Four Ways to Build a People-First Property Management Business

Last modified on January 9th, 2023

Because property management is, at its core, all about people, it makes sense that the number one theme we’ve heard from renowned real estate experts and seen across the most successful property management case studies is that a people-first property management approach is always a winning strategy. 

However, it can be a challenge to create a truly people-first property management business when so many high-priority to-dos — attracting new tenants, driving NOI, and retaining employees — are competing for attention. But the truth is that a people-first culture doesn’t just affect those tasks, it can also impact your success with them. 

To better understand how property management businesses can put people first and how it’s the key to success, we tapped into four AppFolio team members for their insights and advice.

People-first property management tip #1: Help people find meaning and value in work

Lisa Horner, Senior Vice President of Marketing at AppFolio, has seen firsthand how important it is for employees to know why their work is meaningful. As Lisa sees it, when we spend, on average, at least one-third of our time at work, a strong sense of meaning and purpose helps with overall motivation, happiness, and productivity. 

“In any industry, in any company, I think that it’s really important to get to a kernel of meaning for employees. And when you really think about the amount of time you’re going to spend working, I think most people want that to be very valuable and meaningful. And I often feel that companies have lots of incredible value that they’re creating. They just don’t articulate it that well.”

Although many companies fall short on articulating a strong sense of meaning for team members, answering a few simple questions can easily correct the issue. For example: 

  • How is this role important to the overall business? Make sure to look at the benefits and outcomes from the work, not just individual tasks or to-dos.
  • How is this work important to owners, residents, vendors, and colleagues? Help team members see the bigger picture and how their work connects to everyone else.

But meaning and value don’t stand alone; they also tie into another important part of any people-centered business: company culture. 

People-first property management tip #2: Double-down on company culture

In addition to providing a sense of purpose, company culture is another factor property management companies need to articulate and showcase more often. That’s because company culture affects every part of a business, from how colleagues collaborate to how leadership manages teams, how problems are solved, and how supported everyone feels. It even affects the resident and vendor experience.

Culture is also fundamental to your ability to attract and retain talent. And in a difficult recruitment market, it’s increasingly vital to keep your top employees. 

As Sean Forster, Lead Product Marketing Manager at AppFolio, explains:

“Culture is paramount to your ability to attract and retain. We talk a lot about culture as something good to do, but it really is something that’s good for your employees but also good for your business. Ultimately, what you’ll fall back on is the approaches and the norms that your culture has set up. When times get tough, having that collaborative, supportive, and authentic culture is what will get you through any type of difficulties.”

If you’re not already thinking about company culture, now is the time because company culture can help you overcome some of the property management industry’s top staffing challenges, such as ensuring better retention, collaboration, and employee happiness.

People-first property management tip #3: Use technology to help teams work more efficiently

Putting people first isn’t just about company culture and finding meaning in work. It’s also about improving day-to-day operations and efficiency so team members can succeed.

If you can remove the barriers to success and help everyone work more effectively, you will see greater employee retention and happiness. The key is to lean on the right technology.

Getting support from technology, especially in leveraging automation, can help reduce tedious, time-consuming tasks that drain team productivity and morale. But when those tasks can be automated, team members are free to work on more meaningful, high-value tasks they enjoy.

To determine which tasks are best handled by software and which work is best handled by people, Daniel Waas recommends first looking at where your staff’s talents are best placed and knowing which part of the job they enjoy most:

“Doing the work that actually gives you a kick when you complete it…well, that’s the work that we want to put on the humans, and the work that we want to put on the machine and on the technology is the work that’s just repetitive and that tires you out and that kind of saps your energy.”

People-first property management tip #4: Create a better work-life balance

If you want to put people first in your organization, you must also consider work-life balance.

JJ Koski, Senior Account Executive at AppFolio, says property management companies need to ensure people aren’t overworked or consistently taking their work home with them because poor work-life balance can quickly lead to burnout.

“Having a work-life balance for many Americans is very tough. Specifically in the property management market, I hear people working 12-/15-hour days all the time. Even getting to a 40-hour week, eight hours a day job is life-changing for this industry. I think that the more that realization comes about, the better [the] quality of life people will have.”

Organizations that don’t put people first risk losing good employees or creating a culture of “quiet quitting.” 

At the end of the day, leaders need to invest in talent in order to retain it. That means spending time and energy to make sure workplaces are healthy and positive.

For more great insights into how to create a people-first property management business, listen to the full episode of The Top Floor podcast above or check out our previous episodes to hear even more from experts like Lisa, Daniel, Sean, and JJ.

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