EPMEPM: First PersonEPM: Technology & Social

Is technology leaving your team behind?

The real estate industry, in general, is a fast adopter of the latest and greatest technology. As property managers, if there is an app, a program or piece of hardware that promises to make our life easier, we are willing to give it a go. But what about those being left behind? Simone Files investigates.

The return on investment on technology for an agency owner is generally high; the monthly subscription cost of most apps pay for themselves by decreasing the workload and increasing the number of properties that can be managed by their staff. Isn’t that what technology is supposed to do: enhance our life by offering us greater flexibility, so we can accomplish more and have a better work/life balance? Exactly –that’s why we jump on the technology bandwagon.

But technology may be making us lose sight of what is most important: people. The real estate industry is based on the premise of serving people; and as property managers, our area of expertise is to facilitate two parties coming to an agreement, ensuring the agreement is in writing, then managing this process through to its conclusion to ensure all parties are fulfilling their obligations. This might be considered a simplistic view, but I think we sometimes lose sight of what our industry is about –providing service.

The most critical aspect of providing service is communication. We need to provide the stakeholders with answers to the five key questions –who, what, when, why and how. After all, if a tenant and an investor could communicate effectively, would they need us?

The days of having information overload and a screen full of jobs and action items are long gone. Now we have apps with dashboards that let us know when we need to act, instead of being overwhelmed with manual to-do lists.

Software also allows us to handball an issue off to an owner, tradesperson, tenant or another staff member and then it disappears from our screen. We don’t even need to formulate our communication to the next person as templates are already set up and the system happily sends out reminders on your behalf to whoever needs them.

The level of automation available now is a dream for property managers, streamlining our entire day; but, as with everything in life, there are always advantage and disadvantages. Our adopted technology touches a range of people and we need to consider their needs, not just our own.

In property management, it is the investors and tenants –everyone needs a roof over their head, a place to work and somewhere to come home to at night. Our clients and customers are aged between 18 and 100+ and come from all walks of life. Predominately, they fall into the generations of the baby boomers, Gen X and the millennials. Some are tech savvy, while others have never even touched a computer.

The cookie-cutter approach to property management treats everyone the same to ensure consistent delivery of service and economies of scale to agency owners. There is no doubt that software can assist in this method of delivery –but if you talk to an owner they don’t want to be treated the same as everyone else. They believe they are unique, as is their property. Tenants feel this way too and so do our trusted tradespeople.

New managements for an agency fall into one of two categories: properties that haven’t been previously managed or properties that have been transferred from another agency. The latter is an investor frustrated or unhappy with their previous managing agent. Nine times out of ten, lack of communication or a breakdown in communication plays a major part in an investor’s decision to change managing agents. But if we have software in place that is taking care of this communication for us, then why is this happening?

As the use of technology becomes more prevalent the workforce needs to adapt, and this is the case with the considerable number of millennials now working in property management. Agency owners are hiring millennials and Gen Z, tech-savvy workers who are happy to use the latest app and hardware.

PwC’s report ‘Millennials at work – reshaping the workplace’, indicates that 41 per cent of millennials prefer to communicate electronically at work than face to face, or even over the telephone. The report also says technology is often a catalyst for intergenerational conflict in the workplace, with many millennials feeling held back by outdated working styles.

In property management, this technological conflict extends further than non-tech savvy colleagues to also include clients, customers and tradespeople –people who are core to our business. Their needs can differ on so many levels, but their competency with technology is perhaps one area that has a huge divide.

So how as an industry do we cater for such diversity without alienating those who are technophobic or slower on the uptake? We need to encourage software developers to extend their functionality, to make it more tailorable to an individual’s needs and not just those of the agent or property manager.

We need to consider how our clients prefer us to communicate with them, and have systems in place to be able to cater for diverse needs.

Forcing ‘our people’ to adopt too much technology when they are not ready may risk us losing them –losing vast experience from older property managers, losing great tradespeople or, worse still, losing clients, the core of our business.

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Simone Files

Simone Files is the Principal of boutique agency Blackbird and Finch. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in IT and taught Information Technology at Griffith University.