Last modified on April 19th, 2022
By Megan Eales Monroe
The foundation of the property management business is, of course, rooted in people. It takes a village of employees to accommodate clients and residents in a 24/7, always-on industry in which property managers must be available at any moment.
At a time when real estate is in increasingly high demand as residents search for bigger spaces and new homes, property managers are in need of a full staff to keep operations running smoothly. However, staffing in the world of property management has been an ongoing pain point exacerbated by thousands of employees pursuing new opportunities amid the “The Great Resignation,” coupled with the new normal of hybrid work during the pandemic.
To combat this cycle, we discover how property managers are rethinking the future of work in their industry, as well as the tech solutions being used to make work more rewarding. To discover how workers on the frontlines get the support they need to increase their bandwidth and how their employers measure up in terms of worker satisfaction, we turn to recent research produced by AppFolio in partnership with IREM. In this episode of The Top Floor, we speak with Steve Cadigan, author of Workquake, as well as Barry Blanton of AMO management firm Blanton Turner, to discover the perfect combination of employees and tech solutions to resolve today’s challenges in property management.
Meet Our Guests:
Barry Blanton, CPM
2022 president of IREM & Founding Principal, Blanton Turner
Barry Blanton, CPM, is the 2022 president of the Institute of Real Estate
Management (IREM). Blanton is the “Chief Problem Solver” and a founding principal of
Blanton Turner, an AMO real estate management and consulting firm based in
Blanton Turner opened in 2011 and has since been recognized nationally as the 2014
Management Company of the Year by Multifamily Housing News, as well as a 2016 “AMO of the Year” at the REME Awards.
Blanton entered the industry in 1980 and has become one of the most influential
property management professionals in the Pacific Northwest. He was named CPM of
the Year for the Western Washington Chapter in 2009 and served as chapter president in
2010. He served as regional vice president of IREM Region 12 in 2017 and 2018.
Blanton met his wife, Sherri, in 1978, and they were married in 1982. They have one
son, Aaron, an independent filmmaker living in New York. Blanton is a member of the IREM Western Washington chapter.
Talent Strategist and Company Culture Expert, LinkedIn’s First Chief HR Officer
Steve Cadigan is a highly sought-after talent advisor to leaders and organizations across the globe. He speaks regularly to conferences and major universities around the world and is regularly retained by Silicon Valley’s top VCs for his talent expertise. Steve is frequently asked to appear on TV and is a regular guest on Bloomberg West and CNBC. Prior to launching his own firm, Steve worked as an HR executive for over 25 years at a wide range of top-tier companies, including ESPRIT, Allianz, Cisco Systems, and Electronic Arts, and capped by serving as the first CHRO for LinkedIn from 2009 through 2012. In August of 2021, Steve published a ground-breaking book on the Future of Work titled Workquake: Embracing the Aftershocks of COVID-19 to Create a Better Model of Working. Even before its release, it realized #1 on the Amazon list of Hot New Releases. Today, Steve serves on the Board of Directors to three companies and sits on the Advisory Board of several others. He holds a BA in History from Wesleyan University and an MA in HROD from the University of San Francisco.
Sean Forster: You’re listening to The Top Floor, a podcast featuring critical conversations around property management, community associations, and real estate investing. I’m your host, Sean Forster, an industry trend researcher at AppFolio. Once a month we embark on a narrative journey into the height of industry disruption. And with the help of thought leaders and change-makers, we bring you the insider knowledge that’s fueling our industry’s future. Now let’s turn it over to Megan, who will take us through today’s episode.
Megan Eales Monroe: In the summer of 2021, AppFolio ran a survey of workers at property management companies. Our goal was to explore the experiences of frontline staff in the residential property management field to better understand their job satisfaction and what employers can do to hire and retain talented teams.
We gathered over 500 responses, over half of which came from property managers. Of all respondents – which also included leasing agents, maintenance techs and office managers – 70% said they work onsite and 91% said their company portfolios include multi-family residential properties.
We asked respondents to rate aspects of their roles on a scale of “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied.” And what we found was most employees are happy with their jobs.
