As the coronavirus became widespread around the world, the demand for remote work has never been greater. This applies to almost every industry including real estate property management. As a property manager, you probably spend a lot of time in the field seeing as many of your duties happen outside of the office, like following up on leads, taking marketing pictures of properties, and meeting with renters. Needless to say, you’ve probably experienced disruptions to daily life and business activities due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is not “Business As Usual” and it could be a while before a normal operating rhythm returns. Hence, like most businesses in 2020, property management companies have turned to remote work.
Telecommuting might have seemed like a pipe dream 10 years ago. Now, however, it has been becoming a natural part of the work environment. Data shows that there were already 7 million people working remotely in the US (or 3.4% of the population) before the arrival of COVID-19. The number of people working remotely has also grown by 44% over the last five years. With no signs of when the current pandemic would end and shelter-at-home orders in most states, it’s clear that remote work statistics will show big increases in sheer number in 2020 and beyond.
Property managers naturally have high standards of responsibility, especially in uncertain times. Many people rely on managers to keep them safe and protect their interests, from employees to rental property owners, investors, residents, and tenants. But working from home presents new challenges that property managers don’t normally have to face. Whether you’re a residential or vacation property manager, keep reading the following 10 tips to retain efficiency during this period.
#1 Create a Pandemic Plan
A well-designed pandemic plan allows a property manager to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and to refine your response as needed. When developing your pandemic plan, it’s critical to state your objectives and provide a basic overview of what you want to accomplish. Objectives of rental management companies during this crisis could include:
- Reducing the spread of infection among your employees, residents, and tenants
- Minimizing the impact on your clients, owners, and investors
- Maintaining business operations
- Maintaining a calm and controlled leadership
- Communicating with transparency
The next steps in developing a property management business plan are creating a remote team and identifying decision-makers. The team will decide when/how to activate the pandemic plan and should agree on which events will trigger action. Make sure to set clear expectations from team members. The more information you provide, the easier it’ll be to keep groups aligned when they’re working remotely. And of course, share plans and remote work best practices with your employees and network of contractors.
#2 Keep a List of Quality Contractors
Speaking of contractors, making sure you’re working with quality professionals is always important, but especially during a pandemic. All successful property management companies keep a list of contractors that they can contact whenever work needs to be done on the property on-site. For example, you need contractors to perform regular maintenance on the property like landscaping, snow removal, and spraying for pests. You also need contractors who can address specific issues reported by tenants or residents like clogged gutters or tree removal. Moreover, you need to know which contractors are available to handle emergencies like fire or failure of critical appliances. During these times, you can’t afford to seek out local services last minute, so make sure you keep a list beforehand.
#3 Keep The Team Connected
One of the best parts of being a property manager is the fact that you’re part of a team. But as a leader, you need to maintain engagement and support among your employees when managing a remote team. This is essential as it’ll increase their efficiency as they work from home. Thanks to technology and online tools, you can continue running your real estate business virtually. You can host team meetings using Zoom or Skype. For one-on-one meetings, you can use Slack’s built-in video call functionality, Facetime, WhatsApp, or just call your team members. And as for regular telecommuting, use Slack or simply start a WhatsApp group chat so you can leave messages for your remote team directly.
#4 Track What Is and Isn’t Working
Part of your property manager duties in these times is to keep track of your remote work policy and communications efforts. Working remotely can be a different experience for every business, and you want to track results to discover the best practices for your remote team and company. Some property management companies might find it more efficient to stay connected constantly through instant messaging while working remotely. Others, however, might only need to rely on occasional video conferences.
By integrating your collaboration tools with analytics and workforce optimization systems, you can see what’s working more efficiently. You can also have property management software to assist you in seeing how many people are adopting your collaboration apps and where staff needs extra help. Also, track the speed with which projects are being completed. If people aren’t meeting their deadlines, then you can quickly set up meetings to find out what might be going wrong. Remember, much of learning how to work from home in a team involves trial and error.
