Working From Home During Covid-19

Georgia Anne

Working in the property management and real estate industry exposes you to a large number of people and environments.

Over the coming weeks we may be asked by the government to start self-isolating and working from home.

During this time, it's important to be considerate of people who are at high risk, including people with underlying health issues, diabetics, people with asthma, pregnant women, people with chronic health problems, weak immune systems, or respiratory conditions.

It's also important to have your business prepared in case you need to ask your employees to work remotely.

Here are some considerations you may want to consider:

  • Do all employees have computers, laptops and ergonomic stations to be able to work from?
  • Does everyone have access to your company's software systems?
  • Does everyone have Skype, Zoom, or Messenger to communicate?
  • How will you manage meetings? Will they be converted to video calls?
  • Does everyone have mobile phones to use for work purposes?
  • Does everyone have access to the internet with fast enough bandwidth to be able to do their jobs? You might consider asking them to move to another plan and reimburse them for the difference?
  • If employees must access data on their phones, consider how you will cover these out-of-pocket costs. The same for their home internet.
  • Consider additional tasks for contract workers so they are not out of jobs, or ensure they have access to government compensation to cover their wages.
  • If they or their family members become sick, who will cover for them?

There are a lot of predictions about what might happen next as this pandemic unfolds, but the truth is, this situation is completely unprecedented in our lifetime. So there's no way of predicting how this may affect the real estate industry. Expect that the coming weeks and months will be anything far from normal, so keeping an open mind and staying flexible in your communications between clients and team members is essential.

 

Inspections & Person-to-Person Contact

Consider asking your team to push back routine inspections and reschedule them for next month. Be sure to contact landlords and advise them of this and help them to understand why you are taking these precautions. By pushing routines back this allows your property managers to both avoid contact with homes of people who may be infected and avoid infecting tenants if any of your property managers happen to be carrying the virus.

Within the next couple of weeks OurProperty will be introducing a brand new feature that allows tenants to conduct their own routine inspections to combat this issue.

If face-to-face contact is essential, practice 'social distancing', including staying 2-metres away from people.

 

Vacates

Leases end no matter what, so there's no way to avoid vacating tenants. However, there are a few precautions your team can take. Ask any vacating tenants to leave the keys somewhere in the office or at the property (make SURE you have a spare!).

Final inspections may have to be put on hold, in which case property managers will need to communicate with landlords and tenants and advise them that the bond will be put on hold until they are able to complete a final inspection. When the inspection is completed, make bond refunds a top priority.

Referees may also be harder to contact during this period if they are sick or in isolation.

If you are still going ahead with viewings, ensure prospective tenants are aware of safety measures, including hand sanitising and staying away if feeling unwell. Ensure you keep a list of those attending the inspection should you need to contact them.

If your team is uneasy about attending inspections and it becomes extreme, you may consider asking tenants to collect keys and leave a deposit and ID, view the property and then return the keys within an hour (or specified time period).

 

Impact on Vacant Properties

We have no way of predicting how this pandemic is going to affect the property market, so be prepared that vacant properties may be impacted. Make sure landlords are informed that there may be longer vacant times, or requests to extend leases by a month or few.

Here are some ideas to assist with vacant properties:

  • Record a virtual property tour and send to potential tenants
  • Process applicants with a 'pending physical viewing' note
  • Financial strain may affect tenants' ability to pay their bond, work with your landlords to consider payment plans

 

Rent payments

Send an email to your tenants informing them that you are expecting rental payments to made on time and asking them to let their property manager know if they will be late. If your tenants rent is going to be late, confirm the payment date and perhaps arrange for part payment, particularly if they are a casual employee or sick.

 

Paying owners and creditors

You may need to find a way to continue to receipt rent, pay owners and creditors. If your team members cannot access your system remotely, perhaps your IT team can help with this.

If you outsource your trust accounting, ensure that payments and balance of the trust can continue.

For landlords who will be impacted by arrears, let them know when the rent will be paid. You may like to send them an email that they can use with their bank to reduce late penalties on loan repayments.

 

Maintenance

If there are isolation periods, it may be challenging to find tradespeople willing to take on jobs so you may like to let your tenants know that there could be delays on general maintenance, and contact your emergency tradies to see where they stand with the current crisis.

 

Client Relationships

Looking on the bright side, social distancing is an excellent opportunity for property managers to reach out to landlords and tenants, and check in with them 'just because'. Ask them how they're doing, if there's anything you can help them with, reassure them that their tenancy is still continuing as per usual, inform them of any changes to face-to-face contact, maintenance jobs, or inspections, and help to build that relationship that's more than just 'the property manager'. 

If you're using the OurProperty system already, contacting clients is easy. Don't forget to remind them that they can still request maintenance, contact you through the app, and soon they will be able to complete their own routine inspections. 

Provide reassurance to landlords by calling them individually with a service mindset. Plan what types of questions you would have if you were in their position (will my property remain tenanted, how will we deal with maintenance, how will you complete inspections). Be prepared for interesting and empathetic conversations with customers around these points. There's never been a more important time to build trust with your clients.

 

Tips for staying connected

Keeping your team connected is important during this time. People may experience higher levels of stress, so fostering team morale and encouraging constant communication with the rest of the team is important. Some things you might like to introduce include:

  • Clearly defined expectations and ground rules for working from home
  • Defined work hours where employees are expected to be available
  • Setup an office or team Whatsapp or Facebook group
  • Have regular team catchups via Skype or Zoom
  • Encourage collaboration to help build team morale
  • Ensure all leaders connect daily with their teams
  • Acknowledge and recognise individuals in team meetings or privately.
  • Keep your clients informed. Something like this has never happened in our lifetime, so people are confused and will appreciate you being on top of potential impact.

 

Symptoms

Encourage your employees to familiarise themselves with symptoms, which can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people will recover easily, and others may get sick quickly. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue
  • shortness of breath

 

Parts of the document were reproduced with permission from Sadhana Smiles of Harcourts.