How Property Managers must embrace disruption and come out stronger – aka “The Printer Story”
What can you learn from a Property Management business that went 100% paperless in less than 48 hours, 4 years ago? This story shares a lot of similarities with the current disruption that we’re experiencing with Covid-19. What are the key learnings in the short and long term, and how can you take advantage of it?
So… 4 years ago I was the team leader for a residential property management company in Auckland, New Zealand. The owner of the company had just purchased a new office space in downtown.
It was literally 30m across the street from the office building we were leasing.
While it wasn’t a big move in terms of distance, it remains today a milestone in terms of progress achieved as a company.
Not only did the new space have no designated desk for the staff, but it had no designated space for a printer either. And we were not willing to ruin the beautifully designed open space and minimalist feel with a big ugly printer and scanner…
At that point we had thought to go paperless for a few months. We already acquired software that had some capabilities but there were still a few gaps. It was just too easy to keep doing some of the things with a good old printer… At the cost of experiencing all the benefits and safety that come with a paperless operation.
Overnight the use of the printer and scanner became a lot harder. In fact, while we still had access to the old printer room, the road between the 2 offices is a very busy one and you really had to think twice before going on a mission to cross it.
With the pressure of trying to get your job done, it really felt like you had to run across the motorway during peak hour traffic.
It was pretty uncomfortable, and that’s how and when the magic happens… There was a sudden environmental change that forced us to stop, think and consider our options.
Now the challenges were well understood, because they were real. We felt the pain.
Being all affected by a common obstacle triggered creativity amongst us and created a sense of togetherness.
What happened next?
All team members got involved in thinking a bit harder about those gaps to fill.
We got the team to take ownership of the issues and come up with solutions to the problems. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to do the job. We’ll be able to adjust it later on.
Next thing we know is that one Property Manager searched and found the best scanning app he could find. The next day everyone had it loaded on their smartphones, and given a quick training on how to use it. The old physical scanner was now obsolete.
The backlog of paper was scanned and filed in a day, and the filing cabinets disposed of.
Another obstacle was collecting signatures from customers without pen and paper. While we had played around with a couple of options for online signatures, now we settled on one and actually implemented it. We repurposed an old iPad lying around the office for signatures at the reception, got the app installed on all property managers phones and computers. That was it, within a couple of days the printer was now obsolete!
It may seem like a couple of marginal moves, but the learnings and benefits for the company weren’t little at all. Looking back, this was a big step towards constant innovation.
The short term effect
We were all taking part in a common effort to adapt to a new environment. As a result we were all allowed to be critical of any inefficiency that could be tackled.
It was the domino effect. Small steps lead to bigger ones, in a pretty short space of time. The office vibe had improved. And we could see who was truly on board.
Instantly it placed us in a pretty unique position. As a business, we were now well ahead of most if not all the competition in specific areas.
It made our job easier and more rewarding. Everyone loves efficiency: the management, the team but also the only boss here, your customers.
So the only question worth asking ourselves was: why didn’t we do it earlier?
Well, it is because challenging the status quo is always hard. It’s always standing right there, just outside the comfort zone.
But here is the trick: you need to get kicked out of the comfort zone.
Sometimes you kick yourself out of the comfort zone, like here with the printer. The more often you do it, the easier it gets. This makes you a pioneer, a leader.
But all too often it is an external factor that does. Whether it is your customers expectations, the competition or any other change in your environment. This is called evolution. Natural selection plays the main role here.
The long term effect
This is the good stuff. The flow-on effect of being slightly ahead of the curve.
Everyone likes to feel like a bit of a disruptor, having an edge on the rest of us. This feeling is crucial to the success of your business on so many levels.
One of them is that it makes you more attractive as a company to work for. Attracting and retaining talents is key to your business sustainability and growth.
Another one is that it removes a number of barriers to innovate, which is vital.
As I mentioned earlier, it only gets easier once you’ve overcome these kinds of challenges with your team. It keeps everyone in the loop, makes voices be heard and unleashes potential.
As a manager if you are always the one writing the playbook, you are also your business’ main limitation. So make it a habit to share the problem, not your solution to it.
For example, as we were one of the early property management companies to operate fully paperless, we realised that we were able to take outsourcing of tasks to a whole new level. We now removed a lot of the barriers to reallocate all the admin tasks.
We needed our people to spend their time adding the most value to the business. This was going to be building relationships and solving problems, away from the mundane and multitasking madness.
This is the kind of flow-on effect that has a profound impact on your operation in the long term.
Covid19 – The latest environmental change
Today, it is evident that we are faced with rapid modification of our environment. In fact it is the most abrupt change we’re likely to ever experience in business at such a global scale.
We were all sent home one day. The printer was left behind. Everything else as well. We literally had to adapt and transform our systems overnight.
Unsurprisingly, and to use our example above I’ve heard about companies that were thinking about going paperless for years and did it in days.
What is happening now?
In the short term, the challenge is about dealing with social distancing and new safety measures, adapting to new regulations, new customers needs as well as staff needs.
These are the obvious ones, highly impacted by external factors imposed on us. The solutions for the short term hurdles have typically been around for a while.
Some of them don’t involve much new technology at all. For example, picking up the phone and gauging the situation by talking to customers and suppliers is a good start in terms of immediate response. Emails with regular updates on the latest are also a great way to stay relevant.
Then embrace technology. You won’t look back. Leveraging tools such as Slack and Zoom to remain connected with the teams is a lifesaver. We also have industry specific systems readily available online: Virtual tours, inspection apps, tenant applications, online signatures, etc.
Find the printers, get the team involved and make it obsolete.
What is happening tomorrow and the day after?
In the medium and long term, we’ll face much deeper challenges.
However they aren’t going to be that obvious at all. It will be mainly made of new expectations from both the customers and the staff. Expectations are a lot more subtle to notice than immediate needs. It’s not a case of immediate response anymore.
Therefore business leaders must be able to closely monitor performance and continuously listen. The difference here is that is your call, you must create this environment. No crisis will take care of it for you.
But don’t delay that one, because there is a hefty price to pay being late in a rapidly evolving environment. Again, it is vital that the team participates and becomes accountable. You can’t do it all on your own. If you do, you won’t get the necessary buy-in for it to work.
Share the problems, promote transparency and make your staff be part of finding the solutions.
After the current events, Property Management teams will expect to be able to work remotely. This trend is here to stay. But it doesn’t mean that you should lose sight of how the service is being delivered.
Actually, it means exactly the opposite. Remote or partially remote teams can be very successful, but only where performance is closely monitored.
How we can help you get well ahead of the game
At Umanest, we give you instant visibility on your Property Management business, and a serious advantage in the medium and long term.
You can now easily measure your business performance, make your teams accountable and understand your customers expectations.
Are you interested in building a strong business with a system that makes it future-proof?
Then contact us for a free discovery and strategy session. Book here.
Want to take your Property Management business to the next level? Schedule your free meeting here.