Morale may be low in Victoria as the state’s second lockdown drags on, but the executive team at Zagame Corporation is making sure it keeps up the positivity for staff.

The first week of the Stage 4 lockdown was a busy time for Melbourne pub operators, including Zagame Corporation, as they figured out what business operations would like under the new restrictions. While many operators were somewhat prepared by both the 23 March lockdown and the stage 3 restrictions they had been enduring beforehand, the new headache surrounded work permits.

Any business that required its staff to work away from home, would need to arrange individual work permits for each team member, and could face harsh new penalties if those permits weren’t arranged swiftly.

By operating via a takeaway and delivery model, Zagame Corporation had to organise work permits for staff members across five venues – depending on the venue, this could be anywhere between 4-20 staff per day. The payroll and HR teams worked well into the early hours of the morning in those initial days to ensure that all staff has their permits ready to go. They even made use of an app to make sure their roster of shifts was easily accessible, to ensure they are covered if they are questioned by police. At a time where every step out of the house is fraught, the Zagame team has ensured that their staff don’t have to worry about heading into work.

New skills and a new way of thinking

With trade reduced to retail, takeaway and delivery, Zagame Corporation operations manager Chris Christou says new ways of engaging with customers is crucial, and getting your staff on board with this new way of thinking is key.

“For us, customer and staff engagement is very important. And we’re doing that through different marketing streams that we’ve never used before. That’s through things like Uber Eats and YouTube channels, and just understanding that digital space of impressions and returning customers, and conversion rates.”

Where before the team were concerned with getting customers in the door, moving them through different parts of the venue and then getting them to return, now it’s about getting them to buy takeaway and remain engaged with the venue even when they can’t be on the premises. A big part of the answer lies in staff looking to their own lives during lockdown and their needs.

“How can we make a customer’s life easier? We’re just leveraging on the things we’re dealing with as well. What would make our lives easier and how can Zagames help?” suggests Christou.

Part of this new way of thinking and operating is learning new skills – something which the group has encouraged to keep staff engaged throughout the crisis.

“Obviously with reduced resources in our business – in every business – people are learning new skills.”

The group has engaged with a training app to keep staff working and learning, and remains invested in the process.

Staff morale

Staff wellbeing has been key to getting Zagame’s venues through the uncertainty of the last six months, and is seen as crucial to get the business in a good position at the end of this crisis.

“We’re in a situation we’ve never been in before, and our strategy at the moment is trying to be the best, and trying to provide the best outcome for the cards you’ve been dealt. The most important thing to achieve that is keeping our staff morale up, to put us in a better position when we reopen, whenever that is,” states Christou.

Rather than getting bogged down in all the anxiety and uncertainty of the current situation, management has ensured that staff are focused on the positivity of what they’re doing, and building camaraderie between the team.

The group now has a private Facebook group where staff, including COO Jackie Booth, post updates and lots of engaging tidbits. The group is nearing its 50th anniversary and as such, they’ve been using the Facebook platform to post old photos of the group, and highlight team members who have been with Zagame Corporation for quite some time.

“We’re just creating a positive outlook on what is a pretty crappy situation,” explains Christou.

Where people are currently inundated with bad news at every turn, Zagame Corporation is making sure that work is a safe haven away from all of the negativity.

“Staff go home and have to deal with their financials and their mental health, and so to us coming into work should be the opposite, and that’s what we’re trying to work on with our team.”

This article was first published in the September issue of Australian Hotelier, which you can view below.

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