Despite some growing pains, the rental housing industry adjusts to the remote-work world.
The tools were in place for onsite associates to occasionally work from afar, but it rarely happened. Rental housing had been an industry where everything had been done onsite, after all.
Then suddenly, working in the office wasn’t an option. Like it or not, associates had to get the job done from afar. But despite some growing pains, the industry commendably adjusted to the remote-work world, spurring questions about whether a more flexible model is a better solution moving forward.
Panelists at NAA’s Apartmentalize discussed some of the possibilities during, “The Future of the Digital Leasing Office.”
“As a marketer, I’m thrilled that the pandemic forced us to use the tools we already have,” said Mary Herrold, Director of Marketing and Revenue for Planned Property Management. “People change when they have to, and the industry definitely had to adjust to keep pace. If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that it fostered creativity.”
The use of various contactless tour types—self-guided, remote, virtual, live video and more—and the adoption of advanced communication tools are well documented. It’s a safe bet that the word Zoom was muttered more times in 2020 than any previous year. But in using all these tools and many others by necessity, it became apparent that associates could remain productive off site.
For instance, the upfront portions of the leasing process can be handled by chatbots, which gather introductory information about prospects. Marketing automation functions can ensure that the information is preserved through all fields of the leasing process to eliminate tedious duplication efforts. Digital applications and e-signatures also were heavily utilized in a touch-free environment. And the industry also realized the contactless tour options made available for prospects during the pandemic could remain intact for those wanting to visit during nontraditional hours.
While some of these practices were being deployed prior to 2020, it became apparent that utilizing several different efficiencies in tandem could eliminate the need for a full-house onsite staff.
“Tech is usually a one-way street,” said Brian Zrimsek, Industry Principal of MRI Software. “After you adopt the iPhone or switch from VHS to DVD, you don't go back. Likewise, multifamily is not going back to paper processes, and many of the tech solutions adopted during the pandemic will be here to stay.”
The ability for associates to work remotely could attract new talent to the industry, as the possibility of a hybrid office/remote schedule could be appealing.
The panel shared ideas of industry goals for 2025, and all pointed to the possibility of a digital leasing office. These included the complete elimination of paper processes, the removal of onsite teams from the package business, centralized renewal processes, less onsite responsibility for move-out processing and a greater push for recurring e-payments.
The role of the leasing team will remain critical. But that doesn’t mean they’ll have always have to be onsite to perform their duties.
Paul Willis is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.