In an English class this term we were assigned to write a persuasive argument essay. I made the choice to find a topic within multifamily and struggled initially to decide between staffing or the age old courtesy officer argument. Ultimately I made a choice to write about a topic that can be properly researched and has substantial meaning to operations as the landscape of our work changes with technology.
I leaned on a few peeps for support and revisions. Huge thanks to Betsy and Stephanie for their input and support during many revision phases.
The essay includes research and credit where credit is due is found in references and citations.
If the due date had been due just a bit later, I could have utilized so many nuggets from the AIM Conference this year. However, even with the dates not lining up for me to include real time seminars and interviews for the research, just having the opportunity to hear other industry professionals solidify some of the concerns with proptech and reiterate the importance of human interaction/engagement was refreshing.
Changing the Paradigm of Staffing
The standard for hiring in the multifamily apartment industry on-site has been a ratio of 1 team member for every 100 units, for at least 20 years. This practice continues to be the standard mostly for the cost benefits associated with it; payroll is one of the highest line items on annual budgets and there is the rule of thumb “control the expenses that we can.” The practice of controlling expenses should not come at the sacrifice of the on-site teams. With the increased metrics of success in resident satisfaction found in resident surveys, reviews, and feedback, we must proactively provide on-site teams with the ability to meet those metrics. In what is still a pandemic safety-oriented workplace, we must consider work schedules combined with potential symptoms, quarantines, and the reality of new flex time for team members. Many industry professionals would assert that technology like AI, chatbots, call centers, and more, has provided the ability to scale back in staffing and has proven increased efficiencies for on-site teams. While there are many elements of technology that give on-site teams opportunities to focus and prioritize, factors exist that inundate on-site teams with more workload. The antiquated idea that multifamily staffing on-site should remain at 1 team member per 100 units is no longer sustainable due to an increased focus on resident satisfaction, newfound burden of employee schedules in a post pandemic world, and presumed cost savings related to the implementation of property technology or proptech.
Resident satisfaction is considered one of the highest priorities for the on-site team and is often marked as a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) in an employee performance review and in executive level reporting. Online surveys, in-person feedback, and social platform reviews are many of the ways that resident satisfaction are measured. The value in these measurables are found in the opportunity for all team members, from executive level to on-site, to pivot if necessary, to applaud areas of success, and to focus on those areas of weakness. According to a study on resident satisfaction by Russell N. James III, he mentions several variables directly affecting resident satisfaction from staff communications, friendliness of management, cooperation or understanding from staff and other factors (Russell, 2007). Residents want a sense of community, engagement on social media, they want more parties and gatherings. They have an expectation of basic customer service: telephone calls answered, problems resolved, a home in working order, but they also want to be surprised by the unexpected, the wow-factor. According to Doyle (2021), “Resident satisfaction is within the top three on the list of property managers’ objectives.” If resident satisfaction is an indicator of performance for on-site team members, a top priority for the team and the requirements to meet resident satisfaction include some version of human interaction, it only proves beneficial to ensure that the on-site team is adequately staffed to meet the expectations. The reality is, even in the event metrics are being met, or exceeded, there is still an additional workload; happy surveyed residents do not end the expectations. Providing the on-site teams adequate staffing will result in residents checking the box, “Exceeded Expectations”.
In addition to not having enough team members to meet expectations, on-site teams are also met with the challenge of scheduling the team members they do have. Scheduling on-site teams has always proved to be a balancing act. In an example with a standard six-day workweek, a team of four, and one team member working the weekend, a manager will always end with only three team members for three days of the week. As though this was not difficult enough when the unexpected happens, managers are now presented with schedule conflicts associated with a pandemic. In a post pandemic safety-oriented world, the schedule comes with significantly more unanticipated changes. Teams are met with the challenge of quarantines, the stress of sick team members, and waiting out test results due to symptoms and fever checks. The team’s safety is vital and steps to remove risks will leave teams short staffed in an industry that is essential. In addition, flex hours are also being considered for many team members that permits them to work from home. The workload has not stopped or decreased during the pandemic, if anything, it has increased and now there is a new schedule conflict to consider. Industry pro, Betsy Kirkpatrick says it best and even ties the employee experience to the resident experience when she said in a 2021 interview at NAA, “If your staff experience is bad, your resident experience is going to be terrible. We’re understaffing our communities as an industry, we need to take better care of site teams, so concentrate on your team and then move it out.” (Betsy Kirkpatrick, NAA 2021 Interview). There is a direct correlation between the employee experience and the resident experience. If a property management company is measured by its positive culture environment, rest assured, that measured success or failure will be equally visible in resident satisfaction scores.
