How Multifamily Owners Can Strike A Balance Between Technology Use, Human Connection

by Taylor Williams

By Heather Drennan, senior director of talent development, and Kory Nelson, marketing director, of Birge & Held

The use of proptech is a factor that is sure to come up regularly in conversations among executive teams, regional vice presidents and local property teams, simply because the capabilities of modern technology and innovations are endless.

For example, consider this article by Fast Company, a publication at the forefront of technology, innovation and leadership. The article cites how the implementation of proptech can have an all-encompassing, positive effect at the resident, community, societal and even environmental level.

Heather Drennan, Birge & Held

From innovations that reimagine the way residents tour an apartment complex and gain access to their units to those that redefine how property management and maintenance teams complete trainings and respond to residents’ requests, it’s clear that technologies bolstering automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are here to stay. But that’s not to say there isn’t any pushback.

The multifamily space is rooted in relationships that are essential to building and maintaining community, and for many renters, the presence of a human connection remains key. This poses a clear dilemma — how should multifamily owners and operators strike a balance between reaping the benefits of proptech while preserving the human connection?

Kory Nelson, Birge & Held

Achieving this balance will likely look different across different management companies and properties. Factors to consider are the specific generations calling these properties their home, the geographic location of said properties and the composition of internal teams. As Birge & Held has collaborated to strike this balance within our own organization, we’ve found the following principles to be fundamental to a successful philosophy:

Be Deliberate

Technological concepts and features that are making an impact in the world of owning and operating multifamily real estate currently include:

  • Virtual tours
  • Chat and other online capabilities between residents and maintenance teams
  • 3D-scale virtual reality trainings
  • AI on-the-spot coaching

With so many innovations on the market, owners and managers have to be deliberate. This is a choice that fosters an experience for teams, whose responsibility is to turn around and incorporate any new proptech selected into their everyday practices. The notion of being deliberate goes hand in hand with the current and future resident experience, shaping their positive or negative opinions toward the property and management company.

Birge & Held has seen success through creating a “property health dashboard team” this past year. This initiative reflects a broader internal effort to prioritize piloting new technology with teams that have the bandwidth to disrupt their everyday operations at a handful of properties. This way, data can be collected from beta testing, weighing onsite feedback that will influence whether the proptech is implemented across companywide communities and how best to champion those selected technologies when rolling them out to other property teams.

Next-Gen Focus

The multifamily space is greatly influenced by the generations inhabiting these properties. As the number of Gen Z renters increases over the next several years, properties will need to rely on proptech more than ever.

So far, we’ve seen the ways in which older Gen Z renters are motivated by experiences and a cultivated lifestyle when it comes to their living spaces. Members of this generation are aware that they will need to save more money for longer before they can afford a home of their own. In the meantime, many will be lifestyle renters enticed by the option of nomadic living and apartments that offer more short-term or flexible living options in case they don’t want to stay in the same city for long.

We’re also seeing certain efforts — same-day renovations, amenity upgrades in units and common spaces — that are clearly designed to meet the more modern expectations of this class of renter. This is also a group that grew up in a booming age of technology. Both residents and team members of these ages address or find resolutions to problems by using their iPhones and Google. In terms of attracting talent from this generation, we see that technologies focused on aiding teams through microlearning and straightforward teachings have the most to offer in the evolving industry.

Change Management is a Must

Major change can be heavy and feel detrimental to those experiencing it.

An article published by points to the importance of understanding the neuroscience behind humans’ turbulent relationship with change. Behavioral neuroscience tells us that our brains have a natural tendency to resist change, seeing shifts in our day-to-day structures and habits as being a cause for alarm.

When bringing in new technologies to the workplace, you bring each of your team members on that journey. This goes back to the importance of beta testing, ensuring that these individuals are part of the decision-making process since they’re often the primary individuals being impacted.

Managers should prioritize a slow expansion of technology in which these professionals are able to demonstrate how this integration will help teams improve their relationships with residents by removing busy work from their plates. This practice will aid in boosting team buy-in and minimizing drop-off, ultimately, reducing the need for re-acclimation. With time-consuming and repetitive tasks minimized, the focus can now be on what matters most: creating a first-class living experience for residents.

Before making any decisions surrounding the balance between the use of technology and human touchpoints, identify what is or will be important to the organization and the industry moving forward. As we continue to enhance lives through transforming communities, we see this balance as something that should work with us and for us, and not something we’re buying into because it’s shiny and new.

Heather Drennan and Kory Nelson have a combined 50 years of experience in organizational development, marketing and resident experience. Based in Indianapolis, Birge & Held is a private equity real estate investment, management, and construction firm, specializing in multifamily commercial real estate within the Midwest, Southeast and Western markets.

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