Association Insights

What Lessons Have We Learned From 2020?

We’ve all heard and read that 2020 is unprecedented and it has been, but unprecedented isn’t always bad.  Think back to late March when most of the DMV shut down and many of us didn’t know how we would work from home, or if we could get to work (assuming we were deemed essential) without being stopped by the COVID police.  I gave my employees letters so when they were pulled over, they could prove to the police officer that they were essential and had to get to their destination.  Did anyone get pulled over?  No.  Instead, we learned that most companies did what was needed to allow personnel who could work from home, to do so.  Those of us who had to report to work learned that we could do it in half the amount of time!  No one stopped or questioned us.

We quickly got past our fear of Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, GoToMeeting, or whatever platforms were used to stay connected. Wasn’t it fun the first time you joined a virtual meeting, and someone used the Golden Gate Bridge as their backdrop?

Remember all the cute videos of kids and dogs jumping into the video? As time passed, companies learned to use their logos and regular attendees learned to remove distractions and not sit in front of a window where you look like a silhouette. In other words, we have moved beyond the novelty and become comfortable with the new normal of conducting business.  After all the world of condominium management and all of its facets must keep moving!

I wouldn’t have been able to do as well as I did without the help of my fellow managers and contractors. During the first few months, we heavily relied on each other.  When it was hard to find gloves, everyone in my world kept a look out for each other. When gloves were found, we made a phone call or purchased an extra box for someone we really wanted to help.  I remember a contractor calling me from an obscure pharmacy in Kensington and saying he found gloves.  He handed the phone over to the person at the cash register so I could pay for mine with a credit card.  I was so appreciative that I paid for mine and the contractor’s gloves.  One good deed deserves another.

How about when no one could find masks…and I mean no one, nowhere, no how. It didn’t stop a group of managers from writing one another daily with the slightest chance that their source might still have a few boxes left (even if they were $78 in May). A local lighting contractor, Derick Associates, sent an e-mail out to all of his clients informing us that he had gloves, masks and even hand sanitizer coming from reputable sources and his prices were reasonable. He didn’t increase the price, even though he could. This is when you start to believe in Karma. I truly believe that people who treated others poorly in the past didn’t have the luck many of us had when it came to finding the necessities required to protect ourselves, our employees, co-workers and residents in 2020.  We know there are selfless people in this industry, but it is gratifying to have an unexpected source presented when it’s needed.

Communication has always been essential, but I’d say never more than during 2020. Despite how quickly managers in DC and other popular protest sites had to protect their property, there were still some who sent out e-mails informing other managers of where there was violence, where there was peace, where it was safe and where it might not have been. Those who wrote, never judged those who protested, but instead they keep their e-mails informative. I am proud of my fellow managers and the way they conducted themselves when freedom of speech was being tested.  Managers communicated with each other regarding Metro interruptions, times and locations of protests and rallies, and what they did to make sure their evening and overnight employees were safe.  They shared encouragement and solidarity.  We learned that information and helping colleagues is bipartisan.

Those of us who use BuildingLink learned how to use it much better than ever before.  Once Boards were permitted to open amenities, it was used to create swim times and fitness center slots.  It wasn’t until 2020 that I learned I could create specific slots for specific days and specific hours.  A limit can be put on the number of reservations for those times.  Even more importantly, it is easy to teach the residents how to make the reservation themselves.

OTHER SOURCES SAID:

Michelle Baquero, NRP Partners Portfolio Manager, said she has experienced more patience and understanding from others in her communities.  She found that people have been more sensitive and sympathetic towards things like noise violations and delays.  She has noticed more attendees for virtual meetings especially in her 55 and older communities.  She is pleased that they are willing to learn how to use technology to access friends, family and their managers.

