With Challenges Still Ahead, Companies Must Adapt and Pivot

For those who stay nimble, unforeseen circumstances create opportunities, writes Dru Armstrong of Grace Hill.
Dru Armstrong

The lockdowns, social distancing, working and virtual learning, the rise of e-commerce and a slew of other social changes stemming from the coronavirus pandemic in the past seven months have fragmented consumer habits and forced businesses to reorient. This moment is a real-life test that resembles the kind of impossible challenge a business school professor might assign to MBA students, forcing them to think as creatively and out-of-the-box as possible.

Now more than ever we should heed the lesson of those academic exercises: Unforeseen challenges, if overcome, become opportunities for those who can adapt. And, as the multifamily housing industry becomes used to the new normal and consumers settle into new habits, companies are indeed adapting and finding opportunities to pivot.

Is now the time to cut costs or invest in growth?

Keeping with the academic mindset, the risky part of any case study assignment is developing a thesis about what’s going to happen and then offering up an efficient solution. Looking at the changes and their implications in one’s daily life is often a good way to start.

Every CEO should ask themselves whether they’ll grow their companies by cutting. The answer is almost always “no” because spending more wisely is almost always the solution. Companies must reorganize according to the market.

As part of that process, especially now as budgets are being prepared for next year, most are considering whether to retain or cut technology that might cost too much, serve only some of their business, create too many headaches, take too much time or make too many mistakes.

In retrospect, many multifamily housing companies splurged on technology in the runup to 2020. Many are now reconsidering their choices, trying to figure out which point solutions to keep or if jumping ship to a more general package of tech tools would be a better move. As companies examine whether they’re getting the most out of their current technology, they should also take note of which of their tech partners are already looking for insights into the future based on what people are doing now.

Focus on technology that alleviates challenges and increases efficiency and productivity

Today we scan a bar code outside a coffee shop or restaurant to pull up a menu and make an order. We deposit checks on our phones. We buy items on an app. Social distancing has taken a terrible toll on the economy in the short term. But already we can see how businesses are developing new, often much more efficient and smarter ways to operate under different conditions.

In multifamily housing, think of the many day-to-day, face-to-face transactions that mobile app solutions and other tech could accomplish more quickly and efficiently, saving time and money for tenants, property managers, landlords, employees and other stakeholders. Such tools would improve, not hinder, human interaction because it would free up people to deal with the unique issues that people are more suited to resolve. It also gives employees on those front lines a chance to analyze data so companies can optimize and perform better.

These efficiencies can be taken a step further. Consider children learning online at home. It’s not the best for all children all the time. But for some kids it’s been a success, thanks to intrepid educators and the companies that produce the platforms that, while imperfect, saved education.

In the multifamily housing industry, discussions and information can be exchanged between tenants, property managers, landlords, employees and others through live or recorded online meetings and high-quality videos that don’t require travel, can run strict schedules and overall serve the same purpose as other customer service avenues at less cost, faster speed and, often, the same if not higher quality.

Again, the idea is not to supplant human interaction, but to make less productive human interactions less necessary and to give businesses more resources to focus on their most important needs. Empowering people will go further than handing the direction of one’s business to technology.

Understand the trends that will impact future demand

Right now the multifamily housing industry is seeing a massive shifting around residents as people have started moving for a variety of personal, financial, and work-related reasons. Some are moving out of denser, expensive urban areas and seeking more space in the suburbs, while others look for homes that will better accommodate their remote working and learning needs.

Companies in the multifamily housing industry are busier than ever right now, but it’s important to plan for future demand after the surge. With most experts expecting some level of recession, the companies that best understand how to put their budget to work and have the right tools in place to hear the voices of residents and be responsive will be best positioned to succeed. Leasing in a boom economy is very different than leasing in a recession economy, and the companies with the greatest talent management have the best chance of signing and renewing residents.

The industry is going to be okay. Short and long-term challenges will continue to put pressure on business models, but the companies that are able to find new opportunities and adapt will ultimately emerge in a better position.

Dru Armstrong is the CEO of Grace Hill, a provider of technology-enabled policy, training and assessment tools to develop and retain property management talent.