21st Century Communication in Multifamily

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Team collaboration across a large apartment portfolio often proves challenging, particularly during growth cycles. Assembling the key players and sending an email alone takes time and money, and sometimes the message gets lost along the way, especially when it’s directed to so many inboxes.

Still, according to 61 percent of those polled in a Pew Center study, email remains very important to their jobs. And yet many property management professionals feel that email has become a relic of the 20th century rather than an effective method for internal communication. Electronic mail, the tried and true means of digital communication since its inception in the mid-70s, has grayed around the temples and fallen out of favor with those who demand fast, real-time communication to keep pace.

Collaborative platforms unite teams inside and outside the office

Losing the message or immediacy of the message, however, is a concern among multifamily leaders who are tasked with shepherding numerous employees while managing large portfolios. The sheer volume of emails that deluge inboxes – the optical equivalent of white noise – sometimes covers important messages or sends them spiraling to the bottom of your inbox.

Before a full house in Dallas at the National Multifamily Housing Council’s OPTECH Conference & Exposition this past November, panelists from Lincoln Property Co., 30 Lines and Imagine Business Development said a new generation of communication tools has provided a way to keep business flowing and get things done more quickly without having to physically corral team members. More are relying on collaborative platforms such as Sococo, Slack, Google Hangouts and Google Chat to host cyber meetings and engage teams no matter their location.

The tools offer a more personal way for leaders to direct employees while getting to the meat of business faster and more reliably.

“I’m not a fan of email; I find it to be as impersonal a form of communication as you can have,” said Steve Saylors, regional vice president for Lincoln Property Co. “The tone can get lost, and that can be frustrating.”

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Direct messaging and private channels lead to better workforce engagement

The aforementioned platforms are high on group interaction while offering venues for private conversation through channels or groups. As with email, users can post and share files – worksheets, PDFs, JPEGs, etc. – but with more imagery for emphasis. Many of the platforms also integrate with social media applications.

None of the panelists suggested abolishing company email, but many agreed that visually oriented platforms appeal to employees’ senses and create a better opportunity for engagement.

Saylors said a big benefit within Lincoln’s vast portfolio of 170,000 managed units is the ability to bring large groups together without travel time and expense. Lincoln uses a platform that features direct messaging and enables creating open and private channels to communicate to large groups.

“We’ve tried to have the traditional stand-ups for managers meeting, where everyone physically comes together,” Saylors said. “We have people driving hours. It puts a great deal of pressure to pack enough information in a short timeframe to really get your bang for that. I feel like we’ve been able to eliminate the need for that. Each of our managers feels more connected to what we’re trying to accomplish as a region, and we can deliver the message more timely and in smaller and easier doses.”

Also, the panel agreed that communicating through video, text and direct messaging is a good way to engage younger employees who don’t always embrace email. The casual approach has the power to put some participants at ease and create a more productive culture.

On the flip side, a seemingly less restrictive environment for communication could send the wrong message, especially when employees leave or conversations get posted outside company walls. The consensus was that managers should carefully determine when they use collaborative communication tools.

Portals enable residents to connect with property management staff

The panelists also discussed ways property management professionals might use the platforms to bring customers into the conversation. For instance, communities can create respective channels for residents or even prospects to chat back and forth, enhancing their searches and living experiences.

That’s nothing new. Resident portals within property management software have already proven effective at enabling residents to communicate with each other and property management staffs beyond email. When it comes to engaging with residents, portals with advanced functionality actually have an edge over basic portals or communication platforms alone.

For instance, the RealPage resident portal uses a unique messaging hub to advance resident engagement through both social and business interaction, but it also allows residents to pay rent, get notifications from property management, report maintenance issues and more. This portal works seamlessly with most property management software, automatically adding, changing and removing users as needed.

‘More complete communication on a regular basis’

The latest data suggests that email won’t go away anytime soon. In many circumstances, it’s still a reliable way to communicate and preferred by many. However, the ultimate goal is to create the most efficient workflow through interaction, and collaborative communication platforms offer a new way to assemble teams, strengthen your messages, and build communities and cultures within your organization.

“Our communication is more deliberate,” said Stacy Bouchard of Imagine Business Development. “While we’re remote, we actually communicate better. These tools have allowed us to do that. Our win with these tools has been more on the internal side and forced us into better and more complete communication on a regular basis.”


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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