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COVID-19 Panic Highlights the Importance of Tenant Communication

We have entered uncharted territories. For this first in non-wartime, modern history entire states are being given stay-at-home orders. Watching the COVID-19 virus ravage cities around the world we have all come to understand the importance of the situation. As we lock ourselves in our homes for the foreseeable future we have so many questions. Questions whose answers may take weeks to develop.

So for now, we wait. We wait and we search. We have access to so much information yet we can still feel uninformed with it comes to how this virus will affect us personally. How many people have it in my community? Have I come in contact with anyone that has tested positive? Are there still supplies left and where can I get them? These answers should come from a trusted, hyper-local source, so why shouldn’t they come from our building operator?

Look at tenant experience software

For a while now the property industry has been finding new ways to connect buildings and occupants. Landlords have been investing in a new category of building technology called tenant experience software to help connect management, renters and the surrounding communities. These applications can help streamline building operations, inform occupants, create community and help procure outside services. In normal times, the flow of information that these digital interfaces provide can help a building be more livable and profitable. But in times of crisis, they can become a lifeline for those depending on timely local information.

Randall McKillop is executive vice president at Toolbox Group, makers of the tenant engagement app MallComm. He told me how important it is to have multiple communication channels open with everyone in a building during emergencies “where situations become high risk, you can no longer rely on sending emails or paper memos.” He said, “You need to be able to reach your customers and stakeholders, many of whom may be working from home in different geographical areas or are not traditionally desk-based, in real-time and utilize an omnichannel approach.” Having the ability to send a message over email, text, messengers, and through push notifications in an app, at the same time can really help building management get important information out as effectively as possible.

Onsite signage can also play an important part in omni-channel outreach. A digital storefront signage company, Frontrunner Technologies, is pushing to install more of its screens in downtown Toronto in order to help locals access information and find important services. “The call has gone out to our real estate partners, asking them to assist by granting us access to their empty retail spaces for the installation of the Windowfront messaging platform,” said founder and CEO Nathan Elliott, “the support has been pronounced.”

Don’t be a source of disinformation

As our buildings take a larger role in keeping us informed during disasters, it puts management in the awkward position of deciding what to share. In the age of misinformation, it is all too easy to unwittingly be part of the problem. In order to keep people up to date, buildings could accidentally share bad advice or inundate people with too many updates. There is a fine line between spreading useful information and sowing the seeds of panic. Clint Robinson, CEO of tenant experience software Lane suggests that “Landlords should assemble a small, trusted group of well-informed advisors and consultants to agree on clear and factual information to pass along to tenants.” By having more than one set of eyes on the announcements before they are shared, there is less chance of misinforming the audience.

Becoming an important channel of communication will create a new relationship between tenants and landlords. Vanessa Butz, co-founder of District Technology, a tenant engagement app, explains, “Having a close tenant-landlord relationship is more important than ever in times of emergency and unprecedented times like these. Ultimately, the landlord-tenant relationship will adapt as tenants require more communication when they are off-site.”

Earn the trust of your tenants

Tim Curran, CEO of building management software Building Engines agrees. “If handled correctly, this situation shouldn’t change the relationship between landlords and tenants, except to maybe build more trust. Having the proper systems in place, setting responsible protocols, and putting tenants’ well-being first should be the standard all the time, not just in times of crisis,” he said. This echoed a theme that I have heard time and again when writing about tenant engagement technology. Tech is facilitating a change in the property industry, but the big shift is coming from building managers putting more energy into serving the tenants’ needs, not just keeping up the building.

A tenant centric mindset requires effort and resources of landlords. Communication has to be open and trust has to be built over time. But this focus pays dividends. Being able to communicate better with tenants helps bring down costs and speed service times. It creates a connected relationship between building and occupant that is even more noticeable when tenants are in need.

Right now, people are in need. They need help and they need information. We may get to a point where we will need to inform every person that has come into contact with this horrible virus. That will take a concerted effort by government officials, media outlets, and the buildings that we shelter in as we wait for this infectious storm to pass.

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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