While the Covid-19 crisis was brutal for the hotel sector, some players spotted that it could also serve as a lever for accelerating innovation. The health crisis brought new and unexpected challenges to the fore, but above all it drove digitalization to a new level. This was the case for onefinestay, a luxury hotel company wholly owned by the Accor group, which recently set about reinventing its digital and tech processes. We met with Guillaume Fontana, CTO of onefinestay, to find out more about these new challenges, and to better understand how freelancing and Malt allows him to respond to those challenges.
Established in London in 2010, onefinestay is now part of the Accor Group, joining other luxury brands such as Fairmont and Raffles. onefinestay opens doors to the finest homes and villas in the most desirable destinations and delivers a one-of-a-kind service to guests, homeowners and travel partners around the world. With each memorable stay, they deliver a level of personal service and professional hospitality unmatched in the private rental industry.
Hello Guillaume, can you introduce yourself and your role within onefinestay (Accor group)?
I am onefinestay’s CTO, meaning that I am in charge of defining the technical strategy of the company, and I am responsible for anything that is tech-related. This includes the internal developments, the infrastructure of our systems, Salesforce administration and development, Data engineering and BI, and IT Support.
This year, I am also overseeing the digital transformation of the company. We are currently migrating the majority of our internal systems to external providers. This means documenting all our current processes and mapping them in the future tools that we will be using.
What are your main challenges today as a CTO?
The travel industry has been upping its game – technically speaking – since the Covid pandemic, and there are lots of internal initiatives to cope with this transformation.
It means that I need to be flexible and deal with many projects; some large and challenging, and some small and easy.
Resource planning is very difficult to do, as many things can change in a short period of time.
Additionally, this transformation project that I’m responsible for is bringing some complexity where we need to adapt some of our processes to the new provider. Again, flexibility is a very important skill for this type of exploratory work.
In terms of talent recruitment, what are the challenges you have to face? Talent shortage, competition…
Talent shortage has been, and is, one of the main challenges when it comes to recruiting developers, especially in Python and React. This is true within any industry today.
I mean, there are lots of developers out there, but finding talent, alongside eagerness to learn and the ability to adapt to different challenges can be difficult.
Attractiveness is an important factor as well. Pure players have changed the game, and are more attractive, because they have a lot of visibility, especially on the B2C market.
At onefinestay, we generally don’t have pure tech projects which require highly experienced developers, meaning we “just” recruit good developers.
But sometimes, we do require a few experienced profiles, and planning for both types of profiles can become a headache.
What strategy do you have in place to meet your recruitment needs to find experts/skills? Is freelancing a solution?
I am very cautious regarding permanent recruitments. Being in the travel industry, and especially after the events of the Covid pandemic, I’ve seen that things can change incredibly quickly. What was needed or planned one year ago is not always true the year after.
Regardless, when it comes to recruiting for a permanent position, I have no other choice than using recruitment agencies or head hunters who are able to find the right talents in this very challenging market.
But again; as we are in a very moving situation, with new projects and strategies, I need to “test”. This involves creating Proof of Concepts and MVPs, which often requires adjusting my team size and skills, and freelancing is a very good solution for that.
In what context do you call upon external consultants (project reinforcement, complete team building, replacement, etc.)?
My permanent team size is relatively small. It doesn’t allow for much improvisation. We know what we have to do, and it is almost set in stone for the few months to come.
But obviously, like in any company, new initiatives and projects can rise very quickly. That’s where external consultants are useful. If a new project is pushed by the business teams, and we need to move fast, then a freelancer is a good option to kick it off and prepare the handover for the permanent team afterwards.
I will just add that project reinforcements and temporary replacements for leavers are also a good reason to use external consultants.
What are the professions/profiles for which the use of external consultants is favoured?
First and foremost, talented developers; because they are so difficult to find on the “permanent market”.
Talented freelance developers are somewhat easier to find today, and that is a great adjustment lever. As a CTO, that is my main reason for using external consultants.
PMOs are also a good reason to use external consultants, especially for bigger projects, when resources are lacking internally, and when it doesn’t make sense to have a full time PMO position in the company.
Today we talk a lot about “mixed” or “hybrid” teams mixing external talents and employees, what do you think of this new organization?
I don’t think it should matter if the team is hybrid. At least, I don’t want to make any differences. In theory, talents are people, and people are all part of one team when they are working together.
In practice, let’s face it, the company’s culture is somehow difficult to share with external talents, meaning these talents are not always 100% integrated with the rest of the team. That’s the deal you are making when recruiting externally and is acceptable as long as it doesn’t last too long.
Overall, hybrid teams are working well. But if an external talent remains on the same task or project for more than a year (or so), it means that the resource planning has failed. My job was not done correctly, or the company strategy was not defined well enough.
In both cases, I am convinced that this would bring the team’s mood down. Both individuals and teams need consistency and a well defined strategy to achieve their full potential.
In summary, hybrid teams are not an issue, this is more related to how you are assigning projects, to which talents in your team.
Do you have an example of a successful project carried out by mixed teams?
We are currently working on two very strategic projects for the company. The external talents are bringing the specific technical expertise I need for these projects, while my internal team is working with them to learn and improve their skills so they can take over these projects in the future, but also bring the knowledge on our current architecture so the freelancers can get up to speed as fast as possible.
One of these projects is already released in production, and this is a success. My internal team has the knowledge on the code, and the freelancer managed to integrate everything with our current architecture successfully.
This is a win-win situation, where everybody improves their skills.
How do you ensure that freelancers and employees work together in the best possible way? Can you give us some concrete examples?
We are a 100% remote company, meaning we don’t meet a lot. That can be a problem when it comes to ensuring that a hybrid team is working effectively.
When recruiting freelancers, I obviously have a list of hard skills to validate. But to work around the issue of not meeting enough, I tend to focus on soft skills. I always talk a lot about my team’s organization, how they work, their hard skills, their soft skills, and I make sure that the freelancer is aligned with all these.
I can obviously make mistakes, but between 2 good profiles, if one is better technically speaking, but the soft skills don’t match our culture, then I’ll go for the other profile.
Teams are not an addition of hard skills, they are a mix of different people, with complementary soft skills. This is my main focus, and I think that’s what makes my team efficient today.
How does working with a partner like Malt help simplify your collaborations and those of your teams with freelancers?
Malt is wide enough to have an extremely well furnished portfolio of great talents (at least until now).
Each time I needed an additional freelancer, the account manager was here to listen to my needs, advised on how to state the mission, and pushed several profiles to review.
And each time, a very good match was part of these profiles. That is one of the key reasons that I’m working with Malt a lot today.
Malt making contractualization and freelancer payments a seamless process is obviously a plus, but this is not their key differentiator on the market.
What do you think are the 3 main advantages of Malt?
- Great talent portfolio
- Great Account Manager – reactive and efficient
- Seamless process of starting a mission and paying the freelancer