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How are community managers across the world facing the pandemic?

 

Community Managers explain how they have been handling the many challenges on the job and most importantly the key lessons they learned this year.

 

Filed under
Community Management
 
October 18, 2020
 
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How are community managers across the world facing the pandemic?
 

The year 2020 has certainly left an impact on all of us in many ways than one. The pandemic that took the world by storm has not spared even the Community Management industry across the world. However, while we are all facing the same storm we are all in different boats.

In this ongoing series, CM today talks to Community Managers across the world to understand how they have been handling the many challenges on the job and most importantly the key lessons they learned in the last few months.

Middle East:

Garry Murray, CEO, Core Owner’s Association

The impact of the pandemic on the Community Management sector in the region:

I believe there are two ways to look at the impact of the pandemic in the Community Management sector. On the negative front, there was a drop-off in collections, and projects with limited cash flow faced challenges, particularly in line with new requirements to open facilities within the project. 

On a positive note, there was a significant community of managers behind the scenes working together to ensure the project could operate. I’m not talking just internally within companies but across companies externally. The industry joined together to support each other.

It also made us reflect on our operations. None of us were ready for a global pandemic, but the ones that had already made moves to digital management and had the digital infrastructure to pivot into online operations helped. That is something our peers across the world also spoke about when we have spoken to Australia, South Africa, and the UK, for example, those that we're already planning our remote management faired better than those that didn’t.

 - Key lessons learned 

 I think there’s a lesson in the business model across Community Management that manpower is important. But the internal infrastructure to manage multiple projects in real-time is a challenge and we need to ensure our managers and communities are equipped to quickly switch to remote operations via the inclusion of PropTech. This way more communities will be data-driven and decisions will be made for us via Artificial Intelligence. That means that the management agent needs to evolve operations - I don’t see many projects needing full-time managers or multiple resources in the future. 

The three key lessons that I learned from the pandemic was that you can never plan enough. You need to keep reinforcing emergency procedures internally and to your clients. It will never be enough but you can reduce any issues faced with positive reinforcement.

Secondly, communication. We have so many tools available to us to communicate but it’s about getting the right message out promptly. Factual but reassuring, it was a difficult time however we will all be stronger for it.

Finally, I learned that you can never predict human nature, people will do what people do, and we need to be flexible to operate within those environments. From staff to clients, you can’t predict how people are going to react in a crisis, so it was an interesting lesson in human behavior.

- The way forward 

 I believe the industry needs to evolve; we aren’t building managers or facility managers in the traditional sense. We need to take our aspect of management seriously to ensure the right protocols, budget, responsibilities are clearly outlined within the community, and it is after all their community. 

You might find more cross-over from other non-real estate or technical careers, perhaps more from the hospitality and tourism trade, which has suffered badly in recent times. Our role is one of service, one of compliance, and one of management, and perhaps we should be looking further afield into the manufacturing and logistics fields to streamline daily operations. 

USA:

John Hammersmith, CEO, Hammersmith Management

The impact of the pandemic on the Community Management sector in the region:

The impact of the pandemic on the community association management industry has been enormous, but not all in a bad way. Due to social distancing, we have all needed to adapt to meetings via video conferencing. Video conferencing has turned out to be an excellent thing for Community Managers. 

The meetings have become more productive, taken less time, and become more civil.

One other item of note is how quickly most management companies were able to move from an office environment t to a virtual one for many, if not all, employees. 

This 'virtual world' has made annual meetings of the membership a bit more challenging. It is more challenging to coordinate a zoom meeting of 200 people than it is to do so in person. It has left many management companies to decide if bring everyone back into an office setting is the right thing to do. If not, what do we do with all the unneeded office space?

 - Key lessons learned 

There were many lessons one got to learn during this year. The three key lessons were:

  1. When faced with the necessity, we can be agile and adapt to whatever the circumstances require, and we can do it in a shorter period than we thought possible
  2. In-person Board meetings may not be the best way to conduct association business, for the Board members and the managers
  3. Working from home may be one of the best things to come out of the pandemic

We were able to have our 200 employees working at our offices on a Friday and all set up and working from home by Monday. Working from home is not for everyone, but we have seen productivity and employee morale increase during the pandemic. The turnover with our community managers has decreased to an all-time low during the pandemic. I think the main reason is the flexibility that has come with working remotely. Our managers are better serving our clients because they are happier with flexibility.

