Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Greening of Property Management




When your day is spent trying to revolutionize an industry, it can be rather exciting yet a little frustrating at the same time. Not only do you have to get the word out to millions of people, but you also have all of those who ignore you when they hear 'change'. Those people may agree with you that they want everything to be done faster and cheaper, so long as it stays the same.

We always start out by reminding them that there can be very little progress without change, but it is hard for them to swallow that part of progress as it relates to changing anything. Progress they want, change they do not want. In order for a property manager to be able to say, Yes and Now to each customer, building owner, staff member, vendor, leasing broker or anyone they encounter, there must be a monumental change within the industry to make this dramatic progress a reality. We are hoping, like so many people, that by adding Greening to the concept it might take off. It seems that anything about Greening or The Environment is popular. As property managers we need to start Greening ourselves.

For us to become a green industry our effort will be more than just recycling, it will have to include creating standards, minimizing training, eliminating redundancy, identifying the appropriate tools and stopping the madness of starting over every time a new property is assigned to us and minimizing the horrific pain when a property is taken away or sold. If and when, we as an industry, empower ourselves as property managers to provide Yes and Now solutions, there will be a great efficiency or greening of the property management world. The greening will take place throughout every facet of the physical property as well. The greening will impact actual costs and improve customer retention, lower employee turnover and increase the actual value of the property if we all pull together and green this industry.

For over two decades I have been in property management, with the majority of those years in the field, at the frontline. The frontline is an appropriate description of those persons in a company who deal with the customers. When you are at the front, the demands come from various directions. Those challenges come from the general public, existing customers, building ownership, the local municipality, the corporate office, vendors or even our own property staff, and usually all at the same time. There is a constant barrage and an endless flow of expectations, with internal conflicts. Herein lies the problem or dilemma.

For instance, the customers expect us to be at our desk at all times to answer their questions or answer the phone when they call. The building owner wants us to walk the property each day and insure all things are in top condition, while watching every single penny spent and every single penny collected. The property manager is also held accountable for each member of the building staff and the assurance to ownership and our corporate office that the staff is being supervised with eagle eyes. Those high standards are expected at the on-site office we are assigned to, in addition to the other 6 properties we manage.

The corporate office wants reports done on time so the accounting department is insured immediate response to their inquiries or needs. When a broker inquires about space available, those tenant rep brokers want the answers now. The local municipality expects us to be at the ready and drop everything, on a moments notice to do a full building or fire inspection so we comply with all codes and ordinances. All of the vendors want to be paid immediately after performing their services and the vendors will call repeatedly until we can tell them the exact time they will be paid. Simultaneous to this we are listening to the property leasing broker on the other line who is impatiently waiting for feedback on a 7 page, lease proposal that he/she needs to have our feedback on within the next 15 minutes. All while there is another tenant standing in the office appalled that the illegal car in their parking space has not yet been towed, along with the staff member who wishes to find out why their paycheck was shorted 1.5 hours overtime.

All of the above scenarios can be made less painful if we pull together and start a grassroots effort to revolutionize the property management industry and take the property manager out of the line of fire by igniting a movement towards creating an environment whereby the property manager or the frontline staff, can truly find the time to provide excellent customer service. In addition, immediate responsiveness to the general public, our customers, the building staff, the government, the corporate office and the vendors who all believe they are entitled to receive answers now and make us a Green industry.

Because the industry is bogged down with redundancy, limited standardization, dysfunctional tools, insane repetition and wasted motion, we are the biggest culprits of waste and ineffiency. Today, with all of the creative electronic gadgets and sleek cell phones, why is a property manager ordering 3-part NCR work order pads from Peachtree, bulletin boards to post notices, reams and reams of paper to print statements, newsletters and other legal notices, cases of timecards for the staff to punch in and punch out, binders to store records and logs, and tons of envelopes to mail out the paper coupon books, paper invoices, vendor paper checks and paper remittance stubs and letters imploring the vendors to provide the paper certificates of insurance or other vendor compliance requirements? The reason is simple. We are not creating cohesive systems or systems of any kind. With cohesive systems that communicate, the redundancy will be gone, the manual task will be gone, the errors will be gone and the service will be improved.

There are groups tackling these challenges right now. These groups are taking the challenge head on. The goal is to create standards across all PM/FM firms. In a conference call with one of the organization leaders last week, we were given an overview of the various standards already in place. As professionals we must continue to monitor the various organizational processes and keep spreading the word about this important step in the process of improving the property management industry. If you take the standards and connect this to all of our systems, we will all be able to share data across any database, no matter what accounting system, work order system, commercial listing service or lease abstract system.

Our mission is to connect all of these dots so things can truly be 'touch it once'. Every aspect of managing any asset should be treated as a giant template. Once this template is in place, simply change the names and fill in the blanks. If we, as an industry can start looking at standards, practices, systems and procedures as templates, we can truly be a much Greener industry.


Linda Day Harrison, author of this article, is a CERTIFIED PROPERTY MANAGER® and Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM®) and has been in the property and facility management industry since 1980.

Linda has managed such prestigious properties as the 900/910 Lake Shore Drive Towers, architect Mies VanDer Rohe, 29 East Madison and the National Association of Realtors® headquarters, all located within the highly acclaimed Gold Coast, Loop and River North neighborhoods of Chicago, Illinois, US, respectively.

Linda's last role was as President of a Chicago based, full service commercial real estate company, where Linda was key in revamping the accounting, technology, administrative and property management departments with her keen sense of processes and systems and their relationship to technology and automation. As a visionary strategist Linda has earned an outstanding reputation as an exceptional professional service provider who has raised the bar among colleagues and peers.

In Linda's last position, the Chicago based, full service company was a spin off firm of Baird & Warner Management Group, Inc., which then acquired another longtime Chicago firm Floyd M. Phillips. Later those merged firms were then sold into another locally based firm. This then opened up the opportunity in 2007 for Linda to found ManagerLabs, a technology think-tank, and take on the role, for the Property and Facility Management industries, as a maven dedicated to advancing the industries use of technology, by affordable and effective means.

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