by Wendy Simpson
Never has communication been more critical than during the current coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 news coverage is alarming and conflicting for residents. That has created an opportunity for property managers to build trust and establish themselves as reliable, transparent and consistent sources of information.
We understand that no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. And it’s tempting for apartment managers to downplay or omit negative information when communicating with residents.
Unfortunately, we’ve found that it’s typically the information that renters don’t want to hear that has the most significant impact on their lives. They deserve the complete picture of how COVID-19 is affecting your community in order to do what they believe is best for them. That kind of transparency builds trust. And trust is what will improve your relationship with your residents. That brings us to some best practices you can employ to increase the trust factor.
Outline measures in detail
When communicating with residents about coronavirus, we suggest outlining, in detail, the measures you are taking, as well as what those measures mean in terms of changes to the previous routine. Announce common area and amenity closures by email and clearly posted signage. Explain why you closed amenities rather than limiting the number of people allowed to use them at one time. Provide a list of the services that have been discontinued and those essential services that remain. Again, explain why those services were discontinued rather than scaled back. We also feel it’s important to include the duration that these changes will apply and at what point they will be revisited.
Share specifics about enhanced cleaning efforts
You’re probably answering questions from residents about cleaning and disinfecting efforts within your communities on a regular basis. Complete transparency is the best response. Share specific details about your enhanced cleaning efforts and cleaning services that are added or discontinued. Specify the areas or surfaces that are being disinfected and the cleaning products that are being used. Make sure these are on the list of EPA approved products and follow the latest CDC guidelines. They are changing from time to time. If possible, include the schedule and frequency of cleaning services, as well.
Discuss social distancing efforts
By now, we’ve all heard about the importance of social distancing. But residents may not be aware of your onsite team’s social distancing efforts while maintaining day-to-day operations. Describe how emergency maintenance services will be conducted and how the management team can be reached while the office is closed. Provide instruction on how packages can be collected. Make sure residents know what is expected of them to help limit contact with their neighbors and team members. You should also share what protocols are in place to inform them if someone at the community is diagnosed with COVID-19.
Cite official sources, and direct residents to those sources
Always cite compliance with public health agencies as the reason for coronavirus directives. This adds validity to the information provided and explains that decisions are based on current health department recommendations. Your communities aren’t hospitals and don’t have trained health officials on site. The decisions are being made by the experts. You’re just following their lead.
Don’t forget about prospects
Clear and comprehensive communication with residents should be the top priority, but prospects deserve full disclosure, as well. Ensure that prospective residents are aware of the current measures in place, how tours and move-in processes might differ from the typical experience, and how they’ll be supported as a future leaseholder. Building trust prior to lease signing is essential.
Provide regular updates
As we have already seen, government directives and timelines will continue to change as the coronavirus situation evolves, making frequent updates a necessity. But consistent and frequent updates should also be the goal. Regular correspondence, even if it’s just to reaffirm the measures in place, creates an open line of communication and ensures that the message is received.
A straight-forward approach to communication will definitely help curb panic and instill trust among residents. More importantly, it will also show compassion for the unprecedented situation many residents find themselves in. Residents are scared, and many will struggle financially before the pandemic is over. Expressing empathy and understanding, as well as a desire to do the right thing, can only strengthen your relationships and trust. And resident trust will be won or lost during these trying times.