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Technology Is Key To Keeping Multifamily Employees Safe And Engaged

Gates Hudson is a third-party property manager for Spark Living, whose developments include Spark’s Pax River in Lexington Park, Maryland.

Someone looking for a simple demonstration of how Covid-19 has changed daily life need only visit their favorite restaurant. Rather than being handed a printed menu, they probably will be asked to scan a QR code to access food and drink options. 

The use of touchless technology like this helps guests and employees feel safer, while allowing stretched-thin restaurant staff to focus on serving customers, not disinfecting menus. Could a similar approach work for the business of managing and leasing multifamily properties, another industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic? 

“I think that the same concepts can be applied to our industry,” said Steve Gilbert, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Fairfax, Virginia-based property management firm Gates Hudson. “From our employees’ perspective, this has been a very tough time and a lot of us, myself included, firmly recognize the need to remain safe no matter what property we’re visiting or following protocols within our corporate offices. As we’ve all returned to work, the most important goal is the need to make sure our people are safe, too.”

Gilbert said his company has been looking at ways to utilize technology to help its employees during this stressful time. Like restaurants that enable touchless ordering, Gates Hudson has been investigating proptech apps that will automate many of the functions traditionally performed by property management staff, while freeing them to devote more time to improving the customer experience.

“We believe technology should support and not replace talented individuals,” he said. “It also should support affordability and bring comfort to our residents at the end of the day.”

Gilbert said through the use of AI, self-guided leasing tours and on-demand and virtual resident events, the company can maximize the impact of its employees on the daily resident experience. This, he said, means providing more surprises and delight-bringing service to residents and their guests, and less pointing to where the kitchen is during an apartment tour.

Many of today’s apartment hunters are comfortable with using automated self-serve apps like self-guided tours, Gilbert said. Rather than spending their day walking people through units, employees can concentrate on solving residents' issues and exceeding expectations.    

“I really do think that by bringing automation to our industry, we are in fact making the employees’ experience on-site more joyful and their work less repetitive,” he said. “It allows them to concentrate on having more meaningful interactions with residents.” 

This is no small priority for Gates Hudson, which serves as third-party property manager for Spark Living’s portfolio in Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Spark’s mission is to “improve the lives of the people who walk through our doors” — an ambitious goal that demands a high level of employee engagement, Gilbert said.

“Gates Hudson wanted to partner with Spark as their property manager so that we could build a next-generation model of a third-party operation with an owner-operator mentality,” Gilbert said. “At the same time, Spark’s brand defines social, corporate and ecological responsibility, and we took that to heart when building out a team to support connection and community among Spark’s key constituents.” 

Those values are shared by his own organization, he noted, adding that Gates Hudson supports Spark Living’s participation in the "Open to All" campaign, a national pledge to highlight companies’ inclusiveness to their consumers.

Gilbert said Gates Hudson is testing new technologies at Spark properties, including at the Pax River apartments in Lexington Park, Maryland. He describes the third-party operation with Spark as a “company within a company” that allows Gates Hudson to meet Spark’s paradigm-shifting aspirations while allowing it to experiment with improvements to the resident/employee relationship and experience.

Sierra Lugo, marketing manager at Gates Hudson, said the firm is willing to customize and tailor its approach to their investment needs. 

“The result is a dedicated staff that is responsive and nimble to the needs of both the Spark ownership group and to residents,” she said. “We want to provide a white-glove level of service to both.”

That entails borrowing inspiration from a separate industry: hotels.

“We are working towards repurposing the role of our customer service individuals on-site so that they're acting more as hospitality brand ambassadors than just sales people,” Gilbert said. “When you walk through any of our property doors, we want you to be greeted by a community that adds value to your life. That means having aesthetically appealing design, thoughtfully renovated homes that are designed to fit your budget, and a community within a community that celebrates efficiencies, trust, purpose and equality.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Gates Hudson. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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