In six short months, Covid-19 has changed the world. People’s priorities have shifted and their attitudes have changed. As we emerge from lockdown, it is important for our industry to analyse what we’ve learned from the past six months so we’re prepared for what is to come.

Jeremy Heath Smith

We have highlighted three key areas that need to be considered.

The first is connectivity. Being digitally connected was key in getting through this crisis. In the private rented sector (PRS), providers with a strong digital offering kept residents informed and connected with neighbours, staff and buildings via smart technology rather than relying on the traditional channels.

Operators that can connect with residents directly in real time ensure that they feel supported, safe and protected. Digitally connected buildings allow any problems, or outbreaks, to be reported quickly, efficiently and without face-to-face contact and residents can be updated with little disruption. Developments without such services are disadvantaged and run the risk of reputational damage.

The second key area is community. Community engagement with our clients leapt 712% during lockdown in terms of community outreach, comments, likes and social forum interactions. We helped clients set up Covid-19 forums, with incredible results and acts of kindness – from neighbours offering to share loo roll, recipes and tips to entertain the kids, to offers to do shopping. When living local is your only option, getting to know your neighbours becomes a priority. Our software shows that a strong sense of community and wellbeing arises when you have tools to communicate safely within your building.

Some providers had the technology to continue running community initiatives: Moda Living organised group balcony workout sessions through its Resident App, while Fizzy Living made weekly video calls at residents’ request to talk through lockdown-related issues. In a recent Spike webinar, HomeViews co-founder Hannah Marsh said 35% of the site’s reviewers now talk about community and neighbours, up from 12% in 2019.

When living local is your only option, getting to know your neighbours becomes a priority

Providers have to rethink their community engagement strategies where face-to-face events aren’t possible. Those that cannot offer alternatives will not drive the same levels of resident engagement and loyalty, affecting retention and voids.

The final key area for PRS providers is communication. Those with communication systems in place moved relatively smoothly into lockdown, but others struggled, realising emails weren’t an effective form of instant communication. Operators must be clear and concise in communication with residents in a constantly evolving situation to ensure they feel safe and secure.

HomeViews’ Marsh noted that in the first month of lockdown, 34% of reviewers talked about security and feeling safe, up from 17% in 2019, and this rose to 40% in May.

Residents now have a greater interest in connectivity, ease of communication and community when looking for a new home. They will seek providers that understand these needs and offer support.

Residents now want to be able to contact staff or be updated at the touch of a button. They will seek reassurance that their development is safe, clean and secure, and they want access to their community network at any time.

To remain competitive and retain residents, providers must learn the lessons from Covid-19 and make changes that benefit residents in the longer term – or they will lose out.

Jeremy Heath-Smith is chief executive of Spike Global

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