The State of the Management Nation How 2 Years of COVID Have Changed the Profession

Like just about every other occupation on the planet, property management has been profoundly altered by the coronavirus pandemic and the changes it’s brought to society at large, with many of the challenges and stressors we’ve all had to face hitting residential management industry professionals especially hard. Despite the proliferation of apps and other innovations that have enabled many tasks to be handled remotely, the fact remains that for everything from physical plant maintenance to apartment inspections to resolving resident conflicts, property management remains a hands-on job. Adjusting to the “new normal” of periodic lockdowns, remote meetings, social distancing, and the ubiquitous threat of a deadly virus has certainly taken its toll on everyone in the business. But it’s also led to some silver linings and unexpected bright spots along the way.

Going Remote, for Better or Worse

Depending on the industry—and who you ask—remote work, virtual everything, and the technology used to make it all possible have been either a blessing or a curse (or a fair bit of both). On the one hand, many can skip the commute and work in their PJs, and companies can save on the overhead expenses that go with a brick-and-mortar office. On the other hand, many employees miss out on friendly water cooler chat and the ability to conduct business with colleagues in person. 

Across the country, property managers express the same duality in their experience, finding that while platforms like Zoom and Skype have enabled them to continue serving their client communities and keep things operating despite restrictions on indoor gatherings and other face-to-face interactions, there really is no substitute—and in many cases, managers consider an in-person, on-the-ground approach to be among their best professional assets. 

Michael Refat, CMCA, MBA, is regional director for FirstService Residential in New England. He says, “One of the biggest impacts [of these past two years] is managers not being able to go to buildings. As property managers, we’re supposed to go meet the trustees, inspect the buildings, meet the on-site staff, meet the vendors. So now everybody is meeting virtually, [and] the downside to this is that you don’t have that personal touch, that connection; you don’t get to establish a relationship that way. So property management has been negatively impacted by the lack of ability to go to the sites and the lack of ability to establish relationships with vendors, trustees, service providers, and on-site staff. And of course, when I don’t go to inspect the property as frequently as I used to, or I’m more restricted in my ability to visit the units, then my work is negatively impacted.”

On the flip side of the equation, but with equal impact on property managers, is the fact that the residents in many multifamily properties are themselves now part of this new remote workforce. Now they’re home throughout the day, noticing that the hallway carpeting is getting worn, or that they’re disturbed by their neighbor’s afternoon tuba lesson, and they expect their managers to respond to these grievances right away, no matter the day or time. Claudine Gruen, vice president, director of operations for Garthchester Realty based in Queens, says that the volume of emails her staff receives is “overwhelming” and that “people have lost their ability to be patient.” Residents tend to forget that theirs is not the only issue in a building or community, she says, and they assume that an ‘open 24 hours’ communication platform like email implies a 24-hours-a-day response. 

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