want your manager to not only be happy in the role but also be accountable. Underpaying the manager, or *not paying*, often leads to a shoulder-shrug philosophy when dealing with problems rather than a productive, pro-active philosophy. A decent pay-check every two weeks can often work wonders to soothe bristled nerves during the busy season.
Besides a salary, think about offering incentive pay to the manager. For example, you can offer your manager $X per 5-star rating received, or X% on selling tours that offer commissions. Another common incentive payment is a percentage of the profits, which is designed to motivate the manager to keep the hostel's beds full as much as possible. If the manager is getting the same pay-check whether the rooms are full or not, and there is a lot less work to be done in an empty hostel, there is little reason for the manager to make extra efforts to sell the beds.
For more information about hiring a manager, Courtney Loechl has written a blog post about how best to use your manager effectively here.
Reception & Cleaning Staff
Reception staff might be another position where you want to pay, but not nearly as important as the manager. Paid staff on reception may keep backpackers around longer for those hostels struggling to find good help. But perhaps, hostels in the city can run smoothly strictly using volunteers.
Receptionists require a little in-depth training because they have the role of greeting guests, taking phone calls, dealing with money and learning the hostel's computer programs. They should know a little bit about the area as well so that they can advise guests on where to eat, or go dancing, or where to find the best swimming hole. Ideally, you will have receptionists that will stick around at least for 3 months, but that may be more feasible in large tourist cities than in small villages.
Cleaners, however, are generally less time-consuming for training. Very often, it is easy to find a current guest who has cleaned for hostels before and has an idea of how to use the vacuum, so you only spend a short amount of time showing them what to do. (Although, I have had cleaners who have never seen an American upright vacuum before and struggled to figure it out. Some folks do require a little more guidance here and there.)
That said, you may need to pay your cleaning staff as well, either due to laws or perhaps just have a very high standard of cleaning that you cannot leave to short-term backpackers. Whatever works best for your situation.
Increasingly, you are likely to find digital nomads that are literally working their way around the world and getting paid by doing work on their laptop. Digital nomads frequently are highly educated, have good language and writing skills and understand what hostels are all about. They can help with work like:
- Website Content Writing for SEO
- Social Media Marketing
- Website design and creation
- Administrative assistance (i.e. Airbnb communications)
Digital Nomads can be found on sites like UpWork but be sure to make sure applicants have stayed in hostels and know what they are about. You might also have Digital Nomads in your hostel right now. Ask your favorite guests who seem to be working in your common room what they do for a living. Perhaps they will help you now or even after they have departed to another country.
Virtual Assistants are excellent for routine and monotonous online work. Generally (but not always), many Virtual Assistants will have less education and perhaps not as developed English language skills than Digital Nomads. However, they usually are located in developing countries where the prevailing wages are lower.
Virtual Assistants can help with tasks like:
- Competitor Pricing Analysis
- Posting content (written by others) to your website
- Providing immediate responses to potential guest inquiries when you are closed
- Researching websites that could be affiliate marketers of your website
Virtual Assistants can also be found on websites such as UpWork.
Tracking hours of Digital Nomads and Virtual Assistants
Platforms like UpWork provide an online time-tracking app so you can see exactly the number of hours each of your remote workers have spent working. These apps even take a screenshot of the worker's computer while they are working so you can assure yourself they were working on the tasks they have been assigned.
If you are not using UpWork, you can use an app called HubStaff that will do the same thing as UpWork's time tracking.
Work for Accommodation - Work Exchange and Volunteers
What do you offer in exchange for work to your Volunteers? Accommodation only, or do you include food and activities, like free surf lessons?
There are as many different scenarios to this option as there are hostels. Some hostels will have a lot of volunteers that work for maybe 20 hours a week in exchange for accommodation and dinner. Some hostels may decide that only having the cleaning staff as volunteers will suffice. Lately, I have seen a couple of instances in New Zealand where the hostel only has a volunteer "night manager" from 10 pm until 8 am; this volunteer receives free accommodation but is paid only if he\she is needed during those hours.
If you choose to staff your hostel strictly with volunteers, there are a few differences in legalities to keep in mind. You will still want to set up a working agreement for both of you to sign. And, generally, you don't want to use unpaid staff for doing things that a guest would be unlikely to do in a normal hostel environment. For example, it's probably not a good idea to have volunteers climbing ladders or working with power tools. However, permissible risks will vary from country to country.
Sites to find workers
Do you know of other websites or avenues to help find reliable staff for your hostel? Share them with us, so that we can get the word out and help others who may be struggling.