Shayla Love, a manager for Cardinal Management Group, experienced less than ideal behavior which she said challenged her to grow and become a better manager.  Another manager shared that he too had negative experiences with some residents when they didn’t seem to understand the additional work put on managers by COVID-19, local governments, the CDC, insurance companies and association attorneys.  I remember someone calling property managers unrecognized Superheros. Although I personally don’t like to use the word Hero unless someone’s life was saved, I certainly understand the implication, and maybe being vigilant in protecting employees, residents and guests from COVID-19, is saving a life?

A janitorial contractor reported that she had to have a contingency plan for her contingency plan regarding her staff.  She said that normally she had a certain number of extra employees who could cover if someone called out sick for a few days, but at the beginning of COVID, she realized she needed to have multiple backups to cover for as long as three weeks for multiple properties.  She put plans in place in case all of the employees at one property had to quarantine.

Doug White, a consulting engineer, found that contractors faced new difficulties because so many people were at home, all day long. People got upset because they were trying to work while noisy construction was taking place nearby. He found that some contractors became mindful about their work practices. Not all noise can be eliminated, but it can be consolidated and/or scheduled and communicated. He also saw cleaning practices change for the better.  When more people are around, someone will see the mess and comment on it. The good contractors made positive changes in this area as well. Management and residents have had to compromise when it came time to allow contractors back into the communities. One condominium in Chevy Chase greatly reduced the number of contractors permitted to work on-site. Reducing the number per condo and the total number permitted each day. A community in DC decided to allow renovations the first two weeks of each month, but only work that is considered “no noise producing” the rest of the month. These are things that managers and board members would have never thought possible in the pre-COVID-19 world. I think the lesson here is, never say residents would never go for that, or that the board would never do that.

Chris Carlson, Chief Structural Engineer for ETC, noted that even though he and others in the firm had previously worked from home when necessary, they found that they could work full-time from home and in some cases more efficiently.  Clients used to always require personal attendance and now video conferences are the norm.  No more driving to a site, therefore less time away from family.  He did note that some things can’t be done as well remotely, like training new staff members.  It’s hard to teach new concepts and overall company culture over the phone.  He also stated that maintaining personal interactions with staff is not as satisfactory virtually.

A resident at Quarry Springs told me that she and her spouse learned how lucky they are to have a ground floor condominium with a beautiful, large terrace.  They can enjoy the outdoors without fear of coming into contact with people.  I wonder if there is the opposite lesson learned by those who live on an upper floor of a high-rise in which an elevator has to be shared with many other residents.  A lesson learned here is that what may be attractive during one phase of life may not be attractive in another.  Meaning, living on the 18th floor of a condo may provide a beautiful view, but it doesn’t provide an escape if you are afraid of contracting COVID.

Attorney, Brian Fellner, felt that the line between “professional workplace” and “personal home life” was blurring long before the pandemic hit.  Especially in the community association context, where meetings and actions often took place after regular working hours and affect people in a very personal way.  He found that the separation between work and home was eroding and that he and others were beholden to the cell phone therefore unable to disconnect.  In the age of COVID, he finds that his personality is pushing back toward equilibrium, making it more acceptable to be not just the business person, board member or community manager, but rather a person.

Kara Permisohn, Business Development Account Executive for Minkoff Company, has found 2020 to be a year full of reflection and evolution.  She learned that it is imperative to have patience and flexibility with communication and understanding of customer’s and colleague’s schedules.  She believes slowing down expectations for immediate responses has been a positive exercise.  Not everything is urgent all the time.  She agrees with Brian, finding balance with work and personal life is more important than ever.

Everyone, not just those involved in multi-family communities, learned lessons during 2020.  Enjoy the following articles remembering that without 2020 we may never have learned how much we need each other.


By Lee Ann Weir, CMCA, AMS

Lee Ann is the General Manager for Quarry Springs at Stoneyhurst Condominium located in Bethesda Maryland. She is honored to work with an incredible team of concierge, gate attendants and maintenance personnel. Outside of work she is the President of the After Prom Party for Rockville High School. Lee Ann has been an active member of the Quorum Editorial Committee for the past five years.

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