4 Lessons from Remote Property Management

The COVID-19 pandemic has worn everyone down — but the people who’ve been leading during a year of remote community association management say there are lessons all managers can take from this experience:

1. Work-from-Home Is Here to Stay

“Being into this now just under a year, remote working has actually worked out well for our company,” says Paul Grucza, director of education and client development at the Seattle-based management company CWD Group, Inc. “We fully intend to retain remote working in one form or another.”

Grucza, in fact, sees many advantages from this new way of working, including time savings. “I have one building in Seattle that I would go to every Friday to meet with the building engineer,” he says. “Now we do it by Zoom.

“I meet with vendors virtually, too, and I haven’t lost one footstep. The quality of the product we provide hasn’t slipped one iota. Remote working works.”

For Brad van Rooyen, president of HomeRiver Group-Florida, the management company for about 160 associations in the state, the pandemic just expedited a planned shift to remote work.

“We were already slowly transitioning toward allowing employees to work remotely as an option, and it just got moved ahead by 24 months. Our employees had laptops, iPads, and soft phones that let you connect to your work phone from anywhere over the Internet. We were cloud-based and didn’t rely on servers so we didn’t have to worry about getting people connected.

“We shut down on a Friday and were fully operational Monday at 8:00 a.m. without skipping a beat.”

Van Rooyen isn’t resting on these laurels, though. “You have to continually think about what could be on the horizon,” he says. “We’re going to be paying more attention to the technologies that are developing that can help manage teams remotely, like Monday.com, which is geared to help remote leaders plan, organize, and track their team’s work. We had the equipment already but not the management tools.”

2. You May Have More Office Space than You Need

The move to remote work also has led management firms to reassess their need for physical space.

“We used to have two offices because everybody needed a place to sit,” says Ken Bertolucci, president of NS Management in Skokie, Ill. “We decided to close one, and we moved all of our managers to permanent work-from-home. That’s led to quite a bit of savings on rent and greater flexibility for the managers, especially those with children.”

Van Rooyen firm’s had had a similar experience. “We were able to shut some of our remote offices around the state,” he says. “We’re transitioning to coworking environments so we have a physical address and meeting space as needed. It’s saved us north of $20,000 a month.

“We’ll continue to review our need for physical space.”

3. Virtual Meetings Offer Numerous Benefits

Community associations across the country began holding virtual meetings — and it went well for the most part.

“I was kind of surprised,” Grucza says. “I didn’t know how the boards or residents would react to virtual meetings, but they’re all very supportive. The meetings are more productive, and they’re also shorter. It saves the manager so much time and money.”

Bertolucci backs this up: “Before, a manager would have to leave at 5:00 p.m. for a 7:00 p.m. meeting because of traffic.” Another unexpected benefit? “It discourages bullying at meetings,” Bertolucci says. “Pounding your fist doesn’t have the same impact when you’re in your little square on the screen.

“I can’t tell you how many boards have told us they don’t want to go back to the old way of doing meetings in-person. There are exceptions, and some can’t wait to get back to doing it in-person, but most are excited for the change.”

Van Rooyen has noticed higher levels of participation in meetings, too, which makes it easier to achieve the quorum necessary to amend bylaws. His comment on greater participation is particularly notable because, in a recent article (3 Headaches Plaguing Associations Today), he cited the apathy of owners as his top nuisance.

“I’m seeing a shift away from owner apathy now that people can attend virtually,” van Rooyen says. “Not everybody speaks up, but we’re seeing 5-10 percent more participation.”

4. Employees Need Nurturing

According to Grucza, managers’ mindset and welfare generally have been better these days because they aren’t running around as much as they traditionally have. But he acknowledges “a dark side.”

“We’ve found some managers aren’t wired to be self-motivated away from the social interaction you get from working with colleagues physically in the same office,” he says. “We didn’t realize from an executive level that those people really thrived on being part of a cohesive collaborative group.

“The key is having a support network across all your staff, scheduling routine check-ins to ensure mental health and productivity, and providing the necessary resources.”

Bertolucci’s firm has a weekly check-in with the full staff, as well as regular one-on-one meetings. “You need a way to replace that sense of connection and the chance to share thoughts and ideas,” he says. “We’ve been very conscious about maintaining touchpoints.” Van Rooyen had held virtual events like trivia contests and Friday morning coffee for his staff.

“We have once-a-month ‘COVID Conversations,’ an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings in a safe environment with the hope some positive suggestions will come forth,” Grucza says. “It’s like a therapy session.”

The Bright Side

COVID-19 has been a true test of adaptability and ingenuity, and some managers may well come out on the other side better positioned for the long run.

“The pandemic forced us to look at different ways of doing the things we do,” Grucza says. “It’s shown us there are workarounds on everything we do that can work to the benefit of both the company and the client.”

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