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Multifamily Housing Recognizes Its Essential Workers

people celebrating apteamsday

By Doug Pike

NAA’s first annual APTeams Day highlights the work of on-site teams during the pandemic.

On-site teams have been on the front lines of the apartment industry’s response to the COVID-19 crisis since Day One. For more than six months, these unsung heroes have fielded countless resident questions, implemented a continually evolving list of safety protocols and maintained operations, all at the risk of their own health and that of their families.

On Wednesday, Aug. 12, it was the industry’s turn to shine a light on on-site teams’ tireless commitment to their work and their residents, and to celebrate their efforts in the face of unprecedented circumstances.

On that date, the National Apartment Association held its first APTeams Day to recognize on-site community teams for their unflappable work to keep residents safely housed during the pandemic. NAA member communities from across the country took part, decorating offices, taking team photos, providing lunch, distributing gift cards and rewards, and creating videos to highlight their on-site associates.

Excuse to Let Loose

The event was an invaluable opportunity for executives to acknowledge this selfless service and allow their on-site team members to let loose a little, says Wendy Simpson, Vice President of Marketing for Maryland-based Edgewood and Vantage management companies.

The pandemic has brought challenges the industry has never had to face before, especially when it first hit, Simpson says. “There were a lot of unknowns and uncertainty in the first couple of weeks. Our on-site associates were feeling the emptiness of the office, and at the same time they were dealing with an unprecedented level of need and calls from residents — and they still are.

“So this event was well-earned,” she adds, “and all about appreciating on-site team members for the work they do every day, having fun with their colleagues, goofing off to make songs and dances, and giving our property teams a rest from all the noise to do something that felt good while on the job.”

Edgewood and Vantage launched its APTeams Day festivities the week before on social media with an invitation to on-site associates to share photos or videos that illustrate ways they’ve kept their spirits up, as well as what they have learned while dealing with COVID-19.

All associates who shared a photo or video, either individually or as a team, got entered into a raffle for gift cards, AirPods or lunch, says Simpson. “All of those prizes were supplied by our preferred vendor partners,” she adds. “We took those 70 to 80 submissions and published a video dedicated to highlighting them, but the first minute and a half of the video shows all of the corporate team members sharing their appreciation for the field associates. At the end, there’s a collective message from the marketing team members, thanking our on-site teams for being so awesome.”

Fogelman Properties, a Memphis, Tenn.-based multifamily community investment and property management company, recently conducted a virtual all-property awards ceremony to recognize its on-site team members. The firm also featured some of its associates in the Back to Work video series, produced by SightPlan. The 15-episode series, which was planned before the pandemic hit, showcases the extraordinary behind-the-scenes work being done by on-site multifamily community employees.

“We have an incredible mission-driven team, and with the help of the Back to Work series, we could showcase an appreciation of our team’s talent, dedication, passion and energy during this difficult time,” says Fogelman Chief Operating Officer Justin Marshall. “They are heroes in a lot of respects and we are thankful to be able to celebrate them and truly shed light on the amazing work done on-site every single day.”

In addition to the formal and public recognition, Fogelman has given on-site teams the leeway to establish workplace environments that truly accommodate associates during the pandemic.

Emphasis on Flexibility

Recognizing the challenges Fogelman associates face in both their personal and professional lives, says Marshall, the company has tried to be as flexible as possible to accommodate associates’ needs. “For example, our teams are able to create schedules that provide flexibility in their home lives, which could include scaling down or increasing their hours by opening the office later at night or on Sundays,” he says. “We also gave each of our associates a no-strings-attached bonus early in the pandemic as a ‘thank you’ and provided an extra 80 hours of COVID sick time in case they needed it. We recognize that this is not ‘business as usual,’ and helping our associates navigate these challenges is our highest priority.”

Edgewood and Vantage added benefits to its health-care program for associates who are feeling strong pandemic-based anxiety and stress, and also offered free online yoga, breathing and stretching courses to employees. In addition, the company made a $100,000 donation to the Capital Area Food Bank.

“Caring and flexibility have been our priorities,” Simpson says. “We’ve really had to think out of the box in terms of being flexible with previous job expectations and [in] how we move forward and continue to provide the services that our residents deserve and expect, while also keeping everyone safe. Our associates needed reassurance that they are not alone and that we will work together. I think we did that, and we will continue to support them at all levels.”

Marshall and Simpson agree that in addition to specific support programs, communication between the corporate office and on-site teams has been the key to maintaining morale during the pandemic.

“The most important thing, from early on, has been communication,” Marshall says. “We want our teams to know that we understand their concerns and they are top of mind for us.” Fogelman has hosted frequent calls with its communities to discuss its global initiatives and recognize the teams’ hard work. And “between our regional vice presidents and leadership teams,” adds Marshall, “we’ve [also] made an effort to visit all of our properties in person to let them know they’re appreciated.”

To enhance communication with its field teams after the pandemic hit, Edgewood and Vantage was quick to increase its use of virtual meetings. But those video calls between corporate and on-site associates have taken a more personal tone in the past six months.

“In the past, I don’t think that would have been quite so well-received; there’s a level of professionalism that we have among our staff and with our business partners,” Simpson says. “But I think that during the pandemic everyone has gotten to know one another better outside of work. There are stories being told and laughs to be had, especially when kids and pets get involved in the background [on] those calls. That really elevates that mentality of, ‘We’re all in this together and we’re going to move forward to make this work.’”

Doug Pike is a staff writer with LinnellTaylor Marketing.