Can the on-site team run the show?

As any good property manager knows, they’re only as good as the people they surround themselves with. And as a residential block manager has more on their plate than ever before, the reliance on the team on-site has never been greater.
 
Does this give the property manager the excuse to let the on-site staff run the show?
 
Under-utilised
An on-site team may comprise an estate manager, concierges, a caretaker, maintenance man, security personnel, cleaners… At another building, there may be a single front desk concierge during most of the daylight hours and a porter at night.
 
Whatever the set-up, the chances are you may feel they are under-utilised and even expensive for the value they bring to the building or development. If you could take a step back and draw up a brand new staffing plan, what would it look like? Before you do that, read on.
 
Property Manager to On-Site Manager
At Cledor, we know a few property managers who have decided that managing multiple buildings is too much like hard work, so instead they seek out on-site opportunities, often for a more attractive package.
 
We spoke to two senior property managers who made the switch to managing ONE site, from site. We asked for their top five advantages to being on-site, after many years working as a property manager from an office. These are the main pros they fed back to us, summarised into half a dozen points:
 

  • On-site, the position may actually be more intense (so never boring), where you’re continually meeting residents and generally you are far more accessible. Whilst there is no place to hide (!), being on-site gives you a far more direct influence on how well the residents are looked after. You’ll be far more likely to receive thanks for your endeavours and there ought to be far fewer ‘keyboard warrior’ exchanges! There is less complaining about things not getting done and fewer moans about getting money’s worth. 
  • On-site, you can generally make decisions faster. You can visit – in person – directors on the RMC board get a decision made there and then rather than relying on email back and forth.
  • On-site, you will get to know your building intimately. That means you will be able to diagnose problems faster and you’ll be more likely to achieve a ‘first-time-fix’. And help to ensure a quality job is done too.
  • On-site, service charge costs are controlled far easier, as you get to see issues up close and WITH the contractor, so ‘unnecessary’ works are less likely to go ahead.
  • On-site, it’s easier to stay on top of health and safety issues.
  • On-site, you may be in the thick of it, but we were told that it’s less stressful than being a property manager in an office. Perhaps being in control of much of what goes on around you, helps to reduce that stress.

 
From this purely anecdotal research, these two property managers – now estate managers – are happier in their roles and they feel they can deliver a better service to their residents by being on site full time.
 
Not all on-site managers have been office-based property managers before. So what key skills are needed to pass on management responsibilities to the on-site team?
 
IT skills
As well as skilled property managers making the switch to on-site positions, the demographics of on-site staff appears to have changed anyway, so without making sweeping generalisations, a younger workforce on-site tends to be more IT literate. That is crucial in terms of delegating to the staff at the sticky end of things.
 
There are a number of cloud-based, software portal options for property managers these days. The best of these provides a single online platform for property managers, on-site staff, RMC directors, contractors and even service charge accountants to interact and get things done.
 
So for instance, a member of on-site staff may notice a problem and can raise an internal works order to the site’s handyman or issue a formal works order to an approved external contractor. And perhaps a more senior member of on-site staff can be the first approver of the invoice when it arrives in the online workflow, so you have more confidence that the work has been done and to the required standard.
 
Customer service skills
Grumpy on-site members of staff ought to be a rare commodity these days and certainly the bar has risen in recent years. Learning from the hospitality industry – which residential property management is effectively a part of – greeting residents by their name, asking how they are, reminding them they have a package for collection – is becoming more commonplace. This doesn’t happen by accident though. Whilst on-site staff should be selected in the first place based in large part on their customer service attributes, only the right kind of training turns them into the polished concierge or estate manager, the type that makes you look good and helps your company to retain its instruction.
 
Other practical skills
If site staff are to be truly effective for you, they need to be well organised, reliable, proactive but understand their boundaries. Enthusiasm can get the better of some! Again, this won’t happen overnight but it’s worth making the training investment in the on-site team and their processes.
 
For instance, whilst there are very effective keys/visitors/package management software available, the on-site staff still need to be super-organised when we are expecting 20% increases in online shopping deliveries year on year.
 
Or daily or weekly site inspections – these are ideal to delegate to the on-site staff, as long as you have them using set templates (on a tablet preferably). 
 
What’s stopping you?
Turning the on-site team into an effective extension of your own team in the office isn’t necessarily easy but that’s the direction of travel for volume property management. For managing agents, the cost of the on-site team going through the service charge rather than off their bottom line makes perfect sense. So it seems it’s worthwhile making the investment in time – to map out the ideal team – and the investment in recruiting and training them.
 
So what’s stopping you?
 

  •  Perhaps the lease restricts the size/make-up of the on-site team? Possibly so check the lease.
  • Could the RMC directors have concerns about service charge expenditure increasing? That may be a by-product of a more effective site team but not necessarily. We frequently take a helicopter view of an on-site staff set up and offer

multiple options without increasing the service charge.

...

  • Maybe you don’t see the need to shake things up. Talk about the staffing with your client – get their views. Tell them that with enough planning and effort, real change can be achieved so that they can enjoy the very best service for their hard-earned contributions. 
  • Do you think the right calibre of staff aren’t out there…? Speak to us. You might be surprised.

 
Can the on-site team run the show?
In our view, YES. And furthermore, they SHOULD be running the show, as they are on the ground day-in, day-out, in direct communication with the people who live there. If you give them the tools to do a great job, the chances are they will do a great job. You stay in control – they do the running around.
 
Nick Regnier is managing director of Cledor.

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