If you asked someone searching for an apartment what they are looking for, they would likely tell you about things like upgraded appliances, easy access to transit, or an onsite gym. They might not mention the community or the neighborhood or the building, but the idea of community is making its way up the list of preferred amenities.
The pandemic tightened our physical worlds to a closer level of proximity while our digital worlds expanded. Multifamily buildings became the most popular, if not the only, place where social gatherings occurred. For some buildings, community was already a focus but evolved rapidly as the need increased. For others, community was something its residents kept looking for outside of the building’s four walls.
While many aspects of life have somewhat returned to the way things were, buildings shouldn’t loosen their grip on creating and maintaining a vibrant community. We are a society dependent on, and comfortable with, technology—and putting a flyer on the lobby’s billboard will no longer have the intended reach.
The technology component
Building operators, in theory, manage the happenings within their building. Unfortunately, these experts are more than familiar with the isolation and separation of different systems used in a building. From basic building operations, such as heating and cooling, to more complex operations, such as package and visitor management, these systems are rarely connected. This leads to messy and dysfunctional data sets that are disconnected and often contradictory. How are managers supposed to make educated decisions or improvements without accurately understanding the environment of their buildings? How can they connect people if they can’t even connect building systems?
Many times the most efficient way to integrate solutions isn’t to remove whatever is already installed into a building and start fresh. Hardware and installation processes are expensive, time consuming, and can be disruptive. Plus, no owner wants to give up on an investment. However, people want one place to access everything. “Looking forward, it’s about combining all of a building manager’s daily operations into one place,” stated Fatima Dicko, CEO and cofounder of Sugar, a resident engagement platform designed to build community within buildings and increase lease renewal rates. “Once everything is combined and simplified, we can then take features to the next level and create more automation for managers for events such as food deliveries and cleaning services.”
Increasing resident engagement with an app may seem challenging; however, the key is to meet people where they are, not hope they’ll go where you want them. The entry point to consistent and daily usage of an app is through integration with access control systems. Integrating building entry through mobile access control solutions such as OpenPath, Brivo, or Miwa, promotes daily usage of the app and ultimately more people engaging with one another once inside the app.
Integrations between services don’t just create a seamless experience, but also provide managers with rich data about their community. Giving residents a platform to communicate in a simple, yet direct way can build stronger relationships with one another and with management.
Looking at data, managers can learn that community isn’t just for people, either. “We had a resident in one building who didn’t want to break his lease because his dog had so many friends in the building,” said Dicko. “What makes a good community in one building may not work for another.”
Leaders of community
Building managers are the ones responsible for keeping track of tech integrations and increasing community engagement. Community can start within a building and expand into its surrounding. How do building managers create a micro-community within their space?
The efficiencies and intelligence of software are giving them a head-start. “Community starts with the building leaders managing the app,” explained Dicko. “Managers are the connection between the app and the residents, and Sugar’s job is to make it super easy for managers to build community.”
The introduction of technology into the building operator’s proverbial toolbox has changed the role more than anything else in recent years. Now residents want and expect technology-enabled experiences within their home, but also in all connected aspects. This can include transactions such as building entry, visitor management, reservations, and package delivery, but also in getting to know their neighbors.
However convenient and accessible the right technology can be, building relationships and community sometimes needs a bit more incentive. Using gamification theories and exterior motivation, Sugar utilizes “karma points” where users can gain points for interacting with others. In the future, these points can be used at neighboring locations like coffee shops or offset monthly rent. Ultimately, this data can tell managers a lot about their building’s community.
Technology that connects everything within a building from operational systems and residents to the outside world creates a wealth of data. This information can quantify community engagement through a variety of factors like collecting personal information, as well as analyzing how long it takes to respond to a question.
This data not only becomes a holistic assessment of what’s happening in a building but also becomes a predictive tool. “Managers can’t manage what they can’t measure,” stated Dicko. “Right now, most of what happens within a building is done without the manager’s knowledge. In the future, managers will know everything about a building from the nuts and bolts to understanding what drives and sustains healthy engagement.”
This will lead to an evolution of the building manager’s role. “Managers will become more focused on creating a building’s personality and culture rather than just doing tactical operational tasks on a daily basis,” continued Dicko. “We’re providing tools to managers to help create the essence of their community. Community will continue to mean something more and ultimately become an amenity the building can use to attract new residents.”
As in many industries, tech is changing how things are done and empowering people to elevate how they do their jobs. With the right tech support, the managers of tomorrow will be part community organizer, part marketer, part system manager. Buildings will become more active, more successful, and resident engagement will grow. The key to this type of multifamily community starts with access, but that’s just the beginning.