Mobile working has been in the consciousness of most housing providers for some time but has often taken a back seat to grass roots, community initiatives instead. In the past few weeks, these priorities have been turned on their heads as our physical world has given way to a digital one almost overnight.
The necessity for housing providers to shut offices and move employees to their home immediately has shone a spotlight on mobile working and the role it plays in business continuity. Whether you already had the ability, an out-of-date policy or you hadn’t given it a thought until now, it’s the number-one priority. The silver lining of our post-coronavirus world will be that more of us will be able to work from places other than our offices, easily and securely and our organisations will be more resilient in the face of adversity.
Many housing providers, particularly those with more resources at their disposal, have already been able to consider how housing management technology can help mobilise a workforce, increase collaboration, help manage estates, facilitate security issues and aid tenant communications. However, there are many more who are keen to spend their IT budget wisely, to sort through the myriad of functions that may deliver best practice in a world that for now, has been turned on a different axis. There are three main functionalities within housing management systems that have stepped into the limelight in terms of the benefits they bring during this exceptional time of mobile working.
1. Cloud computing
The benefits derived from moving systems to the cloud are well publicised, but at a time when circumstances predict that everyone must work remotely, they really come into their own. Reduced IT costs in terms of maintenance, scalability, business continuity, collaborative efficiencies, flexibility of work practices and automatic updates make operations more effective, cost efficient and less of a worry for the IT department, leaving them free to refocus on other tasks that support the organisation. If you haven’t thought about moving to a ‘housing as a service’ model, perhaps now is the time.
2. Mobile CRM
For many housing providers, the ability to update and access tenant information on the move in real-time is at the heart of their housing management systems. Mobile CRM is also entirely customisable, such that in the current situation of needing to know which tenants may be self-isolating or be vulnerable and require help, the system can flag that up.
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve been approached by housing customers who want to create a visual notification for users by adding codes to their HMS set-up which push that information out across all relevant locations in the solution; for example, this can result in pop-ups within the CRM or rent modules which identify households or individuals as vulnerable or self-isolating. These codes can also be displayed within the dashboards and on job tickets so that mobile operatives or external contractors are aware of local situations.
Those working remotely can be alerted too, with icons placed on mobile devices. This means that staff and contractors can identify those needing extra support, such as deliveries of food parcels. And where residents need help and support requiring face-to-face contact, such as an emergency repair, staff and contractors can put recommended health and safety and infection-control measures in place.
3. Tenant portals
Tenant portals put residents back in the driving seat of their own affairs, with the ability to self-serve when it comes to checking rental accounts or to request repairs to their properties. This eliminates the volume of calls to call centres for tasks that could easily be completed online, and at a time when call centre staff have been reduced to a minimum and are home-working, this takes the pressure off both tenants and customer services. Those housing providers with the ability to move requests online or push those requests down a text-based route via email and SMS will alleviate the pressure of telephone exchanges via customer-service agents working from home.
Adapting to change can often bring about a paralysis in decision making through a fear of getting things wrong, but the unforeseen consequences of an ongoing event on the scale of a global pandemic instigates far-reaching, rapid change.
It feels uncomfortable while we adjust, but looking months ahead, it focuses the mind on what organisations need to deliver true mobility to their workforce and perhaps pushes us further and faster than normal.
Being removed now from our mobile working comfort zones will have added benefits in the months ahead when things return to some degree of normality, such that we may not remember the old way of doing things and have a much more stable, secure and operationally mobile workforce.
Chris McLaughlin is the managing director of MIS Active Management Systems.