Technology adoption in the multifamily industry does not have to leave disengaged employees in its wake after multifamily operators had to move quickly with technology adoption due to the pandemic.
By Elizabeth Francisco
The days of referring to the multifamily industry as a lagger in technology adoption have come to an end.
When the pandemic started, management companies of all sizes found themselves behind the eight ball with technology adoption, as they had to quickly figure out how to allow frontline and back-office employees to work remotely.
There’s little time for change management or training when you expedite technology adoption out of immediate need. As a result, you end up with a disconnect between process and people. Unfortunately, this is where many in the industry are finding themselves now. As employees see technology driving efficiency, it’s easy to feel insecure about their long-term value to the organization.
Rather than embracing the tools the company has invested in, they disengage or resist in ways that slow or derail adoption. Before we get any further down the path of digital transformation, it’s important for management companies to step back and take a more “human-centric” approach to technology adoption.
What is a ‘Human-centric’ Approach to Technology?
Humanizing a technology means explaining the technology and its usefulness to the users. It also means helping the users embrace the technology in their daily routines.
A user who does not get the point of or see the value in innovative technology will not use it. Therefore, technology should stay focused on humans, not the other way around.
Explaining the why behind the technology your organization is adopting is critical to successful adoption and employee retention. Simon Sinek has a great Ted Talk on the importance of starting with “why.” He explains that the most inspiring leaders communicate from the inside out; they inspire people around them because they start with defining the purpose, why it matters. The “why” inspires people, whether you are a consumer buying a product or service or a part of an inspiring organization. People choose to follow or buy the product because they want to, not because they were told to.
At ResMan, we advocate for our customer partners to identify someone in their organization as the change champion. The change champion needs to work with leadership to set expectations for the rollout and get buy-in from leadership to support their communications. They need to educate the team on the why, clearly communicate how the technology will be rolled out, and help with realistic expectations during the rollout. They must be realistic with their teams about bumps along the way and the additional time and energy often required; if you have effectively communicated why it is beneficial to your team, they will understand and embrace all that comes with the change.
Lastly, efficiency gains do not have to equate to reductions in staff, and communicating this to employees is important. Employees often fear technology will result in their job being eliminated, so it’s important to address this perception and help them understand how the technology will increase capacity and allow them to refocus their energy on other aspects of the business.
I cannot think of any organization I have worked in or that we have worked with that does not have aspects of the business under-resourced. Our customers often find that they have increased capacity after a rollout of our platform. The increase in capacity allows for focus on important under-resourced activities like attracting and retaining renters or conducting a higher degree of analysis of the business.
Human-centric Approach with a Remote Work Model
Prior to the pandemic, many leaders in the multifamily industry were still holding back from a more flexible work model, fearing loss of productivity, or believing that they needed to physically see their employees working.
However, the pandemic forced us all to re-evaluate our thinking as the whole country went remote at some point for some amount of time. With the right technology in place, multifamily operators are now positioned to consider a remote work model for at least some aspects of their business.
This type of model offers benefits to both operators and employees:
- The ability to draw from a nationwide talent pool
- Quality-of-life improvements that come with eliminating commutes
- Increased loyalty and commitment to the organization
When the pandemic drove ResMan to a remote work model, we saw a significant increase in productivity levels, and we have made permanent changes to our policies as a result. Working remotely gave our employees more time with their loved ones, significantly improving morale. The flexibility also resulted in employees taking fewer days away from the office, leading us to add more company holidays to make sure everyone can unplug and take a well-deserved break!
But working remotely brought challenges that again required a focus on humanization.
We needed to make sure employees were equipped with the right technology and office setup to be productive and comfortable. We also had to be mindful that employees who work remotely can feel isolated and disconnected from their teams and companies, so we do weekly company standups on top of department standups, including a cameras-on requirement, as do many of our meetings. As leaders, we absorb a lot of information from body language when we meet with employees in person. Making sure we continue to get non-verbal cues is critical to being good managers in a virtual work environment.
Work-Life Balance in the Age of “Always On”
Regardless of whether you offer a remote work model, technology has freed employees from their desks, cubicles, and regional corporate office buildings but, in turn, has shackled them to their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Even before the pandemic there was a growing concern about the “always-on” impact on an employee’s physical and mental health.
As a result of the notification options included in our smart devices, employees may be experiencing Pavlovian conditioning from notifications of a new email, a new chat, and a new comment. An important part of taking a human-centric approach to technology is putting up digital guardrails to facilitate a healthy work-life balance. Our team members need time to disconnect like they need to sleep. It allows them to recharge, which will positively affect productivity and creativity, and it ensures they can be present when having quality time with friends and loved ones. In the multifamily industry, policies and leadership modeling of good “disconnection” practices is key to ensuring a healthy work-life balance for your employees.
About the author:
Elizabeth Francisco has spent the last two decades building a successful career as an operator and technology provider in the multifamily industry. She started her career as an onsite leasing agent and worked her way up to a vice president of operations while simultaneously helping to launch ResMan, a property-management technology platform.