So, that’s the good news – but it’s not the whole story. Because, while many respondents said they’re satisfied with their work, we continue to see massive turnover within workforces across every industry, a phenomenon many have dubbed the “Great Resignation,” which is a topic we covered at length in a previous episode, “Why Today’s Hiring & Retention Challenges Are Different.” We’ll link to that episode in our show notes. But to summarize: even before Covid-19 arrived, property management turnover has been an ongoing challenge. And it’s only gotten worse.
So, what’s going on? What is contributing to the difficulties we’re seeing with hiring and retaining talent, not only in property management, but across industries? That’s what we aim to find out, and the answer has a lot to do with the changing future of work. Today on The Top Floor, we take a look behind the data with the help of experts. At the mic today are IREM’s current president, Barry Blanton, and Steve Cadigan, LinkedIn’s first Chief HR Officer and a leader within the global talent strategy and company culture spaces.
First, let’s get to know Barry a bit.
Barry Blanton: Okay. So, I’m Barry Blanton and I am the chief problem solver at Blanton Turner, which is an AMO management firm based in Seattle, Washington. They started my title with chief problem. I added solver, I thought it was a little more positive. And I am privileged to be the 2022 president of IREM.
Megan Eales Monroe: Yes, you heard right. The current president of IREM also holds the title of Chief Problem Solver.
To get things started, we asked Barry about the perception of opportunities available within the property management industry.
Since many workers in our survey said they’re dissatisfied with their “opportunities for career growth,” we wanted to know — is there a genuine lack of opportunity, or is this more of a perception problem? Here’s Barry’s take on it.
Barry Blanton: I also think that sometimes, as an industry, we have a tendency to be a little tunnel visioned in terms of how we describe what those opportunities are to people coming into the industry.
Barry Blanton: I was talking to some of our super human resources management team here at Blanton Turner yesterday, and got some insights which I thought were really helpful. And one was that we don’t do a terrific job of explaining what other options there are. People think about property management, and it’s a fine line or a fine lane that they see when in fact, there are multiple disciplines within our industry and profession. And sometimes, people either aren’t made aware of what some of those things might be, where their passions might be better suited and they can evolve more quickly, but they’re out there. I mean those range from accountants, to human resource management professionals, to marketing professionals, maintenance and facilities management, technology finance.
Barry Blanton: In my opinion, I think it’s a gap perception and the lack of opportunity might have been exacerbated by the fact that we’ve had Covid, right? So, people aren’t around each other. There’s just not that communication and socializing in terms of what collaborations there may be, or other opportunities they may be. But again as I just said, I think as an industry, we don’t do a great job of explaining what we do for a living, or all the different areas in this that are necessary to it. I think that the perception is one thing, but I think the reality is we need to talk more. In talking to our folks here yesterday afternoon, it was reiterated that as important really as pay for people that are new to the industry or the next gens that they talk to every day is culture.
Megan Eales Monroe: Remember this point, because we’re really going to dig into the topic of culture later. Barry also had more to say on what the next generation of workers is expecting.
Barry Blanton: One of the challenges with this industry is it has been an industry that took a little while to get your feet under you, and it was one of those things that you learned by assimilation and through experience, and that sometimes took some time, some years. Our problem is this talent pool, this next gen talent pool isn’t going to give us years. They don’t do anything in years.
Barry Blanton: The downside to that is sometimes they might make a quick decision that this isn’t for them before they’ve given it a real shot because they haven’t had as much exposure to the varying facets of it. So, that’s something that we’re going to have to figure out as an industry, because we always did it that way isn’t going to carry the day anymore. What we have to do is instead of looking at it as dues paying … we need to look at opportunities to get them the information they need to get them to stick with it, to give it a really fair shot.
Sean Forster: I think that’s so fascinating.
Megan Eales Monroe: Jumping in here is Sean Forster, who you heard from at the top of the episode.
