As someone who has been involved in the property management industry for nearly 14 years, I have been lucky enough to witness the changes, lessons learnt and successes during this time. I would have said that I was experienced at handling difficult situations, and it is something that I have always loved about the job, no day is the same.
However, no-one could have prepared us all for what the past 18-months has had in store for us. Although I feel incredibly lucky to have a career which has been largely unaffected, a team that have adapted to new ways of working and colleagues that have supported each other through the highs and the lows, there has been no mention of the long-lasting effect that this would leave on us as an industry and as people.
Town & City have always championed a flexible working approach for our Property Managers and swiftly extended this to our office-based staff when the pandemic hit. We have also been at the forefront of supporting our colleague’s mental health, with three of our management team being trained as mental first aiders. We are doing everything we can to ensure that any issues are addressed locally within our company but what can we all do to ensure that the wider stigma is dealt with?
As people, we have all been subjected to the differing opinions and stances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all been subjected to the daily fear stories through the mainstream media, whilst being stuck inside our homes. The continuous negativity can start to influence your mood, your health (in my case my sleeping patterns) and the way that you deal with people. The way that we have dealt with this is by trying to find the positivity in every situation. My colleague and fellow Associate Director Joanne Hanson and I put our heads together and throughout the months carried out simple tasks to ensure that our staff felt included and valued:
- Thank you – sometimes the simplest of words can make all the difference. We are always so busy that sometimes this can be forgotten. We ensured that thank you gifts and cards were sent through the post to our staff to remind them that we appreciate all that we do.
- Families – a positive aspect of the pandemic was spending time with and being grateful for our families. We organised a children’s colouring competition, which allowed the kids to express their creativity, take a step away from the learning at home and the winners won some great art prizes.
- Regular team meetings – we increased the amount of team meetings that we had electronically and made sure that team members were aware that one to ones were available if needed. Sometimes, all you need is to get that problem or situation off of your chest by venting to people who understand.
- Social Nights – we devised new ways of playing games and quizzes with our colleagues. It gave us all the opportunity to step away from the business and enjoy each other’s company from the comfort of our own homes, there was a lot of banter and a lot of fun.
We have noticed that throughout this time, where our residents and customers have also been within their homes, the workload and incoming enquiries to our team has doubled. This is great for our business and like others, we have had to balance the restrictions of working from home and the delay of contractor attendance/availability of materials with our customers’ expectations. It has been unfortunate, that on some occasions this has resulted in third-party verbal abuse towards our members of staff, which has had a knock-on effect on their well-being.
We put our heart and soul into everything that we do to ensure that we provide an exemplary customer service and when a customer cannot see the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into solving these issues or give you a chance to explain the path that you have had to follow, it is deflating.
We are fully aware that we are a service provider and customer service is at the forefront of everything we do. We are not perfect (who is, right?) but we pride ourselves on being the managing agent that is “large enough to cope but small enough to care”. This includes accepting that mistakes happen and dealing with them with care, attention, accountability, and communication, coming to reasonable solutions.
If we take a step back and look at the customer service scenarios and people that we deal with every day, we need to ask ourselves, would I appreciate being spoken to like this? Have they done everything they can to ensure that I receive a good experience? It is so easy to sub-consciously take your bad day out on someone else (we all do it) and it is a culture that needs to stop.
I am glad to see that the IRPM and ARMA have launched a mental well-being survey for staff in the property management sector and I hope that this is used as an opportunity to better our approach to this subject, to not only listen and help but to teach us techniques and ways of dealing with this.
The results of the survey (with 56% of participants advising that their mental health has been diversely affected by their job) should be at the start of any decision-making process for the industry. We do not want to lose talented people who can genuinely make a difference because of a culture that we can change.