Last modified on December 4th, 2020
By Paul Bergeron
Technology has automated many of the tedious, manual tasks for property management businesses, and helped them to significantly improve a range of processes from onboarding and training to leasing and maintenance. It has also boosted overall efficiency, enhanced communication, and streamlined day-to-day operations, enabling businesses to grow faster and to better meet the needs of both their customers and employees.
While many businesses have been forced to go remote this year, technology has made it possible for them to maintain operations and high levels of service and to stay connected from afar. According to the experts, many of these adaptations will likely become permanent for the foreseeable future. We reached out to several property management executives to hear how they have adapted their approach to hiring, onboarding, and training, and the tactics they have used to manage their teams successfully. Read on to discover their insights.
Appealing to Today’s Tech-Savvy Worker
Attracting and retaining skilled associates is a top challenge across the real estate industry. Employees no longer prefer to have access to the latest technology to do their job, they expect it. Forward-thinking companies are recognizing this shifting expectation of a younger workforce and have begun to shape their businesses around it.
Having modern technology can not only attract a younger generation of employees, but also keep those on board happier in how they do their jobs. Jordan Levine, Co-Founder of Pelican Property Management believes those who value technology can actually bring more value to your business because they are equipped to do more than just enter data:
“The current and future workforce does not want to be in the business of data entry. That’s not what people strive to do. People strive to be efficient and to solve the real problems they face. Our future workforce is going to be looking for AI to complete simple, day-to-day tasks. Those are the kind of people who we want working for us – not data-entry people.”
Today’s workforce sees the benefit that artificial intelligence and automation provide. In fact, a recent Glassdoor survey showed that 93% of Gen Z and Millennial generation workers want automation within their jobs. “We need to recognize that technology isn’t just something they desire, it’s something these employees demand,” notes Stacy Holden, AppFolio’s Industry Principal and Director.
Levine also believes autonomy is something he can leverage to attract great candidates, “We give our staff a lot of autonomy. We did this prior to COVID and we continue to encourage that now. Yes, mistakes will be made, but if you don’t encourage people to think and think out of the box and solve their problems, things will get bogged down and nothing will get done.”
While automation can certainly attract more employees, it’s not a replacement for being able to do great work. Andy Turner, PCAM and Owner of Spaces Management, says strong interpersonal skills and sales training are among the most necessary traits he looks for in new hires:
“Technology should be an aid to be used when helping us provide excellent service, but it should not be the focus. People can be too reliant on technology, and some have lost the personal touch.”
Building strong relationships should be the focus, Turner says, along with developing the right skills to understand people and how to best meet their needs with your service or product, “Hiring high-quality sales people and people with trade skills is a challenge, and both are essential in property management.”
Simply finding interested applicants is something that Tom Wood, Owner and CEO, of JA Wood Management, struggles with at his Boston-based firm. “In Massachusetts, getting the business is not difficult, but sometimes serving the business can be,” he says.
“There are not enough people going into property management as a career at this time, and the good ones who are out there are expensive.”
Why Thorough Onboarding is So Valuable
After finding and hiring great employees, the next crucial step is onboarding. A Glassdoor survey found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by more than 70%.
Unfortunately, many companies fail. Only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job onboarding new employees, according to Gallup.
Dru Armstrong, President of Grace Hill believes businesses who focus on creating a seamless onboarding experience for new hires from day one can boost overall retention rates and employee satisfaction:
“The most-qualified employees will make choices about where they work, and losing great talent right now, when expectations are so high, is more painful than ever.”
Armstrong says she’s also seen significant increases in the use of training and policy management tools, “…because companies with great talent management understand the importance of having the right tools and training in place to empower team members to hear the voices of residents, anticipate topics, and be responsive in real time.”
It doesn’t help that with companies’ teams presently dispersed across multiple properties and the country, larger property management companies are struggling to maintain consistency during the ramp-up and training processes. Luckily, technology is helping them to overcome this issue.
Holden says by leveraging technology, businesses give employees more flexibility and consistency during the onboarding process and prevent potential learning breakdowns.
“If we can use technology to serve up what is needed and in different formats, we can meet our employees where they are, and that can help to keep teams aligned and productive,” Holden says. “When they can choose between learning by video, step-by-step instructions and/or live Q&A with someone in tech support, it will make their training experience easier and better.”
Tony Cook, COO of Bay Management Group, says that virtual training has been critical for him:
“We have made Zoom recordings of various tasks for each department. The more templates and videos you have for new hires to reference, the more successful these new hires are going to be and the less extra work a manager will have to take on training-wise.”
Meanwhile, Levine has succeeded by relying on AppFolio’s training materials and documentation.“We were able to hire someone on a Monday and by Thursday they were 85% ready to roll,” he says. “All that’s left for them to learn the internal nuances of our industry and of our business and how to handle them.”
Jennifer Fisher, Director of Operations, Skyline Property Management, also notes that AppFolio has saved her and her staff members lots of time during the training process. “Our staff no longer has to wait for us to answer questions they might have about using the software for a certain product,” she says. “They can simply go to AppFolio’s help center, look up the question on the FAQ page or submit a support request, and receive an answer in rapid time.”
A Culture of Engagement Makes a Difference
Once new hires are up to speed and trained in their respective roles, ensuring they feel part of a thriving and supportive company culture is key to maintaining productivity and satisfaction. Without a strong company culture and the technology to help automate the mundane tasks, employees may quickly become disengaged or burnout.
“It comes from sitting through long monthly meetings,” Levine says. “The meetings usually are held after-hours. Managers could be loaded with six or seven meetings in a two-week period. That’s a lot to prep for and then there’s a lot to do after the meetings based on what was discussed. But when you get on a Zoom call, people are ready to go. We’re able to move through these meetings much more efficiently.”
Having a great company culture can also ease the difficulties that come with hiring and retaining employees, “If you have a good company culture, service and professional growth opportunities in place, folks will naturally want to work at your company,” says Cook.
Scott McMillan, President of The Laramar Group, describes the importance of company culture and how it can start by adapting technology. “Because the majority of people spend the largest part of their time at work, we believe it is extremely important for these people to truly enjoy what they do, where they work and who they work for and with,” McMillan, said. “The most significant way we have impacted culture is incorporating technology platforms for communication, collaboration, and information accessibility.”
The investment of these technology platforms spans every department within The Laramar Group, namely, business intelligence, revenue management, new CRM systems, learning management systems and a new performance review platform. The intent is to convert manual processes to automated features, making tasks easier and more streamlined for associates.
It’s all part of an enhanced focus on The Laramar Group’s company culture, something that has always been a consideration for the organization, and for good reason. Recent data from Gallup indicates that companies with better-than-average employee engagement levels can earn as much as 147% more per share. When they engage both employees and customers, organizations experience a 240% increase in performance-related outcomes.
The recent lack of a face-to-face office environment can be unsettling to some staff who work in isolation. When asked how to overcome this, Holden recommends turning to technology:
“It can be difficult when employees are technically working together, but are in different states. A property management company may typically have an office with 25 or 50 people, but at the properties, there’s just one leasing agent, who sits by themselves, having to make sure that all of those people stay connected. Keeping them connected with technology, not only in what they need to do and how to do it, but how they feel and are engaged as an employee, is a challenge. Your culture needs to be such that this lone employee can overcome those circumstances and maintains the desire to come to work every day. That’s a sign of a healthy culture.”