Sean Forster: That is exactly what we found in the research, particularly for those younger generations you’re just mentioning around. One of the things they’re looking for, I think there’s a third are looking for jobs with purpose jobs with me, which I think is exactly what you’re talking about. Imagine one of the goals is how do you get people quickly into doing those tasks that they do find meaningful. How do you get them so that they are doing that, they are getting excited sooner than later?
Barry Blanton: Well, great question. We work really hard to interact collaboratively with everybody that joins us as early in this process as we can, right? I think bottom line is you have to ask people what matters to them.
Barry Blanton: But if we take the moment to ask the question what matters to you and really take the moment to understand the answer, then we can try to help put people in positions that they can be successful and together, we can be successful.
Steve Cadigan: I think there’s a lot you can do. And I think that if you do want people to stay longer, if that really is an aspiration for you, showing them the pathways of opportunity, what they’re doing can connect to something else. What are the stepping stones?
Megan Eales Monroe: That was Steve Cadigan, a renowned talent strategist and company culture expert. He let us pick his brain about how businesses at large, not just property management companies, can adapt to the future of work.
Steve Cadigan: My name is Steve Cadigan. And I am currently an author, a teacher, and an adviser to organizations around the world, looking for ways of building more compelling talent strategies.
Megan Eales Monroe: With almost three decades of talent and human-resources experience, Steve’s a big figure within the space and has worked with a number of recognizable companies, including Cisco Systems and Electronic Arts, which creates video games. But perhaps most notable – and formative within his career – was his time spent at LinkedIn, where he was Chief Human Resources Officer from 2009 to 2012.
Steve Cadigan: My opportunity at LinkedIn was unlike any opportunity prior in my career journey. Prior to joining LinkedIn in 2009, I’d mostly worked with big organizations, anywhere from 3,000 to 40,000, in different industries. And I never worked in the social networking or professional networking industry, if you will. And I never worked with such a small organization. It was about 400 people, only about six years old as an organization when I joined.
Steve Cadigan: And the reason I joined was for the very reason that it was so different. And I was looking for a new challenge. And over the course of my career, I’d mostly been involved in trying to shape or tune what people before me had built. And the real attraction to me at LinkedIn was to have an opportunity to really grow a company, leveraging all my experiences and mistakes and challenges that I’d seen other organizations that I’ve been a part of face.
Megan Eales Monroe: When Steve arrived at LinkedIn, he saw an opportunity to build something from nothing, as he’d put it. When he looked around, he saw room to grow LinkedIn’s talent strategies and practices.
Steve Cadigan: And what was another really rare opportunity for me was that I was going to be in a company whose main product was a recruiting solution. So it was career nirvana in a way that you get to practice your craft, which is all the dimensions of human resources – recruiting and developing and coaching, and so forth – and also working as a product advisor for the main product of the company, which was recruiting solution, and even go out on some sales call sometimes, because we were selling to my peers around the world, other chief HR officers in organizations around the world.
Megan Eales Monroe: Indeed, landing at LinkedIn was a big deal for Steve. But it didn’t come without its challenges.
Steve Cadigan: If I were to try to capture the biggest ones, they were trying to recruit at scale and trying to hire in a career candy store. Silicon Valley at the time and still today, and increasingly around the world, and I think a lot of our listeners are facing that today, people have a lot of choice. And I was trying to hire a team really quickly.
Steve Cadigan: In the four years I was there, we went from 400 to 4,000, in the shadows of Google, in the shadows of bigger, sexier brands that could out pay me, out benefit me, out work me, out work-environment me, every day of the week.
Steve Cadigan: And so, how do I attract people when I really didn’t have the cachet or the sex appeal, if you will, as an employer that other opportunities for the talent that I was going after had?
Steve Cadigan: I don’t know if any of our listeners have had the experience of being in, what we call, hyper-growth. But at LinkedIn, we doubled the size of the company every single year I was there, 400 to a thousand, a thousand to two, and two to four. And when that happens, it’s a wonderful thing because success is a good problem to have.
But the inertia of the weight of new people and integrating them and new policies and everyone’s got to change how they do things to scale, to be able to deal with bigger things and bigger challenges, was it never stopped, it was unrelenting, and you kept waiting for that moment to take a breath.
