Property Week: The beating heart of communities by Michela Hancock

As a developer, I help to design professionally managed BTR and student communities, regularly speak to the management teams working in these buildings and spend time on site occasionally, when I lead tours and have meetings.

Just before Christmas, I worked for a week in the operations team on site at Sailmakers, Greystar’s BTR project in Canary Wharf. I was treated like everyone else on the team and it was a fantastic learning opportunity. The experience was truly eye-opening and made me realise how operations teams are the beating heart of our rental communities. They enable all stakeholders to thrive beyond the opening fanfare of a shiny new or refurbished building.

Our operations teams have a wealth of knowledge and practical insight, which is critical to improving our designs and providing feedback for both development and design teams. They really are what makes the difference and their personalities are what attract residents to the community, as well as later retaining them.

Finding the right people is challenging and once you have done so, it is critical to keep them. Motivation, training and continuing to challenge and grow their careers is the responsibility of leaders in our industry. This doesn’t just apply to the BTR and student markets. It is just as relevant for retail, commercial, flexible workspace and co-living. Anywhere human connection is relevant, we should focus on our people.

During my week at Sailmakers, I saw how residents relied on our teams to answer questions, provide support, guide and talk to them. Importantly, our maintenance teams also communicate with our residents about the timings and status of their requests. As loneliness increases in today’s busy world, human interaction becomes more crucial than ever. Technology has made us more aware of things in ‘real time’, but it has also taken away from face-to-face engagement. Human communication shapes our experience and we need to ensure our operations people are well equipped, motivated and passionate, so that our communities provide the most positive encounters possible.

We are transforming into an experience-based culture, and I have now seen first hand the extent to which our operations teams patiently pick up rubbish, deal with multiple bookings for amenity spaces, organise events and provide an exceptional customer experience.

Much of providing a good service is simply listening and responding in a considerate way. If someone has a problem, mostly they just want to be heard. I saw this at Sailmakers.

It led me to question how often we genuinely listen. I asked a lot of questions that week of the team, from big to small things. How could we design the building in a more practical way? Does the height of a property manager’s desk allow an ergonomic chair to fit under it? What training do operations teams need to take customer service to the next level?

I would encourage everyone that is part of an operating business to take time and get to know the teams on the ground who are interacting with customers. Their contribution is vital to the success of businesses and helps to ensure all stakeholders share in the desired quality of experience.

Michela Hancock is managing director of development and construction at Greystar UK

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