Streamline Your Operations: How Managers Can Go Paperless
Want to reduce your administrative headaches while boosting your client satisfaction and, in turn, retention? Going paperless might be for you. From maintaining minutes and managing violations to collecting dues and processing invoice payments, community association managers increasingly are finding their mundane but mandatory tasks are made easier once they shift to a digital way of doing things. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, your clients may be more open to the idea than ever. And prospective clients might insist on it.
“Some boards liked that we printed board packets, but, now that we’re meeting virtually and no one’s coming to the office, we’re not printing anything,” says Katie Anderson, CEO of Aperion Management Group, LLC, which manages around 65 associations in Central Oregon. “The only thing paper leaving our office is compliance notices and collections letters, which are required by statute. Ninety percent of our communications are paperless.” It helps that Aperion charges on a per-door basis. “We’re not a company that profits by charging for every copy, every stamp, etc., so we don’t track envelopes and all those costs,” Anderson says. That’s not to say there aren’t growing pains with clients. “About 80 percent of our clients adapted without any question,” Anderson says. “The others, we helped through it. When there’s a technology gap with a board or owners, our staff become default tech support.” For example, when Aperion stopped printing physical board packets about five years ago, it invested in a set of tablets. “We’d bring the tablets with the packets for those members who hadn’t downloaded their packets.”
For Anderson, those road bumps have proven more than worth it. “The speed of distributing information, the efficiency of pushing information out to the community or the board — all that goes up,” she says. “Cost is a no-brainer. For example, there’s a lot of records storage in our industry, and we don’t have to pay for that.” Expenses related to paper, postage, and printing also drop, and staff time is freed up. The 24/7 access to electronic documents stored in the cloud simplifies all kinds of work for managers, boards, and owners. Consider, for example, architectural requests. When you go to a paperless process, owners can easily download and upload the necessary forms, along with photos, specs, plans, and other information. ARC members then can access the information at any time, all in one central location. Communications between the parties are clearly tracked, too. Digital operations provide a competitive advantage, as well, particularly with the growing number of tech savvy clients. “It’s part of how we talk about our company to clients,” Anderson says. She notes another perk of going paperless — dispensing with the need to rely on the U.S. Postal Service: “We’ve seen huge delays, and our office has taken a huge amount of flack. If the problems with the mail continue, I could see our industry advocating legislators to allow for more reliable electronic communication.” Despite all of the advantages, going paperless can seem overwhelming or unachievable. But you don’t have to go all the way; you can still benefit from a more measured, hybrid approach. “We do multiple things electronically — meeting packets, budget packets, financial statements,” says Paul Grucza, director of education and client development at the Seattle-based management company CWD Group, Inc. “We really work to be as paperless as possible, but there are things where I go through steps A, B, and C on paper, and then D, E, and F I do electronically”
Tips from the Trenches
Whether you go in on a hybrid basis or whole hog, it’s wise to take a staggered approach. “You have to choose the systems you do first,” Anderson says. She suggests meeting with your team, identifying where you can make small incremental changes, and determining which department will be the first to undergo the change. Aperion initially focused on the departments that put out the most paper. “Accounting is probably the heaviest from a paper perspective,” Anderson says. “We started there — going to an online lockbox and online processing-and-approval system — and then moved to the management side.” She advises beginning the process with departments that aren’t as “client-facing.” No matter where you start, though, the clients will feel the effect. “I wouldn’t take the impact to the client lightly,” Anderson cautions. Some clients will be better suited than others for the transition. As with so many parts of association management, communication will play a critical role. “We’ve found that, when you’re making a system change like this, you need to fully explain why you’re making the change and the benefit to the board and owners,” Anderson says. “Make sure you communicate to the client in a lot of different ways. You should put it in the newsletter, the board packet, and the managers report, and send the information in email. Don’t expect to say it just once and they’ll understand.”