A Pandemic Response Built on Values
A couple of months ago Entrata found itself facing an unforeseen crisis of seemingly limitless scale and seriousness. Along with the nationwide apartment housing industry and the local tech corridor, we worked as fast as we could to react. We quickly transitioned our entire team to work from home and a strategic task force assembled to monitor constantly-evolving news and advisories, implementing recommended changes quickly and efficiently. Essentially, we put our heads down and got to work.
Like many businesses across the country, Entrata did not have a pandemic playbook on the shelf that we could pull down, dust off, and methodically implement. What we do have, and what has guided our actions and decision-making for years, are a very particular set of values. Entrata’s values provide the framework for how we work with our employees, our clients, our industry, and our community. We have built a culture around these values, trusting that they would help us pull together and succeed no matter the circumstances. And recent weeks have shown that trust was not misplaced.
Talk to Me Goose
At Entrata we communicate to empower. Communication in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic became our top priority. Information and recommendations changed on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. The first thing we created was an internal updates page. This was shared with every employee and became a repository for real-time company information as well as recommendations from national and local governments, tips and suggestions to ease the transition to work from home, and a space to post #EntrataWFH experiences and recognize team members for their efforts above and beyond their normal roles.
Our strategic task force, (representatives from development, client services, marketing, legal and HR) met each morning and afternoon to systematically break down communication barriers, define parameters for success and remove any obstacles. Their mission: First make sure everyone is healthy and safe, then focus on providing uninterrupted service to our clients and industry partners.
Entrata prioritized communications with clients as well, creating a COVID-19 response landing page for ongoing updates and sending out an early survey in March to gauge top industry concerns in advance of April’s rent week. Over the last several weeks, our landing page has had thousands of visits, becoming a hub of vital data, hosting links to product updates, news regarding court closures that might impact applicant screening or status changes affecting Google Reviews, and Entrata’s new COVID-19 response webinar series.
Be Excellent to Each Other
Treating others with respect and providing world-class service is in Entrata’s DNA, so it really wasn’t a surprise to see teams quickly innovating ways to stay connected with their colleagues as WFH became the new normal. Within days we saw internal support groups form and schedule regular meetings where participants could share their struggles and fears and get encouragement. Book clubs, knitting circles, and lunch groups appeared on calendars across the company.
We asked our managers to conduct daily stand-up meetings to keep their finger on the pulse of teams, and before long we started observing themed meetings (Motivation Monday, TED Talk Tuesday, Workout Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, and Funky Friday are only a few examples, although alliteration seems to be the accepted order of the day). Themes provide participants opportunities to have a little fun, offer a framework to share new ideas, and forge bonds between teams that enhance collaboration even when social distancing prevents meeting in person.
Being excellent to our industry partners meant finding ways to offer support and tools to deal with unprecedented challenges within their own communities. We began by providing access to features like Message Center and Entrata’s social media posting tools to all clients at no additional cost, turning on essential communications functions to help clients keep in touch with their communities more efficiently. We also made a point to express thanks to all of our clients for the essential work they do.
And, of course, our team never stopped being excellent in their own communities. During our annual Values Week in April, Entrata employees still participated in our customary blood drive by going into donation centers on their own time and raised money for the Utah Food Bank in a virtual food drive.
Be the Real Deal
Being the real deal means we are what we say we are and we do what we say we’ll do, even during a pandemic. Massive changes to our business and society at large do not excuse us from the commitments we’ve made to our clients regarding reliability of service, system uptime, and general levels of responsiveness. So once we decided to move our workforce home, the pressure was on.
Thanks to exceptional work from our IT department, we were able to transition Entrata’s entire workforce to work from home in just two days. Employees worked with IT to troubleshoot issues from internet connectivity to virtual proxy network issues, and covered for each other if necessary to make sure no client requests slipped through the cracks.
For example, employees from across several departments found themselves with extra bandwidth during the early days of the WFH transition. Many of them volunteered, underwent training, and stepped up to tackle Entrata’s fulfillment backlog. Within weeks they had helped our fulfillment team complete all outstanding tasks and gained valuable new skills.
