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Pandemic Property Management – Rising to the challenge and hope for the future

Interview with Carl Foreman

What has been the biggest challenge for PM+U through this pandemic?

Balancing the demands of our clients with the challenges of debt recovery and paying suppliers with a reduced service charge contribution. It hasn’t been easy and has taken good, strong lines of communication with all parties. Overall though, it has strengthened our relationships with clients and tenants having to get through this together.

How about for you personally?

I’ve found it a bit of challenge to switch-off while working long hours from home – I’m finding it more difficult to focus on the usual things I might do to relax and unwind such as reading.

It’s been a difficult time for many; each has had their own personal story and struggle to deal with. How has PM+U tried to keep morale high amongst employees?

We’re a small team so we talk to each other over Zoom at least once a day. We’re people people so I’d like to think we’re pretty sensitive to each other and will notice when someone is struggling and take the time to acknowledge this and have a chat. We have the odd Zoom social where we get together for a drink and a laugh though I know screen socialising isn’t for everyone. We’re all doing our best.

How would you say the Property Management sector is generally responding to the pandemic?

I’d say the response from the sector has been outstanding. Never in the history of Property Management has a situation arisen where everything has had to close down with 72 hours’ notice and then re-open again with the same short notice. Everyone is working really hard to manage costs and keep clients’ assets functioning.

What are your biggest lessons both professionally and personally?

Professionally, I think the need to balance what is important versus what is urgent has been essential. I’ve always seen this as a fundamental Property Management skill but it’s been critical through these challenging times. Personally, it’s about the value of appreciating what you have and celebrating life as much as you can.

What measures are you planning on putting in place for people to return safely to offices and retail centres and what are the implications?

Well it’s the usual and we’re pretty good at it now – facilitating social distancing, hand-sanitising and encouraging face masks. We’re conscious there will be those who will want to race out to be in society and around people. Others will understandably feel nervous and vulnerable. Either way there is the potential for emotionally charged, busy gatherings so we need to carefully manage this to ensure everyone’s safety.

How do you think this pandemic will influence the future of Property Management?

The pandemic has accelerated change in the retail and office sectors considerably. Traditionally the Property Management function has really been about doing the basics of rent and service charge collection, cleaning and security. Property Management teams need to step up to take on a more collaborative, hands-on role with property owners, getting behind their business objectives. If a property owner comes up with an innovative way to repurpose their space, their Property Management team needs to be by the side helping to ensure their ideas work in practice in the day-to-day running of the property.

We need to be more involved in the use of data analysis and technology innovation for the purpose of making an asset run as effectively and efficiently as possible. We should be proactively looking for ways to cut costs while maintaining great standards.

Also the nature of the spaces we manage is likely to change. With the rise of everything digital, people will only be enticed away from their screens into physical environments by engaging experiences. So for example, a space that was once a typical traditional retail environment may become a blend of say retail, office and a music venue. Such a change would welcome a Property Management team with a diverse range of experiences. This means the need to employ teams with a wider skill set.

How are you prepared for these changes at PM+U?

Collaborating with property owners, embracing new technology and relentlessly looking for cost savings and increased efficiencies is already our culture, so we welcome these changes. If anything, my hope is that the Property Management sector steps up to these new challenges and doesn’t try to return to the way things have always been done. A more proactive approach should become our new normal.

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