Navigating Technology, Staff Retention in Property Management

Panelists at IREM 2023 discussed hiring and AI.

Linda Caradine-Poinsett, CEO & Executive Vice President, IREM; Cindy Clare, COO, Bell Partners; Karen Whitt, President of Real Estate Management Services, Colliers; and Keith Major, Managing Partner, BentallGreenOak. Image by Denile Doyle

Owners and operators are facing an ongoing struggle with the hiring and retention of property management staff as companies face a surplus of vacancies and not enough people to fill the positions. As owners cope with staffing shortages and high turnover rates on leasing and property management teams, technology is offering more ways to support employees and create an environment where they can thrive.

At the 2023 Institute or Real Estate Management‘s Global Summit ‘State of the Industry Breakfast,’ IREM CEO & Executive Vice President Linda Caradine-Poinsett spoke with industry experts about how they are navigating this area.

A heavier workload can put additional pressure on under-staffed teams, but technology can help with that. “Artificial intelligence offers a way to fill the gap by handling many administrative or tedious tasks,” said Minna Song, co-founder & CEO of Elise AI.

Technology can even minimize the impact of staff turnover, making it less disruptive when someone leaves and a new person must be trained for the open role. However, not all new hires will stay with a company for decades. “I need to have tools to help me retain their knowledge and experience to transfer to the next person,” said Karen Whitt, president of real estate management services at Colliers.

It can be difficult to do things in a different way and adding new tech to the mix can make it more frustrating. This is true in an area such as maintenance where, in some cases, things have been done the same way for many years. “It takes finding that person with the skill set, the ability and the willingness to learn,” commented Keith Major, a managing partner at BentallGreenOak’s Canada office.

Prioritizing employees

Panelists agreed that new and existing team members alike need support in different areas. Managers should assess each person individually, based on their needs and preferences, because not everyone wants the same thing. As a manager, understanding your people starts with knowing what they want in their career, suggested Whitt. “Do they want more flexibility or work-life balance?” To retain employees, it is important to keep their work interesting and to reduce some of the pressure they face, advised Major.

Workplace culture is also an important part of supporting staff. At Bell Partners, COO Cindy Clare and the firm’s CEO meet with new associates monthly to talk to them about company culture and growth. And it’s not always about promotion. “People want to know how you can help them. Some people don’t want to be promoted,” said Clare. Determining what each person values is key to supporting them in reaching their career goals.

Employee resource groups are a valuable way to support employees because they provide connections and give team members a stronger sense of belonging. “You need to develop people by exposing them to additional support that falls outside their reporting structure,” noted Whitt. Colliers’ women’s group has more than 900 members and the firm has set a goal for growing it to 1,000 members in 2024.

Training opportunities are essential for growth, but it’s not just for new hires. Colliers encourages its employees to take advantage of opportunities outside the organization. These can include conferences, certifications and classroom learning. Internally, the company has expanded their training formats to include avatars and role playing in Zoom rooms. “That has been hugely successful for having difficult conversations about unconscious bias,” shared Clare.

Training can happen across generations. Bringing in a fresh perspective is not a bad thing, said Clare. Particularly when it comes to technology, new hires can often bring skills and knowledge that can be an asset to the entire team.

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