Steve Cadigan: And then as soon as you did, like, “Hey, we need to hire 400 more people in the next three months.” Like, “What? Why didn’t you tell me that a year ago?” And so it’s a high-quality problem, as we say. You want problems like that but hyper-growth isn’t easy. And it was really stressful. But that recruiting and the organizational burden of newness, constant newness and growth were two of the biggest ones that I faced.
Megan Eales Monroe: So, staring down enormous competitors and obstacles, how did Steve strategize to navigate his team and LinkedIn through this hyper-growth period?
Steve Cadigan: In the end, we did beat those big competitors for talent. We were able to win more than we lost against many of the great companies that are recruiting and still do recruit in Silicon Valley.
Steve Cadigan: And the way we did that was through having to innovate when faced with a massive problem. We needed to hire quickly and we needed to scale quickly or someone we felt, like Google, for example, would steal our solution or come up with their own one, and would outflank us. And so what we discovered was the only real lever of real significance that we had was our culture.
Steve Cadigan: And we discovered that not because we’re smart, not because we were all, yeah, culture is so powerful and it eats strategy for breakfast, we discovered it because it didn’t cost us anything. And we realized something which, in retrospect, seems really obvious, but at the time, it wasn’t so obvious, which was, if we are a professional network, if we are in the business of helping people find their dream jobs, we should be a dream job. We should be the greatest place any professionals have ever been. That was our birthright.
Megan Eales Monroe: There it is, again: culture. As you’ll recall, Barry spoke about company culture as an important driver of employee satisfaction. So much so, he said, culture can be just as important as pay. Looking now to Steve’s time at LinkedIn, culture was a huge factor enabling them to compete, recruit and hire top talent. Culture can be one of those murky concepts that means different things to different people – or elude definition all together. So I asked Steve to attempt to define company culture for us.
Steve Cadigan: I mean, here’s how I think about culture and how I would suggest other people think about it. It’s, why does someone want to work in your organization? If you can answer that question, you’re going to arrive at your culture. Why does someone want to work here? What’s unique and differentiates you from other environments in other places in terms of how things get done, how people communicate, the language that we use? These all contribute to what the culture is.
Steve Cadigan: And with that, I will say, if you don’t believe culture is important, don’t tell your employees it’s important because they’re going to smell that. And I’ve had many seminars with many leaders on this, they’re not drinking the culture Kool-Aid. And I say, “Okay, then why did you tell your employees it’s really important?” Well, because we read in some management book that it is. I said, “Okay, because you’re doing more harm saying it’s important than acting like it isn’t.”
Steve Cadigan: But if it is important to you I really believe this is the most valuable competitive advantage you have in a world of massive choice for employees today, in a world where they’re telling us they’re thinking about leaving, in a world where we’re seeing more resignations than at any time since we’ve been measuring it.
Steve Cadigan: Who you are as a place to work and what you’re all about matters more than ever. And the more time you can invest in understanding, well, who are we and why does someone want to work here and what unique assets do we have is really important. When I was referencing earlier in our conversation around the struggle that we had recruiting when I was building LinkedIn in a very, very I mean, this is a career candy store, Silicon Valley. The asset that we have is our culture because I can control it, it doesn’t cost me anything.
Steve Cadigan: And so for people who are thinking about that, go look at places that you think have a good culture and go talk to those people. How do you think about it? If it’s not, it’s a poster on the wall. That’s not culture. That may be someone who tried to capture it. And the fewer words you need to describe what that is, I think the more powerful it can be and the easier it is for people to understand.
Steve Cadigan: What I learned at LinkedIn was we had a culture that was defined by two words, career transformation, that’s our culture. Simple, right? But everywhere else I work usually has something like customer number one, you work hard, be honest, be accountable, those kinds of things, which are a mishmash of values and culture, if you will. But why does someone want to work here is the best question you could ask to help reveal what that is.