At the end of the day, this value allowed us to offer our clients the high level of service they have come to expect from Entrata with no disruptions to their platforms. We’ve even been asked when or if our support reps are planning to start working from home, as clients assumed the consistent service must mean our support crew was still in the office.
Business in the Front, Party in the Back
Legendary tales of adventure are our bread and butter at Entrata. We’ve always taken our jobs seriously, just not ourselves. So you can’t go into quarantine and expect the humor and quirkiness that are hallmarks of our culture to just disappear.
One of the first things we did as our team was settling into their new WFH routines is host a company lunch at the end of March. We were able to partner with great local restaurants J.Dawgs and Nekter to set up a drive-thru in the parking lot. Employees showed up at lunch to see members of the executive team and HR waving signs saying things like “We Miss You” and “Thank You”, then were handed their food (with enough to share with the family) through their car window to observe safety and social distancing guidelines.
After that day, we saw a lot of posts with the #EntrataWFH hashtag on the company’s social wall, along with pictures of new cute coworkers (pets kids featured heavily) and customized WFH setups. Then, when values week rolled around in April, the fun ramped up again, with team members virtually participating in lunchtime meet-ups, online games, chalk art and coloring page challenges, driveway disco, and our annual Entrata 5K.
At Entrata, we know how important it is to set aside time for fun and celebration. With the added pressures of WFH, each of these activities helps keep spirits high, and when the time comes to focus on the ‘Business in the Front’ side of the equation, our team has been resilient and ready for whatever we’ve thrown at them.
Be the Joneses
Moving the team to WFH and minimizing disruptions to service would be a lofty goal for any company under these circumstances. But Entrata has never been satisfied with the status quo, and the coronavirus crisis was never going to stand in the way of our drive for continuous improvement.
The good news is that our comprehensive platform, built by our own team of innovative Joneses, already provided a lot of the functionality that other software providers were scrambling to implement, including essential tools such as paperless leasing, diverse payment options, deferred payments, and repayment agreements. Within days Entrata had published a detailed list of available “social distancing” functionality that clients could activate on their systems immediately. From there, we identified opportunities to introduce more tools, and within a few weeks new features like expanded delinquency reporting and hazard notes were live.
Entrata also introduced a weekly webinar series, hosted by Industry Principal Virginia Love, to discuss ongoing client concerns focused around resident management, marketing and leasing, and operations within the context of quarantine. These engaging lunchtime chats offered valuable insights into how the industry was coming together to respond to COVID-19 and shared best practices for preparing for a post-coronavirus world.
Perhaps most importantly, Entrata’s comprehensive unified platform allowed us to gather and share essential, accurate data to help the industry get its bearings after April and May rent weeks. Our partnership with NMHC as an Apartment Data Provider as well as bi-weekly industry trends reports put our company in a position to provide business intelligence to owners and operators across the industry and facilitate crucial and timely decisions for their communities.
For weeks the predictions have been full of doom and gloom. We heard that the COVID-19 pandemic would cost millions of lives; that various national and local attempts to implement public health measures would have devastating effects on our economy; that every dystopian scenario imaginable was about to come true.
After two months of uncertainty and fear, I’m happy to report that the trends we’re observing at Entrata tell a story that is more hopeful than anyone predicted. Our most recent data shows rent payment trends that are much stronger than expected. Yes, there are a few regions which have been particularly hard-hit, but for the most part average national rent payment rates are matching pre-pandemic numbers and leasing appears to be poised for a rebound.
So what made the difference? Why aren’t we all suffering from some apocalyptic worst case scenario? I’m not inclined to believe the threats we have faced this year were in any way imagined or even overblown. Instead, I look at the last few months as proof of what unified action can achieve in the face of dangerous odds.
I am grateful to be associated with an industry that has tackled the challenges of this coronavirus with speed, flexibility, and compassion. Multifamily operators are communicating with their residents more than ever. They’re building flexibility into their processes, waiving and absorbing fees where it’s prudent, and establishing repayment agreements to help renters maintain their housing in uncertain times.
And I’m happy to say that Entrata is poised to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger and smarter than before. No one spent the last few years preparing for a pandemic. At Entrata, COVID-19 didn’t appear on a single SWOT analysis. However, because this organization has been built on a strong, values-based foundation, when the challenge presented itself we were already prepared.