This staffing ratio argument can be opposed with the use of property technology, often referred to as proptech, in the industry. Proptech can be considered AI (artificial intelligence), chatbots, self-guided and/or virtual tours, and so much more. There is value in proptech and its use is fundamental to the multifamily industry remaining relevant and is vital to securing the metric of resident satisfaction. There cannot be assumptions that the use of any proptech allows the industry’s ratio of 1 per 100 to stay the same. The introduction of technology on-site, partnered with proper training, provides the on-site team the ability to be more efficient andrelieves them from certain tasks, but, in some instances, can add to the workload. In the April 2021 article, “Why Chatbots Are a Must-Have for Multifamily Marketing”, Bell Partners mentions significant growth in leases in a five-month period at one community (from 15 to 43 in the same period) and an increase in tours scheduled based on the ability of afterhours conversations (Friedman, 2021). The value in this example can be found in the obvious growth in closing leases, but those tours and leases increase the workload of the on-site teams with answering necessary questions, evaluating, and approving new applications, and performing the proper paperwork trail (even in the event the property is paperless). For those that recollect when call centers entered the industry, team members spent their days reviewing calls because there was too often a disconnect between off-site call centers and the property’s objective. Team members were left feeling undervalued for the additional work as a result of something that was intended to make them more efficient, knowing they could do better than those off-site were paid to do. Valuing the on-site team members includes proper training of the technology combined with the assurance of a seamless transition from the proptech to the human on the other side of the process. Often the on-site team members are left to the troubleshooting phase of a new technology causing additional frustrations. Faith Aids, VP of Marketing and Branding for Laramar Group, mentioned in the 2019 article, “The Amazonification of Leasing” how busy teams are and how many different directions they are being pulled in throughout the day. Trying to find tech partners that make life easier on them, so the end result is that they are able to provide a higher level of service” (Willis, 2019).
When everything in the multifamily industry is so interconnected, it is only presumed that changing the standard of staffing will benefit every facet of the industry. Mike Brewer even asks what’s the optimum staffing for more tech enabled properties (Davidoff, 2019). My answer will consistently be, change the paradigm of overstaffing and let’s shift the ratio to 1 per 45-61 units in order to account for what Mike mentions as “the need for improved soft skills.” With the ability to better understand the resident expectations and act on them, combined with conflicting work schedules during a pandemic, and technology that is sometimes counterintuitive to the presumed efficiency, workload has only increased. Let us break the paradigm of overstaffing and re-evaluate the sustainability of our biggest asset, our on-site team members.
Davidoff, D. (2019, June 1). Technology Will Change Multifamily Leasing: AI technologies, self guided tours and short-term rental platforms are set to change the prospect and resident experience. Units, 43(6).
Doyle, D. (2021, April 15). The Power of Resident Satisfaction Surveys. https://www.multihousingnews.com/post/the-power-of-resident-satisfaction-surveys/
Friedman, R. (2021, April 13). Why Chatbots Are a Must-Have for Multifamily Marketing. https://www.multihousingnews.com/post/why-chatbots-are-a-must-have-for-multifamily- marketing/
James, R.N.,III. (2007). Multifamily housing characteristics and tenant satisfaction. Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities, 21(6).
Willis, P. (2019, March 1). The Amazonification of Leasing: Appropriate technology solutions can streamline the leasing process. Units, 43(3).