Megan Eales Monroe: Once you’ve defined what your company culture is, how do you know you’ve hit the mark? There are a lot of misconceptions about what a healthy culture looks like, especially from the outside looking in. Sometimes we imagine that great culture means everyone is happy and there’s free snacks and a foosball table, right? But you’d be missing the whole picture, Steve says.
Steve Cadigan: I’ve been in so many organizations where they are so sure and they’re so clear with me that, oh, yeah, everything’s great here. And then a few weeks in, I’ve realized there’s a lot of stuff that’s not right. And what happens if you don’t talk about the hard stuff, you’re just sort of pushing it under, you’re going to create a volcano that’s going to erupt, and it’s really going to result in some really bad outcomes.
Steve Cadigan: So being able to talk about hard stuff is one of the most important, I think, steps and ingredients of a healthy culture I don’t believe good culture is everyone’s happy. I believe that happy is good but we’re here to win and be successful. And sometimes that means hard conversations. Sometimes it means uncomfortable topics need to be discussed. And that means I need to build an environment of trust more than happy, right?
Steve Cadigan: And I had this conversation with a lot of people in the HR world. I’d say, “Hey, why is human resources here?” And sometimes the response is, “Oh, to make employees happy.” I go, “Eh, wrong answer.” I go, “Just so happens, happy people tend to win more, but the goal is winning, the goal is not happy.” And so not losing the forest for the trees. That’s what I mean leading with integrity and having a place where people can be open and honest. And having those conversations is really, really important.
Megan Eales Monroe: Employees, for their part, are not empty vessels that simply absorb the values around them. When they arrive, they bring with them their own values and goals. A growing share of the workforce says that finding a career that’s meaningful, purpose-driven is a priority for them.
Steve Cadigan: I think it’s a great trend. If the workforce is saying, “I want to find meaning and purpose more in my work, I want to feel the organization that I’m a part of is doing good in the world,” think about that. That’s just such a beautiful thing. I want my kids to feel that maybe more than I did.
Steve Cadigan: And so the way I think to consider that in this industry is to really invest time answering the question, what value are we adding in the lives of people? How can we deliver a package of why we exist to our customers and to our employees, to our ecosystem, that we feel really makes a difference? Give you a great example. Number of years ago, I was invited by what’s called the Thames Water District. They’re basically the sewage and sanitation arm and the water supply wing of City of London. And they were going through a privatization process where the government was starting to sell off utilities and spun them off so that they’re more private than publicly owned.
Steve Cadigan: And this organization was terrified. They’re like, “Steve, why would anyone want to work for a sanitation sewage company? That’s not cool and sexy.” And so we sat down for a couple of days with the HR team, with the recruiting team, and then the marketing team joined us. And asked, we said, “Why does someone want to work here? What problem are you solving?” And that got us to, we’re making the world safe. We’re making things safe for children. And that was aspirational, right?
Steve Cadigan: So I think it’s a really healthy exercise for every organization, whatever industry you’re in, to think through helping candidates answer, what’s your connection to making maybe people feel safer or having them be in a home that optimizes their life for them to realize the best version of their lives, right? There’s got to be an answer to that question if you have a demographic of workers that is increasingly wanting to know what that meaning is about. And that’s a really good exercise to go through.
Megan Eales Monroe: Generating job satisfaction is a lot like building any long-lasting relationship. It takes time, effort, and there has to be enough room for both parties to evolve and grow within that relationship. An important way to keep your staff happy and on your team is by providing available opportunities for them to grow and, when necessary, pivot within your company. As a whole, the property management industry struggles to spotlight opportunities for workers to build diverse, rewarding careers.
Barry Blanton: If we as an industry can work to tell our story better and to explain what those opportunities are, I think we’re going to do a much better job of attracting talent, reaching out to talent, inviting them to join this industry because we’re basically competing with the world at large for talent, let’s be honest one of the things that is amazing to me Megan is people don’t recognize this industry as an opportunity, or an option when they’re thinking about what their career move is going to be.
Barry Blanton: And I find that ironic because all one has to do is look out the window. You look out the window and every building you see, literally every building you see is managed. We have the greatest calling card anybody could ask for, and we’re not using the calling card because we’re not telling the story well enough to remind people there are people, lots of people doing lots of things to manage that that you’re looking out the window at. We just don’t do a great job of connecting those dots.