#5 Maintain Renter Communications
Remote property managers also need to have reliable methods to stay connected with renters at the rental properties that they manage. For example, if there’s an issue or work scheduled to be done, renters should always be notified. This can include maintaining a database of renter contact information and sending out notifications via emails, text messages, or social media. Establishing a communication portal is important to allow tenants to reach out if they have maintenance requests. You also need to promptly return all calls and e-mails from your real estate clients and renters and provide progress updates on any issues you may be working on for them. It’s best for residential property managers to have property management software/app or set up a CRM to keep track of reminders and communications.
#6 Set Up Digital Payments
Collecting rent payments on time can be one of the toughest property manager duties even during normal times. However, getting paid promptly every month is essential especially in these times. Luckily, online rent payments will simplify the remote work process for both you and your tenants. Most people can’t leave their homes now due to the coronavirus pandemic, so rent payment can only be done digitally. This will have you collecting rent efficiently without the hassle of paper checks. So if you don’t already have an online rent payment system, now is the time to set one up. Popular platforms include ClickPay, Wave, and PayYourRent. Make sure to find a system that accepts multiple forms of payment (like credit, debit, and direct bank transfers) and processes payments quickly.
#7 Market Vacant Properties Virtually
If you’re wondering how to market your vacant rental properties during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider this remote work tip. Real estate agents are using virtual reality to conduct virtual open house tours for potential buyers. Property managers can do the same thing to market their rentals to potential tenants. What you can do is film a video tour of a vacant rental and add it to the property’s listing. Be sure to capture both the interior and exterior of the property as well as any notable details and amenities. There are also online tools that allow taking 360 photos and adding virtual furniture. You can post the video on social media channels to get more views, impress your real estate client, and even generate property management leads.
#8 Set Up Remote Screening Systems
A residential property manager is also responsible for screening potential renters. The screening process is even more important for remote work managers because problem tenants are an even bigger issue to handle from afar. You can receive applications electronically and review them to evaluate and determine if a candidate meets the established criteria. Thanks to digital databases, you can run both background and credit checks as well as employment verification while working remotely. Moreover, you can conduct tenant interviews through online video calls using Zoom or Skype. Depending on where your business is located, you might be able to meet in-person at the management’s office (following safe social distancing measures) to sign the lease.
#9 Be Open to Flexible Working Conditions
It’s important to build flexibility into your remote work policy. As you know, the unemployment rate is going up as businesses shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As people lose their jobs, renters might have a hard time making payments. A drop in rent collection equals a drop in property management fees. The problem is that the real estate business you work for still has most of its fixed costs to pay. Of course, it might be uncomfortable to work fewer hours or accept a reduced wage. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of, and always speak with Fair Work if you are unsure. However, a scaled-back yet a sustainable role is better than no role at all or having your business doors closing. So keep an open mind to that possibility.
#10 Remember to Deliver Work/Life Balance
Finally, while remote work has a lot of benefits, it has its negatives too. For example, data shows that 77% of employees working remotely say they’re more productive when working from home. However, 22% of remote employees say that unplugging after work is their biggest challenge. Meaning, while your remote property management team might be more productive, that extra productivity could quickly lead to burnout. With that in mind, it’s critical to help your team (and yourself!) achieve better work/life balance. For example, let your team know that just because they’re online doesn’t mean they have to be “available.” Make time in the remote work schedule for team members to communicate about non-work things and get to know their colleagues better. Regular communication will help develop bonds that make employees more loyal to your property management company.
The Bottom Line
Remote work has been in demand for years in the US but, due to the coronavirus pandemic, more industries are starting to take that approach. Thanks to real estate technology and virtual reality, property managers can conduct most, if not all, of their duties while working remotely. If you own a rental property management company and managing a remote team in 2020, you should strive to better serve your real estate clients and renters of the properties you manage. To make sure you achieve this with efficiency, keep these 10 remote work best practices in mind.
To stay informed on coronavirus updates and how to succeed as a property manager in the US, keep reading Mashvisor’s coronavirus trends in real estate blogs.