Here are some of the impacts of the multifamily labor shortage and how technology and automation are alleviating the burden.
By Morgan Dzak
The multifamily industry has been hesitant to discuss automation in previous years, fearing backlash from onsite teams. Automation was viewed as a replacement to human associates, and not necessarily as a supplement. But in the wake of the pandemic, the industry has become faced with new challenges – notably The Great Resignation.
The Great Resignation refers to the post-pandemic era in which millions of American workers either left their jobs or switched careers. According to data from the Society for Human Resource Management, 47.8 million workers quit their jobs last year – an average of nearly 4 million each month – for the highest average on record. It created a massive labor shortage for multifamily, as most of the workers who left jobs were in onsite roles.
“When the shutdown occurred in 2020, many individuals were forced into different careers, having to learn different trades and skill sets,” said Lindsay Duffy, director of marketing and training at Western Wealth Communities. “Many employees became conditioned to the flexibility of remote positions, making it harder to retain workers when businesses opened and needed them to come back to work. This gave job searchers a competitive advantage on salary and work-life balance negotiations when accepting an offer.”
As the labor shortage from The Great Resignation persists, the use of automation has become more prevalent and operators are not only implementing new technologies, but also centralizing functions that used to stay solely onsite. Automation and other technologies are reducing pain points for thinner onsite teams, increasing efficiencies and maximizing lease-conversion ratios, all while improving prospect, resident and associate experiences.
Here are some of the impacts of the labor shortage on multifamily and how automation technologies are alleviating the burden by creating a new caliber of modern apartment leasing and living:
Automation: Doing More with Less
Multifamily is most feeling the effects of the labor shortage in maintenance and leasing roles. Both of these roles have historically high turnover, and The Great Resignation has further fueled the turnover trend.
The wave of new technologies that rapidly entered multifamily since the pandemic have not only taken on some of the more tedious onsite tasks, like fielding an influx of online leads and following up with prospective residents, but they’ve also created efficiencies for existing teams that aren’t as robust as in the past. New technologies have allowed onsite teams to do their jobs more effectively while modernizing and refining several processes, for the benefit of associates and customers alike.
One of the most helpful technologies during the labor shortage has been automation. Automating tasks like aggregating guest cards, following up with prospects and residents, and scheduling tours have had big impacts on onsite team workload. It has also created better customer experiences for both prospects and residents, and allows onsite teams to do more with less.
“Using AI tools and CRM systems has allowed our onsite teams to capitalize on every lead that is generated to be more efficient and service-oriented,” Duffy said. “It’s alleviating a lot of the mundane onsite work so the people we do have onsite can focus more on providing amazing customer service, taking care of residents and building rapport with prospects that come in.”
According to internal data from Nurture Boss, a lease- and renewal-conversion automation provider, 45 percent of prospects who reach out to a community say they never hear back. With a lease-conversion automation tool, it takes an hour on average to respond to all leads – which is particularly helpful considering that renters almost always sign a lease with the first community that gets back to them.
In a digital leasing environment, following up with prospects has become critical to community success and increasing lease conversions. Apartment operators are finding that consistent, timely and personalized follow-ups with prospects are not only increasing tour conversions and applications, but also boosting overall lead-to-lease conversions.
“When reviewing reports, we learned that many leads were not being followed up on and calls were being missed due to limited staff,” Duffy said. “Like most companies at this time, we run with lean teams where individuals wear multiple hats and need to multitask throughout the day. We saw a huge gap in customer satisfaction and poor communication, and knew we needed a partner that would provide a better prospect experience and allow teams to focus on resident satisfaction. In leveraging technology and partnerships with supplier partners, we have increased lead-to-lease conversion rates while improving overall prospect and resident satisfaction and increasing employee morale.”
Based on Nurture Boss’ clients’ CRMs, the overall lead-to-lease conversion rate without automation is 19 percent, but with it, the conversion rate is 30 percent.
“Prospective residents are all looking for something different, and some may need to move in 30 days while others are looking to move months down the road,” said Jacob Carter, CEO of Nurture Boss. “Nurturing all types of leads can be extremely taxing on onsite teams, especially when the onsite teams of today are working with more leads than ever before from multiple platforms, and there aren’t as many people onsite to handle that type of volume.”
Operators have started automating the entire resident lifecycle, from the initial apartment search all the way to becoming a resident, and even when it’s time for a renewal. Whether it’s automating communication and tour scheduling by utilizing an AI chatbot on the frontline of leasing or integrating lease-conversion automation within a CRM, operators have noticed a significant difference in both the caliber of customer service from onsite teams and overall resident satisfaction. And they’re accomplishing this with smaller teams.
“We know that the leasing journey does not stop when residents move in,” Duffy said. “The resident relationship needs nurturing and constant communication for our customer journey to be a positive one, and for them to be an advocate of your community and company brand.”
Beyond Automation: Other Technologies Solving the Labor Shortage
Aside from automation, some other technologies have proven to be invaluable for operators during the labor shortage. Ubiquitous WiFi, for example, has completely transformed modern maintenance workflows and paved the way for more streamlined self-guided tour methods.
“Community-wide WiFi allows maintenance technicians to respond to and fulfill work orders faster,” said Shawn Mahoney, senior advisor at RET Ventures. “If the entire community is connected, it eliminates the onsite team from playing middleman when it comes to work orders. Maintenance technicians can directly receive the work order and have a credential dynamically assigned to them that allows access to the apartment for a certain period of time, and the resident can also be notified every step of the way.”
Connected communities also set the foundation for self-service options, which the industry unanimously agrees are here to stay. Prospective residents can enter and tour a community without a dropped connection, and they can also tour communities beyond standard office hours.
“This benefits apartment operators because the onsite teams can process more tours with less people while providing the self-service options that many modern residents want,” Mahoney said. “If you can lower costs with technology, it’s going to increase your NOI. Operators already have less staff because of the labor shortage, but existing teams are able to do more and they can also extend their hours of operation with self-guided touring.”
The entire world is now connected by technology and online access. Businesses rely on connectivity, and without it, day-to-day operations are severely hindered within any industry.
“With all the new PropTech and tech amenities multifamily has implemented over the last few years, a WiFi connection is really the foundation of all those new tools to operate seamlessly,” said Andrew Kusminsky, CEO of GiGstreem, a WiFi provider. “Multifamily has really become a tech-focused industry, and operators need that reliable connectivity not only for leasing and operations, but also for the residents who have now come to expect WiFi as a standard amenity offering.”
Even with fewer people working onsite, multifamily has discovered new technologies, like automation, to alleviate the burden of the labor shortage by allowing thinner onsite teams to execute their jobs more effectively, creating efficiencies and streamlining workflows. The multifamily tech of today isn’t just solving the labor shortage – it’s boosting NOI and increasing asset value for operators while creating better experiences for associates and residents alike.
About the author:
Morgan Dzak is an account manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing, which focuses exclusively on the multifamily industry and its technology space. She previously spent time as a digital content and marketing specialist for Cornerstone Apartment Services in Denver.