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Work Orders in a Remote World: Real-Time Project Management

Through working with residents and seamless project management processes, operations teams can continue to minimize unit downtime, drive staff and resident satisfaction and demonstrate better NOI results across their property portfolio. 

By Paul Willis

Maintenance processes were already undergoing something of a metamorphosis as many companies were amidst a gradual transition to a digital model. Then the pandemic arrived and really threw a wrench into day-to-day operations.

In addition to the transition to new tech platforms, maintenance technicians have also had to navigate restricted access to homes, new sanitizing procedures for common areas, new personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and cumbersome lists of work orders resulting from reduced staffs.

Deftly addressing maintenance backlogs and incorporating real-time technology tools has become even more critical during the pandemic, according to the panel in the APTvirtual session, “Work Orders in a Remote World: Real-Time Project Management.”

“The biggest challenge for us early on was straight-up access,” said Carrie Caudill, Vice President of Asset Management for Sequoia Equities. “Access to apartment homes was extremely limited, and that limited our opportunity to perform any of those regular service requests. Our early safety protocols only allowed our team members to get into apartments on an emergency basis.”

That led to a significant backlog of lower- and medium-priority requests, which forced Sequoia Equities teams to get creative with resident communication and tech tools to prevent further backup. That included offering a do-it-yourself campaign for residents, with those interested receiving disinfectant supplies, a step-by-step guide and a virtual link to a service technician for support. It enabled residents to handle some of the simpler service requests, such as slow-moving drains, on their own.

It resulted in a dual positive for Sequoia Equities, which connected with residents through the engagement and alleviated some of the work order backlog.

Like many apartment operators, The Al Angelo Company first focused on keeping maintenance technicians healthy through the ever-changing operations landscape. That included updated PPE protocols and home-entering processes, which also ensured safety for residents. The efforts included increased communication with residents to ensure they were not experiencing any symptoms before a technician accessed the home.

“The biggest challenge through all of this has been the bigger workloads for our technicians,” said Nick Hecox, Director of Maintenance for The Al Angelo Company. “We’re constantly reevaluating, seeing if what we’re doing is working and exploring where we can improve.”

Hecox revealed that his company is increasingly relying on maintenance software platforms. While The Al Angelo Company was already using items such as iPads and smartphones, the company recently added components to its maintenance suite to help manage tasks and inspections. An insights component was also added to the platform to help observe pertinent data in a variety of ways.

“The real value of going digital is to the ability to see data in ways we couldn’t before, and it's really reduced the time spent auditing,” Hecox said.

While properties are keeping up as best they can, some aftereffects will undoubtedly exist post-pandemic. According to Alex Cuenca, Director of Asset Performance for Maxus Properties, the key for maintenance teams is to remain proactive throughout the turmoil.

“In the long run, I imagine that our units might be in greater disrepair, unfortunately, due to the fact that we’re not able to go in there and complete our normal preventative maintenance,” Cuenca said. “But although our teams weren’t able to enter those occupied units, they found ways to tackle exterior projects, they sanitized common areas and developed strategies to tackle that backlog of service requests.”

Paul Willis is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.