How technology is helping property managers address the challenges of COVID-19
While COVID-19 has been devastating to communities across the world, it has also led property management teams everywhere to suddenly become much more creative with their approaches to generating and demonstrating value to their tenants. Indeed, the crisis provides a great opportunity for flexible managers: not only is there a chance to highlight the attention and care being put into keeping spaces clean and healthy, but the disruptiveness of the outbreak means that managers who find unique ways to keep tenants engaged even if they are off-site will earn big points with space users.
This is more important now than ever. While fundamental parts of the real estate world are changing due to the stresses of the outbreak, the demand for advanced technological solutions used in building management will only grow with time. In some ways, COVID-19 represents a trial by fire: who is prepared to take advantage of the tools and new approaches out there to keep occupiers satisfied and deliver value to owners?
Not sure how to get tenants back to offices? Here are key areas to drive action.
While there are plenty of big-picture questions that can be asked right now, in more practical terms the most pressing questions are twofold: How exactly are managers responding to the crisis, and what sort of tech tools are most effective in helping them fulfill tenant expectations quickly and successfully? In this article, we’ll consider five different areas of property management and tech-based responses: safety and cleaning, tenant experience and communication, intra-team communication, contactless technology and virtual reality. Read on for more.
"Even once the situation becomes more normal, there will be a need for constant safety and cleaning monitoring through the use of data and not just from expensive human sources like security services."
1. Safety and cleaning
First of all, maintaining safety in buildings must be the top priority for any property management team. Keeping well-trafficked areas clean is the most direct way to do this. The frequency of cleaning and disinfection of surfaces has increased significantly, according to our discussions with property managers. This will create the need for constant monitoring of the space, in order to optimise such services. Managers will be able to leverage data from intelligent BMS tools, as well as from other sources or dedicated devices that will help provide a constant flow of information.
Another challenge facing both building owners and tenants is the safety of employees in common areas and in office suites themselves. "We are aware of the enormous challenge of preparing the right strategy covering all guidelines related to maintaining the safety of employees when they return to the offices,” said Neil McLocklin, partner and head of the EMEA strategic consulting line at Knight Frank. “That is why we have prepared a re-occupancy roadmap, which provides guidance on re-occupancy. In this way we support our clients in preparing a minimum risk strategy, as well as developing procedures and guidelines for adapting office space to new security requirements.”
Even once the situation becomes more normal, there will be a need for constant safety and cleaning monitoring through the use of data and not just from expensive human sources like security services. For more on keeping spaces clean amidst the outbreak, check out this article.
2. Tenant experience and communication
On the tenant experience side, property managers have a wide range of opportunities available to them. At the simplest level, apps like Spaceflow allow managers to keep their occupants informed about what is going on, both at the building-specific level as well as portfolio-wide. “Managers can let occupiers know the details: information on maintenance, common area cleaning, precautions they have introduced, or good advice on what the residents themselves should be doing to stay safe,” said Lukas Balik, CEO and co-founder of Spaceflow. “In the Spaceflow app, property managers can use existing content templates from the Spaceflow team and or craft their own posts and notify users with push notifications,” he added.
Tenant experience apps also allow occupants to connect with each other and avoid unnecessary virus exposure. Virtual events, such as happy hours, chats based on shared interests, or trivia games can be held easily via video conferencing tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Property managers can also organise daily challenges or activities, such as an exercise, puzzle or posted question for discussion.
3. Intra-team communication
It’s important that managers stay in contact with their tenants but it is also critical that managers stay connected to their own teams, whether they are involved in maintenance or other tasks. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom all contribute to effective information exchange and videoconferencing, particularly when combined with the ability to accept maintenance tickets from building occupiers.
"One University of Arizona research piece from 2014 has shown that virus on door handles and desks can spread to 40 to 60% of surfaces across the entire building within two to four hours."
4. Contactless technology
Access control is another area where property managers are leveraging tech to keep occupiers safe and well-serviced. One University of Arizona research piece from 2014 has shown that virus on door handles and desks can spread to 40 to 60% of surfaces across the entire building within two to four hours.
By keeping building entrances secured with a combination of video surveillance and visitor system integrated into apps on tenants’ phones, rather than handing over physical keys or keycards, managers can ensure that the risk of spreading the virus is minimized. They can even understand where exactly visitors like food delivery people are going within the property, helping target cleaning efforts to specific areas. In China, in some communities, more strict measures have been introduced and deliverymen are restricted from entering buildings altogether.
Additionally, enabling access control systems that utilize phone apps, and not physical keys or keycards, helps keep high-contact surfaces cleaner and reduce the infection potential for each space user.
"Thanks to the touchless room booking capability we help to minimize unnecessary contact."
5. Virtual reality
Regardless of what kind of property you’re talking about, taking (and managing) physical tours is now a dangerous proposition. Solving that leasing challenge are virtual tour companies, which use 3D cameras and advanced software to develop floor plans and 360-degree tours of spaces large or small. Allowing prospective tenants the ability to see a space firsthand, on their own time, frees up bandwidth for leasing staff while also keeping spaces, and people, that much safer. Here you can check out some free and open-source virtual tour solutions.
Property managers have a huge task to address right now. However, modern technology is making their job much easier and safer. With the right combination of forethought, planning and strategic tech investments, managers can reinforce their brand and continue to offer value even during a pandemic.
Written together with Knight Frank team.
How can you keep tenants engaged with games and activities while remote? Find out here.