WHAT THE PANDEMIC TAUGHT US ABOUT MAINTENANCE

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Industry leaders discuss supply chain shortages and completing service requests from afar.

Maintenance professionals are known for their ability to enter a scene and quickly extinguish the problem. But when access to that scene becomes restricted, it certainly complicates the prospects of conquering the task. 

As such, many maintenance professionals essentially became teachers during the pandemic. Unable to enter homes, they remotely guided residents through some of the simpler fixes in their apartments via video chats, texts and emails. But that was hardly the only adjustment maintenance teams had to make when the world was turned upside down in 2020, as a panel discussed during “What the Pandemic Taught Us About Maintenance" at NAA's Apartmentalize conference in Chicago. 

“We quickly realized that ‘the way it always has been’ wasn’t going to be able to stay,” said Adam Dudley, Director of Property Management at Panther Residential. “It became apparent there was going to be a lot more resident interaction, although from afar, and a lot more DIY processes.”

Additionally, Dudley and Panther Residential eventually replaced many of the tedious by-hand cleaning processes with the use of foggers for more efficient disinfecting of common areas and offices. It was part of an industry-wide effort to streamline suddenly intensified cleaning processes, which operators utilized various methods to execute. 

While modified daily processes were the most glaring changes from the pandemic, one of the most overlooked maintenance challenges was that of inventory management. With nationwide supply shortages on just about everything, many operators were unable to replace key maintenance items when they ran out. According to the panel, that has prompted operators to be more diligent about bulk ordering items such as Freon and personal protective equipment like masks so they aren’t left without them if there’s another disruption in the supply chain. 

Move-in and move-out processes were altered, as well, which subsequently affected the ways maintenance teams went about turning apartment homes. In doing so, they had to be aware of ever-changing, pandemic-related protocols enacted by local jurisdictions. Then there is the challenge of exhibiting a consistent approach across the portfolio. 

“We really tried to find the common ground so that we weren’t having half of our company functioning one way and half of it functioning the other,” said Daniel Kughen, Senior Vice President of Facilities for Steadfast Living. “We regular checked into what the counties and states were requiring, and we always erred on the side of the safest recommendation. I think we closed earlier and opened our amenities later than other companies, and we only did emergency service calls right off the bat.”

Budget season has also been significantly altered in the maintenance world, with the need to bulk buy, further utilize tech to communicate with residents and make considerations that didn’t exist before 2020. 

“Keeping our shops stocked and having the materials we need will be the biggest thing, so we don’t diagnose the problem then have to order parts,” Kughen said. “That’s going to be the big push going forward.” 

Paul Willis is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.