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Team effort

Utilizing the right tools helps management companies maximize operational efficiencies

By Alexandra Goldthwaite, CPM®, MPM®, RMP®

One of the fun games I played with my young children was the classic “telephone.” It was always entertaining to witness how a simple statement such as, “Maybe red would work even better than green,” would end up distorted into, “She insists on keeping it green.” The game of telephone demonstrates how even a simple message can so easily become misconstrued. To achieve efficient overall operations at our properties, we must ensure that our communications are consistent and reliable.

Communication is most successful when we seek to understand, both as the communicator and as the audience. Utilizing the right tools can go a long way in aiding our understanding, ultimately leading to greater company success. Technology tools can improve the communication experience and team productivity, but without solid team collaboration, those same tools can be practically useless. To actually improve productivity, the tools you and your teams use must aid in communication by enhancing clarity, consistency, checks and balances, and collaboration.

Clear messages

To achieve the intended understanding with any audience, whether it’s one individual or your entire company, a message needs to be conveyed as clearly as possible, as do any subsequent action steps that the recipient must take. Remaining clear and consistent in delivering corporate communications to internal teams will significantly aidtheir comprehension and guide them toward following the overall vision.

Stephen Schimmel, CPM®, The Missner Group

To boost understanding within a team, Stephen Schimmel, CPM®, director of property management for The Missner Group, says, “It’s vital to make sure that there is clarity and the team knows what the next steps are.” For a team to successfully execute company projects, we know there should be a clear plan. Carefully planning your communications using project management tools should go hand-in-hand with outlining the project vision and creating common reference points for all team members.

Companies also need to listen to their employees. One way to use tools to improve listening is to conduct employee surveys using software platforms such as SurveyMonkey. Repeated surveys, as well as action items between them, establish a productive feedback loop between management and teams.

Tool selection

Selecting the right tools and technology applications for your company and your particular needs is critical. In Schimmel’s opinion, choosing the right technology is accomplished by “gathering the core people who are most affected. Once you determine the right people to help in the selection process, they can then aid in determining the end goal and necessary features you’ll need to reach that goal.” This core selection group collaborates to outline the clear wants and needs. And a key selection criterion for them to employ is integration—the more seamlessly any new communication tool integrates with your organization’s existing property management software, the more efficiencies your teams will enjoy.

Schimmel also recommends consulting with CPM colleagues for advice. Adam Holland, ARM®, CIREC, information technology director for Sunrise Management & Consulting, AMO®, says, “The right tool should be easy to use and fit with the organization’s operations, it should be available where your people need it, and it should meet people at or near their current level of proficiency with technology.”

Adam Holland, ARM®, CIREC, Sunrise Management & Consulting, AMO®

Onboard a subgroup first; if the pilot test is successful, move on to a larger group. Then, align the company’s key initiatives with the insights that the new tools bring. Holland recommends paying particular attention to confirming that users have the correct access level when rolling out new communication tools.

The right tools, integrated

Many well-known tools, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Suite, Monday, Slack, and Asana, enhance team productivity. Property management software is, of course, a mandatory tool for any professional property manager. In addition to property management software, property managers are often equipped with maintenance-specific software, property inspection software, and task management tools. Schimmel notes that tools such as Monday, Microsoft Teams, and maintenance software “allow for a level of transparency and communication tracking that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”

On the flip side, combining multiple tools can lead to redundancies. Schimmel emphasizes reviewing the software used and eliminating as many redundancies as possible to make the team even more efficient. Using more tools than necessary creates scattered data. He notes that managers should review their selected KPIs and discuss them with the team to determine what tools are needed and which ones can be eliminated.

Direct integration reduces administrative work and alleviates human error when transferring data from one software tool to another. When property inspection tools integrate directly with the primary property management software, there’s no need to duplicate inspection data and manually enter it back into the property management software. An integrated inspection tool can automatically pull property details and file the completed inspection information to a property-specific page within the property management software. Teams can then easily access consistent, reliable reports in one centralized location.

