Industries dependent on human interaction had their work cut out for them once the health crisis took hold. Property management companies were tasked with maintaining operations while ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Facing ongoing challenges and changes, property managers are finding new and innovative ways to navigate the touchless reality shaped by the pandemic.
In a discussion with Commercial Property Executive, Michael Pallone, founder & president of Wollaston Development, shared his experience working with property managers during 2020. As a site development and landscape design company, Wollaston Development witnessed up-close the changes property managers implemented within commercial buildings, while also being mindful of climate change. In the interview below, Pallone touches on the ways property managers can reduce potential transmission and improve safety.
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Looking back on 2020, what were some of the most significant challenges faced by commercial property managers?
Pallone: Commercial property managers faced a number of challenges in 2020, the worst of which was the same issue faced by the rest of the world—the coronavirus pandemic. All of the repercussions that came along with COVID-19 have been more burdensome for industries that require human interaction. Social distancing is certainly more difficult to maintain within commercial buildings that house multiple pods. Additionally, many office parks and rental companies faced budget crises due to mass departures of tenants and moratoriums on evictions due to tenant non-payment.
Another challenge property managers dealt with was the ongoing threat of climate change, which is slowly but surely affecting the entire planet. By listening to the science and making immediate changes to stave off the repercussions, everyone can contribute to the solution. On the West Coast, developers are contending with the ever-increasing threat of wildfires. In the Northeast, high winds and extreme weather events cause a great deal of costly damage annually. Property managers are powerless when it comes to the threats to buildings that come with climate change, but efforts now can make real change.
How has communication between property managers and tenants changed after the onset of the pandemic?
Pallone: From Wollaston Development’s experience with property managers over the course of the pandemic, for the most part, communication has improved as a result of this unprecedented, life-altering and ongoing worldwide event. Property managers are reaching out more to inform their tenants of updated regulations, opening more conversations that are important to have regarding the new way of living we have slowly grown accustomed to, despite the constant changes. The advent and embracing of technology, including video conferencing like Zoom, has also expedited decision-making and has led to a more fluid planning process.
How have property managers encouraged social distancing in commercial buildings? Considering smart features needed to navigate the touchless reality accelerated by the pandemic, what are some of the new methods implemented due to COVID-19?
Pallone: Social distancing in commercial buildings has been easier to confront than residential buildings, where people are at home and therefore feel more comfortable doing as they please and not sticking to guidelines like mask-wearing in public spaces. In commercial buildings, signage and removal of communal relaxation spaces are constant reminders to guests to keep visits brief and to adhere to capacity limitations.
Wollaston Development recently partnered with eProperty Care to work with our clients to install eProperty Care’s smart technology, including smart entry and lighting, as well as water sensors that alert the property manager when there is irregularity. Allowing property managers the ability to grant one-time access codes to maintenance workers or others who need entry has been extremely useful during the pandemic.
To what extent do you think these changes will become a permanent way of doing business?
Pallone: These upgrades are not based solely on reducing germ transfer; these smart technologies improve efficiency, help with energy conservation and save the operator a great deal of time and money. These changes are improvements and are certainly here to stay.
How could property managers streamline operations, considering the need to reduce costs due to the financial burden brought on by the pandemic?
Pallone: Adding smart water sensors to negate large, unforeseen damages—especially in the winter, when pipes are bound to freeze and burst—is a great way to reduce costs. Installing these devices will lower insurance costs and pay for themselves over a short period of time. Another money-saving tip for the colder months is to know who will be in charge of snow removal ahead of time, thereby locking in a rate so when the storm comes, you’re not charged the surge price.
What are some of the best ways to prepare for extreme weather and approach climate change when it comes to commercial property management?
Pallone: Wollaston Development has worked with a number of property managers to help prepare for extreme weather by installing permeable pavers overheat grids to automatically melt snow, improving efficiency, minimizing slip-and-fall accidents and lessening salt damage. When it comes to climate change, smart irrigation technology is also a great way to save time, money and most importantly, save the planet by saving water. Setting up a smart spigot will ensure that your plants and grass are not over-watered and stick to the correct schedule.
Commercial property management trends to watch in 2021: What can we expect going forward?
Pallone: One of the biggest trends we are expecting in 2021 is the edible garden. Food gardening is more popular than it’s been in over a decade. Edible gardens blend beauty and function with fruits and vegetables that embellish property just as effectively as an ornamental plant, with the added benefit of producing chemical-free produce and the opportunity for a compost area to dispose of food waste—a great way to shrink your carbon footprint.