Megan Eales Monroe: Connecting the dots, or put another way: communication. When we asked what companies can do to improve their employees’ work lives, both of our expert guests cued into the importance of simply communicating with their teams.
Barry Blanton: I think that leaders today need to take the time and the moment to understand they don’t do this alone. What drives me really nuts is arrogance. I hear people say, “Oh, I did this. I raised this company and I’ve got them on my back, or whatever.” That’s not the way it works. It just isn’t the way it works. It takes a village, it takes everybody.
Barry Blanton: It takes effort by everybody. And if we can share that recognition sincerely, not just because okay, today is Wednesday at 10:00 and I have to send this email out to so-and-so because it’s Wednesday at 10:00, it needs to be understood because if it is understood, it will be sincere and you’re going to want to do it, right? And what’s going to happen? They’re going to rise to the occasion too.
Megan Eales Monroe: Steve also talked about just how important it is for leaders to show appreciation for their team, and truly prioritize their well-being.
Steve Cadigan: The other thing that I read when I hear career growth, sometimes I perceive that people who are saying, “I’m not getting enough,” that may be code for them to say, “I’m not hearing from my leaders enough. I’m not feeling necessarily connected or valued or appreciated.” And that doesn’t cost much but a commitment of time, right? Taking the time to do that.
Steve Cadigan: And my experience having been a mediator for more employee manager disputes in my life than I can count, I will tell you that a lot of way those conversations have gone in my career are blah, blah, blah, my manager doesn’t even say hello to me in the morning, or doesn’t even say good morning to me, which means I just need an acknowledgement for me to feel good.
Steve Cadigan: And there’s so much that’s troubling our workforce that’s out of the control of us as employers, right? There’s stuff going on at home. We’re worried about the education of our kids. We’re worried about the health and safety of our elders and/or immunocompromised members of our family.
Steve Cadigan: But I think that begs the reality check for all of us, which is, it’s a time when we need to check in with our people more. There’s more that could be concerning our people that’s blocking their ability to be productive or engaged in delivering value for us. So, yes, we’ve got a service that we need to deliver on but we shouldn’t be checking in with our people way more than we were before because we are still in a relative crisis right now. And people want to know that you care, right?
Megan Eales Monroe: While you’re connecting with each employee and learning what makes them tick, be on the lookout for outside-the-box opportunities that can get your team engaged, create opportunities for learning and growth, and drive job satisfaction.
Steve Cadigan: The other thing that I really encourage leaders to think about now is, we all have jobs that need to get done. The lights need to come on. The floors need to be cleaned and so forth. But are there other projects that you can give someone that gets a stretch assignment? Maybe something out of the norm that are going to allow you to see if someone has the capability to take on more or maybe deliver value in unexpected ways that you weren’t sure, or you didn’t know that they were capable of doing.
Steve Cadigan: And I think this kind of cross-training, this new project assignment methodology, I think it’s a really great way to sort of spark people. The one way that I found to drive people out of your organization is to force them to do the same thing again and again and again over a long period of time. And they just feel stale and tired. And in a world that we’re in right now, that’s changing really quickly, I think people want from an employer, they want to be made better for the future. They want to know that you’re investing in them, right.
Steve Cadigan: And even if necessarily you don’t have a promotion or a step up in their career right now, I think what you can do is feed it with new experiences, new projects, new assignments, and/or new classes or investing in their education, so that you are building them better. So the best investment you can make in your organization is to make people better.
Megan Eales Monroe: To better retain employees, leaders need to create opportunities for people to grow and evolve; they need to check in with their teams on a human level, and show them that their contributions don’t go unnoticed. Now, if all this sounds easier said than done, you’re right. And there’s a good chance that implementing these changes at your company might amount to a big cultural shift. So, instead of biting off more than you can chew, take smaller steps. Take Steve’s suggestion for more check ins, for example:
Steve Cadigan: Do surveys. Ask questions. Do little pulse surveys. I mean, I’m not talking about, hey, spend a half an hour checking the box. But in a similar way, if you ride in an Uber or a Lyft and you get out of the car, the first thing that happens on your mobile phone is you get served a, was that a one to five star or zero to five star, right?