The ideal tools will vary based on your team’s needs, but they should always allow for transparency among team members. For example, maintenance software can track communications between residents, vendors, owners, and property managers. This kind of efficient use of software creates a central store of accurate data that all parties can rely on for pulling information such as dates, actions, and follow-ups. An example is a time-stamped work order that logs any client communications with work order approvals, delivers work requests to the relevant vendors, and collects photos of job completion. When adding new tools to an existing company process, determine if they add efficiencies such as visibility to the operation and a reference point to track data that help inform business decisions.

Training leads to checks and balances

To get the most out of any new tools, especially in the case of software, Schimmel suggests management “implement time for training and follow up with reminders encouraging individuals to complete their training.” Teaching the team how to use the tools properly will create far more efficiencies than would just giving them their login credentials and sending them on their way. Correctly training the team to use the tools establishes accountability to the new processes that will then help to create and retain those efficiencies.

Because training is so critical to the success of an implementation, it’s essential to remember that people learn differently, and your training program must include options to fit different learning styles. For example, consider offering video training, step-by-step manuals, side-by-side training with more experienced users to review keystrokes, and even a full demonstration where employees can self-teach in a sandbox environment using fictitious data. Outlining different training setups for the various learning styles of your teams will help them learn the software more quickly and achieve adoption that sticks. Having the team adequately trained on tools and resources is also what eventually creates healthy checks and balances.

Accountability can be quantified and tracked through tools that relate back to the company’s defined goals. For example, a work order starts with a tenant request and is reviewed by support staff before being sent automatically to the vendor. The vendor then provides a bid through the same software, which is approved by the property manager and then automatically sent to the vendors. When the job is complete, the vendor uploads the invoice into the software for final approval and payment. In this case, internal staff and the vendor must be trained on why and how this system is used. Having that training in place removes much of the guesswork for ensuring your teams are meeting their goals.

Fostering collaboration

Tools that foster collaboration, such as Microsoft Teams and Google Suite, help make real-time collaboration much more viable. Holland encourages property managers to use tools that solve real problems they have. “Adopting technology for technology’s sake doesn’t help,” he says. “Start with the challenges that you have, then back into the right solution by adding whatever technology provides real solutions to that problem.” Holland further explains, “The best tool is the one you actually use—that’s what makes it the right tool for the right job. Adopting the latest technological tool won’t add efficiencies to your work processes if the team doesn’t actually use the tool or if it doesn’t solve any problems for the team members.”

If the time it takes to process lease applications is a company problem, then adding AI technology to the workflow to automate steps would be a valuable solution. Application-processing AI tools allow applicants to securely link their bank accounts, which can then deliver insights about their income, assets, and even previous rental payments. “Utilizing the right productivity tools means you’ll have the right information at the right time, when you need it,” says Holland. Companies are most productive when they employ tools that foster team collaboration and decision-making based on accurate data.

To further boost communication efficiencies, use checks and balances to help support realistic expectations. Teams need to find an operating rhythm conducive to following up on tasks. Once an organization selects its technology tools and employees are trained, the leadership can easily manage their KPIs and reinforce the use of technology by quickly checking in on those areas that need attention.

At the end of the day, real estate managers are charged with meeting an owner’s goals and objectives. One of the most reliable ways to keep us on the path toward meeting those goals is by capitalizing on opportunities for efficiencies wherever we can. Efficient operations leverage technology and improve organizational communication through clear, consistent messaging that drives collaboration and accountability. Understanding and implementing these simple ideas will keep your organization’s operations from turning into a confusing game of “telephone.”

Journal of Property Management

Alexandra Goldthwaite, CPM®, MPM®, RMP®, oversees the western region for HomeRiver Group and has served as an IREM regional vice president. She holds a master’s degree in real estate from Georgetown University and a BSBA from the University of Arizona. She resides in Sacramento, CA, with her husband and two children.

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