Multifamily Execs Focus on Communication

Industry leaders shed light on navigating a turbulent time at NMHC's 2020 OPTECH Virtual Conference.

Stephanie Williams directs the operations and an array of specialized initiatives for an apartment portfolio of 77,000 units across over 265 properties in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southern regions

Stephanie Williams, President, Bozzuto Management Co.

The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. tested multifamily owners and operators like few other crises in recent memory, confronting the industry with an array of challenges including how to effectively communicate with staff and residents. At the National Multifamily Housing Council’s 2020 OPTECH Virtual Conference, top executives shared their lessons learned and shed light on how the industry has navigated the turbulence over the past nine months.

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Some companies, like Bozzuto Management Co. and Allied Orion Group, decided to create internal task forces to manage the unfolding challenges in an organized way, the NMHC Power Panel discussion revealed. Bozzuto, which manages more than 80,000 multifamily units with a total workforce of around 2,800 employees, initially grappled with the difficulties of honing its communication with residents, partners, vendors and clients. “Information was coming fast and furious,” noted President Stephanie Williams.

“We needed, albeit with some adjustments, to be available for our residents who were all of a sudden home more,” she said, adding that around 70 percent of the company’s renters are single.

Bozzuto also decided to increase its focus on its employees’ mental health, launching a wellness portal on its intranet in order to support its teams with emotional stability and help them find healthcare providers. “That’s been really helpful in taking the burden off the primary core of our workforce, which are young parents,” Williams said.

Picking up the phone

Ricardo Rivas, CEO, Allied Orion Group. Image courtesy of Allied Orion Group

Bozzuto Group’s President & CEO Toby Bozzuto also decided to call each of the company’s nearly 300 properties, talking with whomever answered the phone to express his support. “The acknowledgement that they are out there, slaying dragons if you will and guarding the front lines has been really important,” Williams noted.

Ricardo Rivas, CEO of Allied Orion Group, noted on the same panel that the company’s executives visited its properties to make sure that employees felt appreciated. Allied Orion, a multifamily investment firm with around 25,000 units under third-party management in eight states, also established a life assistance program, a hotline enabling employees to talk through their emotional challenges.

“Our regional VPs were constantly going when they could: delivering balloons, cards, notes, emails, purchasing dinners through our on-staff associates, hosting Zoom happy hours,” he said, as well as sending positive messages through social media.

RKW Residential is also conducting personal phone calls to residents, noted President Marcie Williams, adding that bringing back non-emergency service requests has been a great opportunity to reconnect with renters and make sure everything is okay.

The third-party management firm with properties across six states, mainly in the Southeast, has also held a variety of virtual events to keep its 500-strong staff motivated and mentally healthy, the executive said, including happy hours, bingo, a cookie baking contest and an ugly sweater contest currently being planned.

Smaller events and more frequent communication are key, she added. “It’s really about our team members working onsite,” she said. “We’ve done fun videos and some other heartfelt thank-you videos to keep them motivated and show our support.”

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