Working Remotely: Office not required (sometimes)

I read a lot of books.

I also listen to a lot of different podcasts on business, finance, real estate and property management. I always marvel when a host of a podcast gets on the mic and says “oh yeah, I read that book in one day or I read that book twice on a flight to a conference”. How does that even happen? I’ve never been a fast reader and I’ve always reread the page to digest the information that I was taking in. I have done OK but I know I could read faster and do better job at retention.

Yesterday I had my first breakthrough moment and finished a book in one day! I couldn’t believe it by the end of the day I finished the book and retained a lot of the information. Ok, so the 250 page book did have a lot of pictures so that helped.  But I did it! A book in one day! The book was “Remote: Office Not Required” by Jason Fired and David Heinemeier Hanson.

The premise of the book is that whether we know it or not we are already outsourcing many of the professional tasks already that we need to run our businesses. Accountants, lawyers, HR departments, payroll departments can all be accessed remotely. Whether they are down the street from us or if they on the other side of the country. It all makes sense and we’ve been doing it for years. We actually don’t give much thought about it at all. But when it comes to our personal business there has been the old-time practice of managing the chairs and making sure people are at their desks and working. The truth is even though they’re at their desk they may be surfing Facebook or the latest YouTube cat videos. So there are some pros and cons to both models. The traditional model and now the remote model. The main take away I think from the book was this; why wait until you retire tomorrow to live your best life that you are working so hard today to achieve?

Granted some businesses are more hands-on than others so working remote maybe doesn’t fit the model. Take for example our business is property management. Someone has to be boots on the ground to do the inspections, make the repairs, conduct the showings, and make sure the properties are functioning in top running order.

But not all of these jobs tasks and operations need to be on site. Over the past few years within the pandemic we have been forced to figure out new ways to achieve results. For example our whole screening process has now gone remote. Our rental applications are online, our screening processes online, the deposits are online. Phone calls and emails assist in the communications to prescreen qualified tenants. With features like video cameras, video conferencing and YouTube channels we are able to conduct a virtual tours and showings for properties 24 seven around the clock at the convenience of the candidates looking to rent the unit. Once we select the candidate who is the right fit for the building and our criteria, we place a lockbox on the property with the required set of keys. 

Of course the security deposits and other rental deposits are made online through our portal or some other online payment app, we also make sure the utilities are put in their name online and they email us an insurance binder for the rental insurance. This whole process happens sometimes without ever meeting the new tenant face to face.

How did we get here?

For the past two years all of this has been happening remotely. Our leasing department, our office managers, accounting department, showing and booking staff are all working remotely from their homes or whichever location they choose. The work is getting done in a timely fashion and we are actually breaking performance records from the past results when we were doing a lot more travel to meet face-to-face. Not to mention the countless number of times that we have booked showings and nobody ever showed up. I was of time and production lost.

Stacy in our leasing department has been working remotely throughout the pandemic and for the past three months has been working out of state managing all of the guest cards and pre-screening all of the applicants without a hiccup in performance or production. We are actually at our lowest vacancy point we have been in years and out of the 200+ units we manage have only one vacancy. That is only half a percent vacancy which beats all records for industry standards in our market as well. 

And all of this is happening remote. Stacy is able to manage the commitments and obligations of her work tasks, spend time raising her baby, manage the other household duties she needs to, all while overseeing the renovation of their new townhouse. She is enjoying a lifestyle and a work style that suits her needs and the company’s needs. As her employer we will be here enjoying the results and Stacy living a work life style the best suits her and her family life. Who wouldn’t want to do this?

Cyndi our leasing assistant is a bit more of a hybrid position. There are still times were in the screening process when we have selected the right candidate they want to see the apartment before moving in. This is perfectly normal and to be expected. In these cases Cyndi will go in either set up a lockbox and give them access, or actually meet the candidate face-to-face to walk them through the apartment. This again is a pretty turnkey operation. By the time they have booked a showing they are already pre-qualified candidates. So it’s either they want the unit or they don’t. It’s that simple. Then, the lease up process continues online, documents are signed digitally, keys distributed, and the tenancy begins.

