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Serviced apartments have today established themselves as essential forms of accommodation for employees worldwide.
But amid the wide range of serviced apartments available, how can HR leaders tell the difference between a great serviced apartment and a good one? Jerene Ang finds out.
With more companies outsourcing and offshoring their business services, and employing workers for short-term assignments and fixed term contracts, serviced apartments have become a real alternative to hotels and various other forms of accommodation.
They have, specifically, emerged to be quite popular for short-term stays of up to six months for the corporate traveller.
In fact, according to The Apartment Service’s Global Serviced Apartment industry report for 2015/2016, 81.48% of respondents prefer serviced apartments to hotels compared with 78.1% in 2013.
Apart from the typical considerations such as cost, location and amenities such as Wi-Fi, various HR experts believe it is a combination of various factors which have contributed in leading to an increase in popularity of serviced apartments.
But what differentiates a high-class serviced apartment from an average one?
Sheila Teyu, senior advisor of global mobility and immigration for Asia Pacific and Japan at Dell, is of the opinion that an average serviced apartment would meet expectations, but a superior serviced apartment would exceed them.
Going the extra mile
She gave the example of an assignee staying in a preferred apartment who was rattled after receiving a random phone scam scare.
“While this had nothing to do with the serviced apartment she was staying in, I did call the apartment to just make them aware of the situation and to make sure they screen her calls. The management staff not only promised to do so, they actually had their security team take the extra step to speak and assure this assignee of their security measures,” Teyu says.
“This incident added to my peace of mind that our team members are in good hands with this apartment. I don’t think we would have gotten that level of support from an average serviced apartment.”
Going the extra mile to take care of employees’ needs is among the factors which have resulted in the rise in popularity of serviced apartments.
“Serviced apartments are a great option to keep the feeling of home so as not to lose your work-life balance,” says Desiree Wu, director of talent and marketing for APAC/Singapore at Possible.
“They are generally larger than hotel rooms and so give the employee a feeling of home. It really is about having your own creature comforts wherever you go.
“Hotels have been supplying it for a very long time, but I think serviced apartments are really stepping up and taking over especially when it comes to the price comparison when it comes to a longer stay.”
John Lackey, director of global mobility at Jabil, adds that “serviced apartments provide the option and flexibility to cook, not having to eat out or depend on room service so I think there’s a lot more employee satisfaction as well”.
Leveraging on such benefits of serviced apartments are also the way top-tier serviced apartments can differentiate themselves from average ones.
Wu adds it is beneficial if serviced apartments have “add-ons like a gym or swimming pool” as “health and fitness” are priorities which employees are increasingly trying to fulfil.
She highlights that “travel plans can also often get pushed out, so serviced apartments that have flexible start dates and early or late check-ins/checkouts” can also prove to be an indicator of better serviced apartments.
“Some people might plan a midnight flight – and for a hotel it’s easy to get into – but when it’s a serviced apartment, you have got to look at getting keys and things like that,” she says.
“The agents we have worked with are amazing and have done the 2am run to pick someone up from the airport to get them into the serviced apartment so we love the people we work with. I think it’s the agent that really makes a difference.”
High standards of quality and service
T.J. Spencer, vice-president of sales and managing director for APAC at Oakwood Worldwide, notes that serviced apartments are able to empower assignees to achieve a good work-life balance by enabling them to set their own schedule and enjoy daily activities in a home-like environment.
“By partnering with a serviced apartment provider, assignees can reach a sense of familiarity and comfort more quickly. They understand regional differences and provide on-the-ground support, helping to increase productivity in the workplace throughout the assignment,” Spencer says.
But while it is common for serviced apartments to offer such benefits, Lackey thinks the differentiating factor between a good and great apartment lies in the fittings and fixtures, amenities, size of the apartment and add-ons such as a free breakfast.
This is mainly because these play an important role in enhancing the entire experience of the employee in question.
From his experience, he notes “the high-end serviced apartments tend to be laid out more like five-star hotels in terms of fittings, fixtures and amenities”.
On the other hand, he points out that “while the medium to lower tier apartments aren’t considered bad, they just don’t have that kind of five-star luxury layout. At the same time, the sizes can also be a bit smaller”.
To that, Wu adds the top serviced apartments don’t cut corners on the essentials and offer great add-ons that upsell their quality.
“Quality inclusions include a well-supported mattress, comfortable linen and pillow choices, coffee machines with good quality coffee as well as books in your apartment for things like shortcuts to app downloads for taxis, and local area guides for best restaurants and downtime activity,” she says.
Maintaining consistency in service
Last, but not least, for a serviced apartment to be among the best, there has to be consistency in its service.
Eddy Neo, regional human resources director for South Asia at Ingersoll Rand SEA, notes that through his personal experience, “I have stayed in Oakwood in Jakarta, Indonesia and Pune, India and they are excellent properties”.
“Though I haven’t stayed in very many serviced apartments, having stayed in Indonesia before going over to India, one thing I realised that was good is the consistency of the service they provide,” he says.
He highlights that at least in “the context of Singapore, if everything else is the same in terms of facilities and comfort, I think budget and location will play a part” in differentiating various standards of serviced apartments.
