Last modified on March 24th, 2020
By Brittany Benz
Social distancing due to COVID-19 continues to impact life as we know it in the United States. Many businesses have gone remote, restaurants have closed their doors, and major events have been postponed. With all the disruptions, there’s one thing that hasn’t stopped for property and community association managers, and that’s maintenance requests, repairs, and upkeep.
In times like these, it’s hard to know what to do — and you’re not alone — many managers are asking the same questions:
- How can I continue my maintenance operations when I can’t go onsite?
- How can I provide my customers with the level of service they expect when they don’t want a maintenance technician to enter their home?
- How do I ensure the safety of my technicians and my residents while still getting work done?
- How should I manage maintenance requests for common areas in my community associations?
These are difficult questions, and while we can’t answer all of them, we can offer you some simple ways to approach maintenance requests at this time. Here are 5 things property and community managers can do right now to maintain their maintenance operations during social distancing:
1.) Defer Non-Urgent Repairs
One thing you can do immediately to reduce person-to-person contact for your residents and staff is to postpone non-emergency repairs. Start by communicating this to your residents via email or text message, letting them know it’s for their safety and your staff’s. Be empathetic towards their issue and ensure them you will follow-up with their request at a later date. By deferring these types of requests, your maintenance technicians can focus their energies on essential repairs — like roof leaks, plumbing stoppages, and water main breaks — so your property stays running smoothly.
If there is an urgent repair that must be completed on the property, regardless of whether it’s inside or outside, make sure your staff is equipped with protective gear, like latex gloves, face masks, and sanitization supplies. In addition, communicate with your residents that your team is following CDC recommended protocols and offer to enter their unit while they are out on a walk to further minimize contact.
2.) Optimize Communications
With many of your team members working remotely and fewer technicians onsite, it can be difficult to make sure you’re communicating effectively when it comes to maintenance requests and repairs. Fortunately, there are mobile tools that can help you streamline communications.
For instance, AppFolio’s Online Portal allows residents to quickly submit maintenance requests from their home with the click of a button. This makes it easier for your team to track each request and provide a consistent level of customer service. With the Online Portal, you can also email your vendors or maintenance technicians within a work order to quickly cancel or adjust vendor activities.
One AppFolio customer, Josh Wilson —Maintenance Director of JW Property Services — has found these types of tools particularly helpful. Here’s what he had to say on Instagram, “The best stress-free option we’ve found to manage all of our properties and why we recommend it to anyone in the business.”
3.) Keep Common Spaces Clean
Another way to maintain your properties and communities, while preventing the spread of COVID-19, is to clean your common areas often. Currently, the CDC recommends disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, elevator buttons, shared bathrooms, and railings daily. Make sure your cleaning staff is also equipped with protective gear when carrying out these tasks, and post signs around your communities with best hygiene practices for residents. During this time, it’s best to temporarily close spaces within your community that promote social gatherings, such as gyms, playgrounds, and pools; however, if you must keep them open, then be sure to have a rigorous cleaning regiment in place.
4.) Consult with Vendors
Along with cleanliness, it’s very important to maintain effective communication with your vendors and to make sure that they are following your same protocols. It’s a good idea to ask about their COVID-19 management plan, so you know you’re on the same page. Send out regular email updates to vendors with your communities’ guidelines for interacting with residents and carrying out maintenance tasks. In addition, develop a backup staffing plan in the event a vendor calls in sick.
5.) Conduct Virtual Inspections
Some property and community managers may have routine annual inspections scheduled in the coming weeks. During social distancing, consider postponing these, or see if residents would be open to doing a virtual inspection using their phone. Simply ask them to take photos of each room and then email or text them to your team. Once you have the photos, you can easily complete your inspection report remotely. For community associations, consider waiving late fees if violations are minuscule.
Social distancing does create challenges for property and community association managers, however by taking the necessary steps and using the right mobile tools, you can maintain continuity in your maintenance operations. Start by proactively communicating with your staff, vendors, and residents on how you will handle requests, maintain cleanliness, interact with others, and carry out urgent repairs. Once you have a clear business plan in place, you can respond with agility and confidence going forward.
Comments by Brittany Benz