Our maintenance staff probably has the hardest job of all. They need to remain boots on the ground and accessible to the properties. Of course the properties are where things break and maintenance is needed and they will need to be there when they are needed. But we still have systems and operations in place remotely to help them in their tasks. Using smartphones, laptops, Internet, and desktop computers they are able to manage their entire workload while sitting on the couch with their family at home. So there’s no need to go into the office to check a fax machine, emails, phone systems or answering machines where work orders are pouring in and they need to organize their schedule onsite.

Through our property management software our Maintenance Team is able to access all work orders and maintenance requests through their smartphone or Web-enabled devices. They can be comfortable at home with family managing time the best he can to be most productive all at the of the tap of their finger on a web-enabled device. With email and texts driven through the property management software we can keep a detailed record of all communications, photos of repairs, invoices, receipts, and everything all centrally located within the management software. No need to do excessive paper filing, tracking and scanning. It’s all right there easy and remotely accessible.

For the team members who have to be on the ground we also offer flexible work hours so they can enjoy a work/home lifestyle. We are less concerned about when they punch in or when they punch out and more focused on the results and a satisfied tenant. As long as the work is getting done it’s totally fine with us if Matthew wants to be available to teach a Tae Kwon Do class with his boys. That’s fine with us. As long as the work is getting done and the results are great, we are totally happy having him maintain a family-work lifestyle balance.

As for managing our business, We are using an online suite of tools to manage the business. We are able to stay connected with all of our remote and onsite team members giving them the support they need to successfully be on task and productive. 

It takes a team to make the dream.

I am happy to say I am writing this blog post on a serene Sunday morning poolside overlooking the Caribbean ocean. My typing is not the best so I am using my iPhone “Notes” app to dictate the BLOG post which I will later upload into WordPress on my laptop over WiFi right from this very chair.

Getting back to the book. The authors are the software creators of Basecamp and a whole online Internet cloud-based suite of tools to help businesses work remotely. On the very first pages of the book it says the best people in the world don’t all work in the same place. And that’s true. Being able to embrace the technology and adapt to this new way of working has allowed us to have the best team members doing the best job living their best lives. 

So how do we do it? The following online tools and apps are what we use day to day to keep the bus rolling. This is not set in stone and overtime technology and software will change and we will adapt and innovate to meet our businesses needs.

Property management software used for marketing, maintenance, leasing, record keeping and reports.

Chrome, Gmail, Drive, Sheets, Maps, Translate, and just about anything else they can come up with. We use these tools for tracking mileage, time sheets, market trend reports, real time P/L Statements for our clients and much, much more.

Working with our team in so many remote locations we use Dropbox as a central online cloud-based repository for scans, photos, documents, contracts, spreadsheets and any other documents or tools that may be needed by the team, real-time, from anywhere on planet earth.

Keeping connected as a team without the clutter is critical to ensuring we are all on the same page and rowing the boat in the same direction. Slack allows our team to function on different channels of operations all toward the same common goal.

Also part of the Google suite of the apps but we use this as a standalone application to manage our videos and virtual tours through our Belaire YouTube channel.

From iMovie to iPhones and everything else Apple can iMagine our team can stay connected and in sync over several different devices laptops, tablets, phones, and computers.

As I conclude this blog post and finish my coffee I am about to wrap this up and post it online. After that I’m going upstairs to have breakfast with my family and enjoy living my best life. Hopefully this blog post his help you to envision how you can do the same.

What’s on Your Mind?

Do you have any other ideas on this topic you could share to help our online community? Please chime in to share a comment or review. All feedback is welcomed. Thank you in advance for your continued support!

Warmest regards,

Brian Lucier
Belaire Property Management
Regional Property Manager
(978) 448-0669 office
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