All being well, PM Legal’s rearranged Oxford Conference will be a roaring success in September and we look forward to being there as a sponsor and presenter. “Looking forward to things” has become a popular pastime these last couple of weeks and whilst we contemplate positive things to come, we’re all rolling up our sleeves and adapting to this coronavirus crisis.
Property Management Crisis Management
Firstly, a sneak preview of what we’ll be presenting on in Oxford.
You’re a property manager, going through an emergency situation. You knew the crisis was coming. You must tell everyone about it. You need to put mitigating measures in place. You should tell everyone about those too. You need to listen to their feedback and act on it. Whilst you must plan, you also need to be in a position to react, and again, communicating what you you’ve done and listening to feedback.
If you’ll be at Oxford (we hope to see you there), you’ll learn the exact nature of the crisis (not COVID-19, I hasten to add). And you’ll be invited to consider what tools you would be using to make YOUR handling of the crisis a success in the eyes of your client, residents and any other stakeholders.
What do most crises have in common
In the same way that the government may not have acted on the supressed conclusions of the 2016 Cygnus pandemic drill, many property managers either fail to consider the possibility of a crisis on their watch (flooding, a fire, IT hackers, terrorism, ill health.. a modern version of the 10 plagues) or they know it might happen but fail to plan for it.
Whilst most managing agents will have a disaster recovery plan for their businesses’ continued operations in the event of a crisis, we suspect that only a few have conceived a plan to overcome a crisis at one of their buildings.
You might be thinking: “Well, given what’s happened with this pandemic, there’s no way we can plan for every eventuality”. True.
But think again. What do most crises have in common?
- The need for instant and effective multi-way communication
- The need to continue as close to ‘normal’ as possible
- The need to show empathy
- The need to stay on top of fast-moving developments
- The need to demonstrate ‘over and above’ service
- The need to show you’re in control
- The need to protect your reputation and your brand.
So back to the title. Why are portals indispensable in a crisis?
High Volume Communication
When you look at the numerous leaseholder studies and anecdotal testimony from RMC directors complaining about their outgoing managing agent, you’ll know that the lack of appropriate communication is right at the top of the list of grievances.
In a crisis, the ability to impart information to all stakeholders fast and accurately is vital. A portal removes the need to find and check all email addresses, as the leaseholders and residents themselves keep own contact details up to date. A portal also removes the possibility of breaching data protection regulations (e.g. accidentally ccing instead of bccing). A portal allows the client, leaseholders, and all residents to communicate with you on the same platform and with everyone else in the building (if you permit them to!).
During an emergency, a portal may allow you to SMS, instantly, every resident and owner.
- “There is a fire in block C. Please evacuate.”
- “The resident in flat 19 is self-isolating. Extra cleaning has been organised for tomorrow. Please stay at home if you can”.
- “The underground car park has been flooded: Please do not attempt to reach your vehicle. Stand by for updates”.
On the first day of lockdown due to Covid-19, the number of daily messages sent on Dwellant increased by 600% from the usual 100,000 to 600,000. Portals need to be ready to handle huge volumes of interest traffic and be entirely relied upon. If the portal can take the strain, then you can focus on the more personal communications and the vital actions you need to take.
In a crisis, every action and every communication might well be scrutinised after the event. A portal ought to be able to give you a full audit trail of what was done, when and by whom.
Planning and Prevention
A portal can be a vital tool in preventing a crisis it the first place. For instance, a portal can host up to date residents’ guides including do’s and don’t’s. Set up your portal to send the latests guides at regular intervals. Your portal can also push out notices/messages to residents about specific risks and how to mitigate them, e.g. from checking plumbing and sealants and ensuring basic electrical safety, to informing the managing agent of unauthorised works in the building which may have structural implications.
Whilst you can reduce the risk of a fire or escape of water in your building, you cannot prevent them. Many crises will come out of the blue and you will need to react quickly and communicate instantly (see no. 1). For some crises you will have some warning. This Covid-19 crisis, for instance, could be prepared for in stages as government/Public Health England and specific ARMA advice was released incrementally. Dwellant, for instance, launched a unique process for property managers to be alerted to the presence or potential presence of Covid-19 in a residential building – in line with ARMA guidance. At the time of writing, this process was available to more than 50,000 leaseholders.
If you CAN plan, DO plan. And use your portal to good effect.
A crisis – such as a storm/flooding – may have a certain element of advance notice so that mitigating measures can be put into place (installation of sandbags, warnings to remove vehicles from the car park, suggestions to ensure valuables are not left on the ground). Then there is the aftermath of a crisis, where essential and emergency works are required to make the building safe and there are insurance claims to process.
A portal allows residents to notify on-site staff and their property manager of such maintenance needs and all stakeholders can view when such issues have been reported and how they are being remedied. Encouraging residents always to check their portal before contacting you about a certain maintenance request may mean they do not have to contact you at all.
These days, contractors are as systems-literate as their property management employers. They appreciate the certainty of a job order generated from a portal and the fact that the job order can be updated, live, to ensure a change of instructions is acted upon accordingly. This is especially important during a crisis, where matters could otherwise escalate out of control.
During a crisis, one thing you can rely on is someone important being unavailable. A portal means a single source of data so that no matter who is on annual leave, the necessary communication channels are open. A few clicks of a mouse mean one property manager’s workload can be transferred to a colleague’s. For the resident, they do not need to worry about the change in personnel – their messages are processed as normal. If a property manager is using a portal as their main source of communication, then any colleagues accessing their emails should be entirely unnecessary!
At a time of stress and uncertainty for residents and other stakeholders, the protection of your company’s good brand has never been more important. Especially in property management circles, most leaseholders will pay their service charges and are no trouble. But when a crisis comes along, leaseholders will expect more bang from their service charge buck.
So how you rise to the challenge of the crisis is crucial. A portal that allows your branding to shine through will laid the groundwork. Leaseholders should be well aware of your importance to the management of building and will see you as responsible for the portal in place and how vital that portal is in managing the crisis. A portal can help ensure there is a consistent tone of voice when messaging your residents. You set the templates in advance (if you can) and guarantee as much as possible that your staff’s tone and their spelling/grammar is ‘on brand’. Use your portal to good effect and enhance your brand in the process.
It’s worth mentioning that many of our clients want their own portal branding to be subtle, instead opting to give each building an identity that makes them feel that the portal is THEIRS, rather than the agent’s. If you want your residents to be engaged with the portal especially at a time of crisis, then they need to feel the portal is for their benefit from the very start. We can talk to you about setting such strategies.
Crisis or no crisis, portals need to be intuitive from a set up point of view and day to day use. A few years ago, a fire at a block of flats in north west London meant all the actions you would expect – evacuation, loss adjusters, alternative accommodation, and a great deal of communication – were all managed through Dwellant.
Establishing a portal for your buildings or developments made be the single more positive thing you can do for your communities of residents. In an emergency situation, you will thankful you made that investment – and so will your client.