It’s time for a true confession: I learn much better face-to-face than I do virtually. Of course, face-to-face meetings take more time. Between travel, delays in start times and the required networking, there’s something in the “live” immediacy that conveys the messaging much better for the way I absorb information. That’s just me, although I suspect I’m not alone in this preference.
However, we now live in a virtual world. Meetings and conferences have all gone virtual. It’s only one of the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired us to pivot and push beyond our comfort and preference zones.
Here’s the odd dynamic of the coronavirus pandemic . . . the discovery of new tools, methods, and capabilities. We’ve seen some good emerge from the past nine months, and even though the real estate portfolio or earnings growth we had expected coming off of the 2019 growth trajectory never materialized, there’s been serious growth in the capabilities of professionals who dared look the situation square in the eye.
Want proof? Wendy Becker, J.D., vice president of Knowledge Solutions for the Institute of Real Estate Management, reports that we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in online course enrollments this year compared to 2019. What that says about member interest in advancing their careers—despite the many challenges they face in their support of residents and tenants—speaks volumes about professional commitment and interest in ongoing education.
One of the most severe challenges real estate professionals have been facing is time. No matter the asset class—retail, office, industrial or multifamily—time has not been on our side. Property managers were already on call 24/7 before we ever heard of COVID-19. Juggling the day-to-day responsibilities that have always been part of the manager’s tool chest was a career in itself. Add to that the necessity of being the voice of guidance and leadership for our residents and tenants in the midst of changing protocols from the CDC and from our local, state and national governments, then the tasks at hand seem to verge on the impossible.
Yet there are opportunities my industry colleagues have embraced. This year has provided the chance to hone our communication skills and serve fully as the voice of leadership—especially when faced with tenants and residents who’ve hit on hard times and struggle to meet their rental obligations. Dealing with the economic reality brought on by the pandemic is not business as usual, and it takes a special talent to keep all the stakeholders pulling together. Nowhere is the concept of being in this together more true.
Speaking for my own firm, our success rate with rent collections has actually increased over 2019, a clear indication of our relationship with tenants and residents and our communication skills. Despite images to the contrary, no one wants to see the lights out anywhere. As president of IREM, I talk with colleagues around the country, and so once again, I know I’m not alone.
The advancement of technologies has become another area of opportunity. Already high on the wish list of most property managers, new technologies—from seamless accounting systems to UV lighting in elevators and touchless fixtures—have also advanced, adding yet more tools to the property manager’s toolkit. Needless to say, videoconferencing services such as Zoom or Google Meet have skyrocketed in their usage as well.
Is there more to learn? Absolutely. Earlier I mentioned the time factor. I’d like to see a broader embrace of work/life balance, a critical consideration in this age of never being unplugged, and it’s a concern not limited to property managers. We’re all too tied to our devices, which keeps us working without the mental break we need to be our most effective at whatever our career demands are. Where do walks fit in these days, petting our dogs or just being with family? To use another tired phrase, we’re no good to others if we’re no good to ourselves.
Watching the current spike in cases, it’s evident the COVID-19 virus will remain with us for some time. Some protocols will go away and maybe we won’t need so much plexiglass down the road. But certain newly honed skills will remain, such as reasoned compassion in our communication and a greater awareness of balance in our lives.
As we swing into the new year, that’s my hope for all of us.
Chip Watts, CPM, CCIM, is the 2021 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, he serves as president and executive CPM for Watts Realty Co. Inc., based in Birmingham, Ala.