Multifamily property managers have been classified as essential workers since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. They will remain so as vaccination efforts ramp up. In fact, property managers have a unique role to play in what hopefully will be the final round in the fight against COVID-19. That role will be challenging, of course. But facing those challenges head-on will yield opportunities to innovate with new technologies, retain residents and staff, and improve companies’ bottom lines.
The formula for success starts with clear communications, progresses as property managers build trust by demonstrating that they value the health, safety and time of their residents and employees, and ends with higher revenues and lower costs. Along the way, multifamily housing companies who stick to this formula will have numerous chances to leverage new technologies and other tools to provide more efficient services.
Communication appears simple on first blush. It raises thorny questions, however. Property managers can’t (and shouldn’t) mandate that residents receive vaccines. The multifamily housing industry is now largely refraining from mandating vaccinations for staff, too, though technically they can require them with certain exceptions, as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently explained.
Property managers can, however, educate residents and employees about vaccinations in their community using authoritative information that’s available through federal, state and local public health departments, hospitals and other institutions like the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks new cases and analyzes other data. The goal is to provide the information necessary for people to make their own informed decisions.
Posting signs and providing informational literature in common areas and via paper correspondence and emails are the most obvious places to begin. If companies stop there, however, they might not reach enough people to maximize their impact. Supplying housing residents and employees with mobile and online tools that point them to resources that determine their vaccine eligibility and answer frequently asked questions about side effects, efficacy and other issues will go a long way in normalizing vaccines among those who are confused, intimidated or skeptical of the process.
Using technology is a way of meeting people where they are. Residents are spending most of their time indoors. Many are working virtually. They don’t want to linger in common areas or touch pamphlets and other materials. Imagine if they received updates on the number of local vaccinations, experiences with vaccines that their neighbors have shared and other related news on their own schedules. The same applies to workers who often say they don’t have enough time to finish the training and professional development they need to raise morale and their level of service.
This approach may or may not convince people to seek out vaccinations. It will undoubtedly convey, however, that property managers care intensely about the health and welfare of their residents and colleagues. Most property managers have introduced deeper cleaning policies in common areas and employee work zones for a similar purpose. Disinfection is important. Making sure residents and workers know that their spaces have been disinfected is equally vital. It puts minds at rest.
The psychological element is key here. People trust those who care for them. A lack of trust, meanwhile, is perhaps the multifamily housing industry’s biggest problem. Replacing residents is expensive, even in hot rental markets. Concerns about cleanliness, maintenance, neighbor screening and similar issues are important drivers of turnover. Especially amid a pandemic, property managers must prove that they take those concerns seriously.
Again, the same applies to workers. Housing leaders shouldn’t be surprised if staff become more inclined to search out greener fields if they feel as if their bosses aren’t taking every necessary precaution against COVID-19. A third of property management staff already turns over annually. That’s around 10 percent more than the national average in other industries. Replacing them can cost the equivalent of months of their salaries. New measures were necessary before COVID-19 even came about.
Training applications, online tools and other technology can boost retention. They can also showcase the many changes that the multifamily housing industry has enacted in the past year: e-signatures, virtual apartment showings, intra-housing messaging apps and group discussion forums, streaming training videos, and online applications for residency, employment and professional certifications.
Less turnover on the talent and resident side turns into cost savings in the near term and higher revenues in the long term, due to increased productivity. Innovative technologies amplify those gains even further, improving sentiments that can prevent turnover and implementing efficiencies that will save time and money. The mass vaccinations underway across the country give multifamily property managers a shrinking window of time to carry out these changes. They should act now to lay the foundation that will enable them to enjoy the benefits for years to come.
Dru Armstrong is the CEO of Grace Hill, a provider of technology-enabled policy, training and assessment tools.