The last few months have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride for the property management industry across the world. However, it is truly commendable to see how the professionals have had to react to the challenges the pandemic put on them. From closing key facilities in the buildings and controlling the residents during the lockdown – the community managers have put it many best practices in place while adhering to government regulations.
Now with the next phase post the lockdown means a whole lot more. They will not only need to ensure the safety among the occupants but also re-establish that trust with the.
In a recent webinar hosted by CM today, industry professionals - Jeevan J D’Mello, CEO, Zenesis Corp; Kanagaraj Gurusamy, Director - Owners Affairs, Deyaar Community Management; and Yunusa Aminu, Senior FM Consultant, Gregory & Jones Consultants LLC, came together to understand what this next phase will mean to the regional property management industry.
Exploring the overall impact of COVID-19 both in the region and internationally in the property management industry, D’Mello rightfully pointed out that the world over one is facing the same storm but each one is in different boats. It was pointed out how owners & residents have now realized the importance of Community Management & FM Profession. Most management companies have developed a crisis management and business continuity plans and have survived the market. Resources have been thought through and deployed accordingly to ensure that the community infrastructures; Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP) Sytems; Life Safety Systems; and Critical equipment is well-maintained. The key challenge to collect Service Charges has increased substantially so the Property Managers have had to be creative with their expenditures.
A big impact for Community Associations (OAs), Boards meetings have been the means of communication that had to be done via video-conferencing, and Voting was done by electronic means only. “On a more positive side, Community Managers have become Educators, Leaders, and Frontline Heroes because of the all the lessons that they have learned due to the pandemic,” adds D’Mello.
Aminu pointed out the interdependency between the Facility Manager and Community Manager was a key impact of the pandemic.
Comeback Strategy – Communication is Key!
Communication has always been the key, but it has now taken a whole new meaning as we now explore how to keep that communication ongoing. Companies have been forced to digitally transform themselves, and start thinking more creatively. D’Mello says that with the cancellations of major conferences across the world, professionals are now more comfortable with e-meetings, webinars, and finding it a far more impactful to learn from speakers across the world.
Communication within a facility has changed to a large extent. Aminu says that there has to be a robust communication between all the stakeholders about the initiatives being taken by the management team. Contactless communication with the residents, opening up e-payment channels, providing information about social distancing, and regular updates about the maintenance, are some of the ways communication has improved between the stakeholders of a property.
However, this now has to continue even post the lock-down. During the lockdown, one has realized how effective communication tools are, and with the next phase, it is even more important to maintain if not improve the means of communication.
Re-opening Guidelines- Re-establishing Trust
At the time of the webinar, Dubai was on Stage 1 of reopening. However, now the Emirate has opened up 100 percent. The challenge remains for Property Managers to re-establish trust with their stakeholders and to maintain the assets in its full capacity.
Gurusamy pointed out how one must adhere to government guidelines strictly and then re-open the facilities to its full capacity. He stated that all assets should conduct a specialized cleaning schedule, maintain hygiene, and regular upkeep of the common areas of the communities. There should be a weekly disinfection program and a strategic phased approach should be followed as per government guidelines to reopen amenities within a building.
An effective communication plan with all the Do’s and Don’ts should be made available to all the residents and one should continuously monitor all aspects of the facilities.
For a community manager, it is also important to create a sense of safety among the residents. Gurusamy shares how one can create an online event to engage the customers that can enable them to stay safe at home. Posters, notices, and good signages should be made available for the residents to be more aware of the current situation.
Even initiatives like online health classes, education on immunity-boosting food can be beneficial to occupants.
Challenges are bound to be there, as no one so far has experienced anything like the COVID-19 before. From the financial point of view to sustaining market situations, increased expectations in service standards, and to be able to maturely handle day-to-day operations are just some of the key challenges one may face on the job.
Aminu says that one has to be prepared for the cost impact that the new recovery strategy as new requirements will mean additional cost and investment for the property managers. While D’Mello points out how Service Charge collections will continue to be an issue for maybe a year. And community managers will need to handle this with sensitivity while making sure their community budgets are not in peril.
It’s all about the way we approach this ongoing storm. A collaborative approach with all the stakeholders involved will take one a long way, says Aminu. While D’Mello rightly points out that one must remember that the pandemic is not over, we are only learning to live with it responsibly. Hence, it is important to note that one should continue to focus on prevention of infection; continuity of operations; communication; and protection of lives.
Institutes such as the Community Associations Institute and International Real Estate Management Institute (IREM) are now at the forefront of learning and development and so CMs should continue their education online.
Companies will have to ‘right-size’ themselves to face the new normal by retaining only staff that can perform with minimum supervision and management will have to learn to perform ‘self-service’ functions rather than relying on the subordinate to the work for them.
Self-discipline and time management will become critical assets for those in the industry. However, Gurusamy rightly points out that it is very important to stay as positive as possible. As it is when you think and act positively to any situation can bring in the desired results.