Steve Cadigan: I’m seeing increasingly organizations are coming up with very lightweight, very quick pulses. Hey, it’s Friday. As you’re leaving today, are you feeling inspired? Are you feeling tired? Or, hey, it’s Monday, how are you feeling coming into the office today? To get a sense of how folks are doing as a little bit of a smoke signal to you to understand more about the realities.
Steve Cadigan: Another great question I really encourage organizations to ask their people is, are you as productive as you can be? And if not, what can we do to help you be more productive? Sometimes people are not as productive as they can be. And they don’t tell their leadership because the leadership is not asking. And if you let your employees know, “Hey, I want you to feel a sense of satisfaction, be as productive as you can be, what’s in your way?” I don’t have the right tools or I don’t have access to the right things that I need to get my job done or it’s too noisy here or the time of day you’re asking me to clean this, there’s always a lot of folks that are coming and going. Maybe there’s other ways that can be designed.
Steve Cadigan: So I think engaging employees in designing work is a really helpful way to drive up that sense of, they’re a really valuable part of your enterprise versus just an order taker. I think if we look at them as order takers, that’s how they’re going to feel.
Megan Eales Monroe: Let’s pause here for a second. You may be saying to yourself: but in order for my business to run properly, there has to be someone to do the busy work, the “order taking,” as Steve put it, the small, repetitive but crucial tasks that enable the rest of your organization to function. Of course, we’re not suggesting simply getting rid of these tasks – that’s out of the question. Instead, think about how you can strategically apply technology to lift that burden from your team. Here’s Barry.
Barry Blanton: There comes a day where technology becomes the tool for people to use, so people can do what people do best, and technology is relied upon to do what technology can do best, which is a whole lot of that repetitive volume type business.
Megan Eales Monroe: What does this mean for property management companies? Well, dedicated software can eliminate — or significantly reduce — those repetitive, time-consuming, and often unfulfilling aspects of the job. By doing this, employees can provide faster service to residents, they can focus on the bigger picture, more rewarding, and more meaningful tasks. For example, take Maintenance tools that use Artificial Intelligence. They follow guidelines set by management to judge the level of urgency of each request, automatically respond to residents, and dispatch pre-approved vendors. Most multifamily operators are no stranger to being woken up at 3am with maintenance requests, and tools like this are helping property managers live more normal lives.
Megan Eales Monroe: Other examples of property management technology that makes work less manual, and more meaningful, include AI enabled leasing assistants that can handle all prospect inquiries. They respond efficiently to casual inquiries and funnel serious prospects down to your leasing staff. There’s also AI data entry tools that spot spikes in utility bills, find accounting discrepancies, and parse bills and leases to compile income statements.
Megan Eales Monroe: And an added bonus of incorporating more technology into your operations is the flexibility that it affords your team. Today, flexibility in the workplace means giving employees space to focus on the work itself, rather than when, where, and how they are doing it. A consolidated property management platform gives your employees the ability to tackle off-site tasks from anywhere, including their home, which can make the day-to-day of property management less stressful and provide a better work-life balance. In the AppFolio and IREM survey, 29% of respondents said being given more flexibility with schedules has improved their overall job satisfaction.
And that’s the goal — how can you use technology to make your team’s jobs more rewarding? As Barry points out, it’s critical that technology works for you and your team, not the other way around.
Barry Blanton: I think where it seems like we’re at right now is getting technologies to talk to each other, so you don’t have to keep loading the same information into all these different systems and getting these. We’re not quite there yet. That’s the vision, the dream of tomorrow. It’s going to happen, but I think that that’s what technology is where we’re going with it. What does technology really mean? To me, it just means how do we make the world better, right? It isn’t about high-tech, sci-fi stuff. It’s about if technology is good, it makes the world better for everybody that it engages with that technology, everybody. It’s not one end user, it’s all stakeholders. How do we make it better for everybody? And if it isn’t better for everybody, let’s not do it.
