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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Management on the Front Lines: Communication

In any crisis, communication is crucial, as both managers and boards discovered when they first faced the unknowns that came with COVID-19. As the pandemic wears on, the communication process has settled into more of a routine. Drawing from nine roundtable discussions, we highlight some of the thinking and actions managers took in the early days of the crisis.

 

Concerning communication, what has been the most challenging thing you've had to deal with both on the client side and in your own companies?

Leslie Winkler When this first began, we had a group of people sit around to discuss “what ifs.” What if the subway shuts down? What if schools shut down? I'm thinking, yes, I hear the dire predictions, but it can't happen here. Yet everything that was predicted actually happened – and it was worse. It happened so quickly, too, so no matter what plans you had put in place, they fell apart within two days.

The buildings wanted lots of input. They were pleading with us and saying: “What should we do? What are our options?” And we didn't really know what we were doing. For those of us who have been in this business for 40, 45 years, this was really a new experience. There were challenges on every level.

 

Neil Davidowitz Boards sought out information in phases. The initial phase was dealing with something as simple as, “How are we going to deal with a staff member or a resident who's diagnosed positive in the building?” We asked ourselves, “What do we disclose?” We have an obligation to tell the residents, but we wanted to respect privacy and not tell the name. How do we deal with staff? It evolved from that, into an effective plan of what are the protocols, what are going to be the policies? We had to be malleable because the state kept changing those policies and refining them. We were constantly updating, modifying and communicating them.

 

Howard Landman What we found is that as long as people know what is going on, they'll deal with it. It's really about letting them know and letting them know in advance.

 

Mitchell BergAt the outset, there was a feeling of great fear. And now I think there's a different feeling. It is much different today. People want their buildings back, and it's been much more: "When can we have our housekeepers back? When can we resume our renovations?" People are asking for their normal lives back.

 

With things changing so quickly, how do you decide what is necessary to communicate, and how do you communicate the changes?

Ira Meister During each phase there's a lot of precautions, a lot of things that have to take place as far as social distancing and protocols. We're trying to explain that to everyone as we move along. It's not simple. It was much easier just to stop everything. Now you're bringing everything back with restrictions, and people don't like restrictions.

 

Anes RadoncicWith respect to the staff, the best way that I've figured out how to communicate guidelines is in-person meetings. We bring them into our office, and then we discuss specific guidelines. I feel it's better to have some peace of mind than no peace of mind. At the beginning I reached out to all city agencies, governing agencies and pharmaceutical companies, and I was able to obtain a very large bulk of 15-minute COVID-19 rapid tests. We sent them out to our clients to let them know that our staff is clean, they have no COVID. That gives them a tremendous peace of mind.

 

Meister One of our clients is a very large medical center in New York. Back in February, they had a Zoom conference, and they discussed COVID-19 – which God knows I had no idea about what it was – and started explaining to all of us to “get ready, buckle your seatbelt -- we're in for a bit of a ride. After that, I started communicating with many of our boards who disagreed that it was a problem, saying, "Well, the president's saying it's just a bad flu." I said, "Don't think so. Not when major hospitals are starting to brace for this."

And that was a major thing for me. I hedged my bet by going out and getting 4,000 masks. A week later, this virus starts to take place, and everybody's scrambling for equipment. At that point, my boards had a little bit more confidence in what we were doing and the things we were putting out. It was really a hard sell in the beginning, like letting people know that there's this train coming down the track, and we have to get ready for it. That was my big psychological sell. I kind of felt like Noah building the ark. I was telling everybody to get ready for the big rain, but nobody was listening. Since the middle of March we have put out a newsletter every Sunday to every one of our residents to keep them informed, and let them know what's going on.

 

A final question about mask requirements: What are you doing in your buildings to remind residents of this very basic safety measure?

Michael WolfeIn most of our buildings, we have signs that say, "You may not enter without a face cover." Very simple. Boards are concerned about aesthetics as well. So we make the signs nice. We laminate them, put them behind glass. This is the new norm for us, and it's important.

 

Joseph MobiliaPeople do have a tendency to forget. You run out of the house, you forget to grab a mask. You forget to grab gloves. It’s better if you post a sign by the elevator as a reminder that says, "Hey, do you have your mask?" At that point, you should be wearing your mask because you're in a common area. At the end of the day those reminders are important.

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