- The way forward 

As we move forward to whatever the new normal will be, I think that virtual meetings are here to stay. I think working remotely will become the norm rather than the exception. Technology has played a significant role in our business over the past 40 years; that trend will continue with the need to utilize more technology faster than ever before.

It is an exciting time to be in the Community Management business. Over the past 40 years, I have seen many recessions, business upturns, and business downturns, but our company has weathered all of them and even found ways to flourish while others have struggled. All in all, I am so fortunate to have chosen Community Association management as my career.

Brazil: 

Leonardo C. V. Schneider, Director, APSA; Brazil

- The impact of the pandemic on the Community Management sector in the region

We observed a great impact on the isolation of people. The vast majority of residents are spending more time inside their homes. Mixed activities like working, studying, cooking, etc. have kept them occupied. This reality greatly affected the daily life of the condominiums. At the same time, there was also a feeling of togetherness was generated, tension has increased and relationships have often been strained. We also observed great care with the cleaning of the common parts and the care with the access of people from outside the community.

 - Key lessons learnt 

A key lesson learnt was the fact that the routines changed. We had to adapt very quickly to this new normal of living, from homework, using websites to ordering food, teaching children school duties, everything went digital. However, digitalization and adapting to more digital options helped a lot. The fact that one couldn’t reach out to remote places and monitor the facilities, using technology to our advantage helped a lot. 

I believe that a great lesson is that at this hour, less is more! The simple things are what make the real difference. Another lesson was our resilience. The strength to overcome and seek alternative ways to move on helped a lot on the job and home front. 

And one last lesson was that we are not perfect beings. We often charge ourselves too much and we want to be the best, but everything is from the inside out, that if we learn to deal with these thoughts and attitudes we could have a more balanced healthy life.

- The way forward 

During the pandemic, our branches were closed, we couldn't have physical contact and at the same time, the communities with practically all the residents living there and with a series of new processes made it all the more challenging. I believe that the commercial segment is also affected by the movement of people working more from their homes.

I believe that the segment will transform towards the digital world. Services, solutions, and the relationship between the company and customers will change towards a more digital approach. In this pandemic, we were forced to look for digital alternatives so that we can continue to provide our services. 

South Africa:

Johan Kruger, CEO, Association Management Solutions (Pty)Ltd; South Africa

- The impact of the pandemic on the Community Management sector in the region

The pandemic created uncertainty amongst Community Associations and their members. We are currently in the middle of the storm and infections amongst staff have disrupted the operations. The tolerance levels between Owners, Management, and Directors are under severe strain as anxiety levels increase and the uncertainty of what the future will hold. The financial impact has not yet filtered through to Community Associations and we are probably three to five months away before we will experience the impact.

- Key lessons learnt

One of the key lessons that were learnt was the importance for the Community Association to have Reserves funds and to have an updated Reserve study in place. Another lesson is to have an open, transparent, and well informed (legally sound) communications to the members regularly. There were too many interpretations of the regulations announced by the Government in our region and this lead to confusion and conflict between the Community associations and its members.

In South Africa, the management teams are based on-site at their Communities. This has changed as offsite/remote working has become more acceptable and possible.

- The way forward 

Definitely, there will be a good amount of investment in technology for management and staff to work remotely and still being able to provide a service to the members. Community Associations general meetings are a thing of the past and over the next few years, General meetings will be done on-line. This might also encourage more members to participate in these meetings as access will be easier.

The Mental wellness for Community Association staff will become as important as it is currently with big corporates. I believe we will see more investment in mental wellness for staff and service providers. Financial planning, budget process, and cost efficiencies will be a huge challenge over the 5 years as members will battle to pay their contributions to the Community Association. Payment holidays and zero increase budgets will also become the norm.

 

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