Megan Eales Monroe: But before you unveil your plan to digitally transform your property management company, be sensitive that some on your team may feel hesitant about this change. Here’s a tip from Steve on how to broach that conversation.
Steve Cadigan: I do know from talking to a number of folks in the property management industry, I mean, whether it’s new software or new technologies or new systems and tools that people can use to offload some of those things. But here’s the one point I want to make around thinking about the implementation of new technology, new systems, and tools. The language you use when you do that is really, really impactful because a lot of people that I’m dealing with today, employees are telling me, “Well, my company is going through a digital transformation.” And that’s code word for, my job is going to be eliminated or I’m not important.
Steve Cadigan: And I love the way you frame this, which is, look at the new technology opportunities and communicate that with employees in such a way that it’s, “Hey, if we can make you more productive, make you feel more impactful, make a bigger difference, maybe in a shorter amount of time and take off the stuff you don’t like doing, would you be interested?” And people go, “Yeah.” Okay, we’re going to call that digital transformation but that’s why we’re doing it, so that we can make your job really more impactful and you could do cooler stuff, right? Versus a lot of companies who just want to talk about the new tool and the new technology and “Hey, that consultant said we need to do this.” And the employee is like, “They’re not talking about me.”
Steve Cadigan: And so be careful how you’re having that, how you’re thinking about that and how the conversation goes with your staff when you are going to be adapting these new things to try to alleviate the repetitive stuff that isn’t very value add for your employees to be doing.
Megan Eales Monroe: A big, warm thank you to Barry Blanton and Steve Cadigan for speaking to us for this episode. Although right now is a challenging moment, not just for property management but across industries, it also presents an incredible opportunity — to make the future of work more human. If you’re in a position of leadership, focus on changes that make your company a rewarding and meaningful place to work. This does more than just improve retention and employee satisfaction, it’s also laying a strong foundation for continued growth as the future of work as we know it evolves.
Be sure to check out our new webpage for “The Top Floor” podcast, where you can subscribe for monthly updates and access bonus content, like research and articles. Find them at AppFolio dot com, forward slash The Top Floor. That’s AppFolio dot com, forward slash The Top Floor. There, you’ll also be able to find the 2022 AppFolio Property Manager Hiring and Retention Report that we’ve been mentioning throughout today’s episode, which you can download for free.
Speaking of which, if you want to learn more about the research on employee engagement and satisfaction that we created in partnership with IREM, you won’t want to miss the latest episode of IREM’s podcast, From the Front Lines, which covers critical issues in real estate management in short, digestible episodes to help you run your business more effectively.
This week, AppFolio’s Stacy Holden discusses the results of the 2022 AppFolio Property Manager Hiring and Retention Report. Dive deeper into the implications of the research and what this means for property management companies by listening to IREM’s From the Front Lines on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Before we go, we wanted to end on an inspiring note. Here on the Top Floor, we’re big believers that the future of work benefits everyone: from the CEO, right down to the people on the front lines, engaging with customers on a daily basis. As we wrap up Season 2 of The Top Floor, we leave you with this:
Steve Cadigan: I think that the future work is about being more human. The future work is, what can I do as an individual that differentiates me from a computer, an AI, or some automation? It’s my ability to communicate. It’s my ability to talk about hard stuff. It’s my ability to read body language. It’s my ability to inspire people and be a part of a team, right?
Steve Cadigan: And so that’s why I really believe when I think of the future work that it gets me excited, it’s about doubling down on those. Some people call them soft skills. I think we should refer to them as power skills because they’re really hard to build. That’s how I think about it. But also embrace the fact that some of these new tools and technologies can really allow us to do more impactful stuff and make a bigger difference.
Sean Forster: Thanks for listening to The Top Floor and remember to join us here monthly for each new episode. For more information about today’s guests, visit our industry insights page at appfolio.com. And to view the latest property management insights as they’re published, follow AppFolio on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Top Floor on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen. We’ll see you next time.