Work From Home? Or Back To The Office? What Blended Working Means For One Property Management Company
We caught up with Christian Bruce, Partner at Redpath Bruce, on one of our recent Blocktalk podcasts. The property management industry requires a lot of discussion and conversation within the team, so working from home isn’t always an easy or justified choice for people who work in the industry. Christian shared his thoughts about blended office/home working and how we’re either adjusting to it or still trying to decide how to navigate this new way of working and discusses why blended working might not necessarily be the right option for Redpath Bruce.
Let’s see what Christian had to say and please do get in touch with us if you have anything to add to the conversation.
Well, I’ve got, I’ve got mixed views on this. Ultimately, it depends on the kind of business you run. And, you know, some businesses I’m sure, can function entirely remotely. I know of one building surveying firm, and they’ve gone to a purely performance-based model where you don’t really have working hours, they’re all qualified surveyors, though. So they’ll have a group of clients and projects that they’re delivering and they can do those independently at home, or out on-site, as long as it’s delivered on time. And you can do it at home on a Sunday morning, or 10pm on a Sunday night, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s done. And if the client asks you to be on-site, then you’re there. And if your colleagues need you in the office for around the table, you go, there’s no quibbling over that. And they’ve shrunk from an 8000 square foot office to a 4000 square foot office with hot desks and a big cafe with a barista style coffee scenario, which I’m quite jealous of. And, you know, they’re doing this really funky way of working and, you know, it remains to be seen how, how well it goes, I think it will be a success.
“You’ve got to be able to pat folk on the back and at the same time, give people help up if they’re struggling.”
My question is, well, then how do you train younger staff? How do you actually get visibility of, of the improvement of people are people who are flagging. You’ve got to be able to pat folk on the back and at the same time, give people help up if they’re struggling. And they used to train their, their trainees in teams, where everyone was kind of sort of responsible for the younger person learning, whereas now they buddy up with an individual who’s entirely responsible for that person’s training. And in fact, in some respects, it’s more transparent and visible as to how their progress is going. And, in fact, they claim that it’s better that way.
So they have the ability to be utterly flexible in or at the office. And so they’re the people that I would suggest would champion you know, nowadays in the office, or as many days in or out as you like. That suits their model. They’re probably sending, you know, 2000 invoices a year, they can do it from their laptop straight to their client, they can do their own credit control. They’re not huge admin teams. They’ll have a lot of pre-populated reports that they can tweak themselves. You know it’s very efficient, again tech playing a huge part in that, and so that’s one kind of business that I can see will work that way.
Back to the office
I know the banks are starting to come back two days a week. We have been back two days a week so we’re two and three off at the moment which is our ‘blend’. We’re still completely socially distanced in the office we’re lucky to have enough space to keep people two metres apart and we wear masks as we’re traveling through the building still.
So we’ve kept people separated and that’s been a massive logistical challenge but Adele in our office has been phenomenal at working out desks who’s doing what and when and where. But for us I actually think we’re so team focused, between repairs property management credit control, accounts, everybody will cross communicate at least once if not several times a day and this can’t be done efficiently in a remote working environment, with such an emphasis on team and collaboration and what we do in the culture we’re trying to create.
You know there’s certain things, I mean people talk about the water cooler chats, team lunches, meetings, training, and they can’t really happen efficiently over Zoom or Teams. Certain things are just fine for those channels, but let’s take an example, you send that deposit cheque back to Mrs. Hacknabush and you want to ask your colleague across the desk something about it, a 20-second conversation but they’re not there, you’re not going to phone them and you’re not going to Zoom them for that answer. So you don’t ask the question and it doesn’t happen. The cheque was sent, maybe the cheque wasn’t sent, until you get the complaint from the former tenant saying I never got my deposit cheque back or whatever.
Now if you’d been in the office, you could have said, oh I never sent that or can you send it? It’s done and you don’t get the complaint. But the complaint comes in and that’s a fire burning that involves the property manager more than the line manager above maybe it gets department level and everyone has to have a discussion and then you quickly see how the minutes are consumed. Yeah, on that one thing because we’re all at home and so for us I think there’s a danger here right?
My view is you have to start with the business and what’s best for the business, what makes the business most efficient, profitable. Because it’s that profit that feeds the mouths and therefore if it means that everyone’s in five days until we get a handle on how we can be more flexible, then that’s what you have to decide to do as a business leader to get everyone back in. If the business suffers because our efficiency is just that much poorer, it’s not terrible, but maybe it’s poor because we’re not collaborating as well as we used to, then you know, that’s not the best decision for the business.
Horses for courses
So I think businesses have to decide, is it three and two days, is it four and one days or actually do we have to get back to five? Which is what we’re doing. And don’t get me wrong, we were flexible before the pandemic turned up, we had people doing earlier shifts because they had commitments maybe in the late afternoon, they had travel issues for where they lived and so we’ve had that flexibility.
We use a lot of TOIL, time off in lieu, people can build up time having worked out with hours or different times and then they can take a morning to do George’s first day at nursery, or go to the dentist or wherever. So you know we’ve never been too rigid as an employer because, we understand people have challenges, and we want to be helpful. Especially when you get people committing themselves to being incredibly loyal members of staff, then we want to be able to repay that. But again, you still have to say, right, what’s best for the business? Let’s design how we work behind that. Not what’s best for the member of staff. Or let’s try and make our business suit them. I’m not in that school. Not yet.
What do you think? How is your property management company and your team managing the transition to a different way of working? Or maybe your business has always operated a flexible working approach? We’d love to hear from you!
Brian Welsh, our MD, hosts the Blocktalk podcast and he has been delivering business solutions for the property management industry for 20 years. If you’d like to chat to or connect with Brian, please visit his website, brianwelsh.co.uk