“If they have to pay for their daily commute themselves, then I would probably advise them to go for one that is nearer to the train station.”
He also notes there will be significant cost savings especially when it comes to furniture and utensil allowance. Since these items are typically already provided for in serviced apartments, they allow organisations to save on such expenses.
“Serviced apartments also usually provide cleaning services so employees don’t have to worry about that aspect.”
While understanding the benefits of a great serviced apartment have boosted their popularity, the wide range of such apartments today has also made the process of choosing one more complicated.
According to The Apartment Service’s Global Serviced Apartment industry report for 2015/2016, in line with that increase in demand, the global supply of serviced apartments has increased by 14% since the previous edition of the report published in June 2013.
Believing the market for serviced apartments has doubled over the past 12 years, Charlie McCrow, CEO of The Apartment Service, forecasts it will double in size again in the next four years.
In just seven years, the number of serviced apartments has seen an 80.1% increase. Currently there are 748,437 serviced apartments worldwide and 69.12% of operators are planning to increase the number of apartments in existing locations over the next two years, predominately in Europe and Asia.
With so many serviced apartments to choose from, what should HR leaders consider when selecting the ideal accommodation for their employees?
A solid reputation
Teyu points out that serviced apartments should be reputable.
“This is important because you do not want to put your assignees in an unauthorised serviced apartment,” she says.
“In Singapore, serviced apartment providers are regulated by the government, so it is especially important that we only use serviced apartments that have the necessary operating licence.”
She adds that location should be a consideration beyond just proximity to the office or accessibility to transportation.
“For Dell, our serviced apartment locations must be approved by our internal security team as well.”
Neo adds the level of comfort and security of the apartment is also an important factor.
“Though we are safe in Singapore, these days travellers have this heightened sense of safety and security so we have to ensure employees feel safe as well.”
Lackey adds that for him, safety and security is definitely a point of consideration.
“A lot of properties do need to go through a safety and security review for various reasons and I think sometimes that gets overlooked,” he says.
Additionally, Spencer says: “With the recent international incidents of terrorism and international security concerns top of mind, duty of care should be high on the agenda for many serviced apartment providers.
“If a company does not have a well-developed duty of care process to protect your employees and to communicate with you should something happen, you may wish to continue looking for a company that will be a stronger partner for you.”
In a unanimous agreement, cost is listed as a point of consideration when selecting a serviced apartment.
Teyu explains: “In today’s cost environment, keeping to a prescribed housing budget is important for us.”
While keeping to the budget, she also points out that service and apartment quality should not be sacrificed.
To that, Lackey adds that when selecting serviced apartments, one should be careful to avoid any hidden costs.
“Years ago, in Singapore, a new property opened up in the Orchard area that became fairly popular quickly and a lot of our expats and business travellers wanted to stay there.
“While it wasn’t an expensive property, it did not have any washers and dryers and instead had a laundry room which it sold tokens to.
“The tokens were something between $3 to $5 per token and by the end of the month, employees were racking up laundry expenses in the hundreds of dollars.”
Range of services
Employee feedback is also pointed out as an important consideration.
“While either our company or our relocation management vendor do conduct regular site visits to serviced apartment premises, it is not always the same as staying there. Hence, we take employee feedback very seriously, which has resulted in us having to re-evaluate the suitability of some properties,” Teyu says.
She further reiterates the need for employers to remember the basic facilities and necessities needed to function in their everyday lives.
“There are other considerations like cleaning services, in-house facilities with a good kitchenette and laundry facilities and let’s not forget Wi-Fi,” Wu says.
Spencer also explains that when selecting serviced apartments, “organisations should feel supported with the booking process, billing issues and any legalities, and should been taken through the full range of accommodation solutions that fit with organisational culture and are compliant with all laws and ordinances”.
“When evaluating companies, if they can’t provide you with a single point of contact they may not be the right fit for you,” she says.
In the future, as business travel evolves to include more global assignments and extended trips, the needs of business travellers will also evolve.
In line with that, Spencer says: “Serviced apartments will continue to thrive and be an integral accommodation solution, providing space, flexibility and a home away from home environment for organisations worldwide.
“The success of the serviced apartment model has prompted providers to respond robustly to the world’s global workforce by expanding and diversifying their portfolios.”
After having a look at the various considerations, here’s a quick and handy list to refer to when selecting a serviced apartment for your next assignee.
Reputation of the apartment – make sure the apartments are authorised in order to avoid legal implications.
Location of the apartment and accessibility to transportation – you want to make sure employees can easily get to offices and meeting places from where they are.
Comfort – ensure employees have those creature comforts wherever they go.
Safety and security and duty of care – you want to have the peace of mind that your employees are in good hands while on assignment.
Costs – ensure the apartment is within budget while not sacrificing on quality and try to avoid hidden costs.
Employee feedback – because site visits are not the same as actually staying there.
Basic amenities – these are the essential things your employees need for everyday life. For example, laundry machines, kitchenette, cleaning services and Wi-Fi.
Single point of contact – this prevents miscommunication and makes everything easier.