Managers usually have a chance to stress test their aptitudes when a crisis strikes. As predictable as this may seem, the pandemic caught the industry by surprise and somewhat unprepared. But here is the beauty of humanity: it learns and adapts.
This pandemic has taught many lessons. If anything, it helped managers to identify relevant skill gaps in relation to being prepared for the unexpected.
Back in spring 2020, when the government imposed certain measures to slow the spread of the virus, most managers were forced to work remotely or rely more heavily on technology to communicate. We had to quickly adapt to using new software, being unfamiliar with Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, etc. We had to adapt to working efficiently from home, to overcome the challenge of good internet infrastructure, and we learned how important it is to have electronic records.
Communication skills gap
We all know how important communication was before COVID-19. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, communication is paramount. Being able not only to use virtual tools to communicate but also to do so concisely, to tailor not only the content, but the tone of our message became equally important. It’s not easy to infuse confidence and compassion when you are anxious and worried. Managers had to learn how to overcome their state of mind to better support communities and staff. The content of their message had to be correlated with the rapidly changing messaging coming from local, provincial and health departments and, of course, had to be relevant and tailored to the specifics of their communities.
Planning and organizing gaps
Operating plans were in place before the pandemic. Everything was lined up. From regular maintenance to future projects, managers were all looking forward to the beginning of spring; instead, their world came to a full halt. When the first lockdown was imposed, everything went up in the air. Planning was now in need of adjusting, without disrupting the life of the condo communities and with financial implications in mind. All projects had to be reassessed and rescheduled. Access to buildings and units was restricted. How do you plan regular in-suite maintenance in the middle of a pandemic with social distancing in place? Again, we learned and adapted and changed priorities and actions, adapting projects to the newly created conditions. Nevertheless, all this was a learning curve.
Pre-pandemic, procuring materials and services for buildings has its regular schedule. In a time of crisis, the “normal” disappears. In early March last year, I remember placing orders for PPE and disinfectants for our staff. All email requests received no response. We had to switch to a personal approach, working the phones and using networks—asking for favours to be able to at least get even some limited quantities.
People skills gap
How we always interacted with residents, members of the board and staff was somewhat constant and built on developing good working relationships and good ethics. But when a crisis strikes, there is another dimension that adds to this interaction: anxiety. There was worry about what tomorrow could bring, and everyone reacts differently under certain factors.
During the first wave, many building staff members were afraid to come into work. It took patience and compassion to understand their worries and put their mind at ease. It became clear that, as leaders, managers have to instill confidence and calm. Being truthful is another important characteristic. These are not times for mixed messaging or even “massaging” the message. Interactions have to be based on total transparency. I remember being asked questions to which I didn’t have the answer. I struggled between the need to show confidence and the fact that I had to admit that I don’t have all the answers. In the end, I chose to be candid and said, “I don’t know.”
The interesting fact of this pandemic was that, all of a sudden, experience took secondary place. Managers were not experienced enough for something of this magnitude, and adaptability became the primary ingredient for a good community leader. The past eight months have been a learning curve for all managers. We have been able to not only identify our skill gaps, but also adapt and find ways to overcome them. We are far from being out of the woods in the middle of a second, more aggressive wave of infections, but we learned a thing or two. We now know how to overcome our skill gaps and be able to better serve our communities.
Bogdan Alexe is president and CEO of B1 Management Group Inc. B1 Management Group provides expert condominium management and consulting services for clients in the GTA, employing the latest technology and 20+ years of hands-on experience. b1managementgroup.com