In an industry that has relied heavily on signed documents, in-person inspections and networking, property management businesses have had to pivot sharply during the pandemic to maintain connectivity with their potential and existing customers. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world of work upside down. People are not as comfortable in face-to-face meetings, social events or conferences that bring together strangers from across their region, country or the globe. What does that mean for an industry built around in-person interactions?
Traditionally, property managers could find new leads or partnerships at trade shows and conferences, but now some businesses are stuck in a virtual limbo. Others have embraced new technologies in the form of remote asset management or online events. Predictions made early in the pandemic about returning to normal are now discarded as the world experiences the third and even fourth waves of this disease. In fact, new predictions say there is no return to normal. Instead, we will start the next normal that affects how we interact and do business.
Navigating the change
CRESSblue is proud to be a part of the changing workspace. We support and contribute to our industry by providing informative articles on our website and getting involved in the industry, both as a business and by presenting or sponsoring virtual property management events. We’ll look at two such events. The first event took place in a Zoom-based virtual format with a panel of experts discussing what a return to work might look like. The second event tapped into new technology to reproduce a live-event format in a virtual space.
Reopening the Nation’s Workplaces
In July 2020, CRESSblue partnered with Bisnow to present the virtual webinar, Reopening the Nation’s Workplaces: Analyzing the Short & Long Term Changes in Today’s Office Culture. Featuring five industry leaders, the webinar delved into topics around returning to offices, vaccines, health and safety protocols and whether the United States is actually ready for a return to work.
The consensus from the webinar was the need to focus on employee well-being rather than a physical workspace. Further, employees felt a lack of connection with colleagues and management, which exacerbated mental health issues.
Add to that the need to better understand what employees require to trust that a workplace is safe. That may mean building owners and property managers will train occupants on how to use shared spaces safely. Or a reorganization of work areas. But, long-term, social distancing and cubicle dividers won’t be enough.
Watch the webinar here.
Read Bisnow’s summary here.
April 2021 saw a historically live event shift into an online property management event. But they (virtually) reproduced everything from the live event and then some.
PM Springfest is an educational conference for property managers, building operators, facility managers, maintenance managers, board members and building owners only. Exclusive and revolutionary, this conference connected attendees and educated them on innovations, legislation, sustainability and other timely, relevant ideas for the industry.
Over the course of two days, participants had the option to virtually attend seminars, product demonstrations and tech pitches, all focusing on software, services, building maintenance and strategies to effectively improve building performance. In addition, feature seminars were introduced by pre-recorded video, and two introductions were provided by CRESS Inc. CEO, Martin Sommer.
CRESSblue sponsored the Tech Express Pitches, where attendees watched short presentations from seven vendors, followed by a live Q&A period. Different from live events, the Tech Express Pitches and the virtual tradeshow area combined to create a truly innovative twist on vendor booths. First, participants needed video and microphone access to sign into the tradeshow area. Once inside, attendees saw a visual representation of a traditional tradeshow floor, including booths, aisles and seating areas. Then, by clicking on a kiosk, attendees entered and could begin a conversation via video call or chat by clicking on the profile photo of vendors or other guests.
Not only was the tradeshow floor innovative, but the event also took meet-and-greets to the next level. PM Springfest’s all-in-one networking platform allowed users to attend receptions, join group meetings, participate in interactive discussions and search for attendees to connect with directly.
Register to access the event content here.
While these two virtual events followed the current norm across all industries, it begs the question, where are property management events heading?
From live to virtual (and back?)
According to Business Wire, 83% of Americans who currently work from home can’t wait to return to live meetings and conferences. While that may be true, the driving factor behind that could be a general lack of connection due to working from home and missing out on regular social opportunities. However, research from the latest PULSE Survey seems to corroborate Business Wire’s statement, finding that more than 80% of meeting planners will host a live event at some point in 2021.
Of course, the virtual event is not going anywhere. It’s more cost-efficient, accessible to more attendees and, in some cases, lets attendees join in at their convenience. If that’s the case, why are people so eager to go to live events?
Let’s look at the different kinds of events and what each brings to the table.
The big 3
Before the pandemic, the most prevalent event type was live, in-person events, i.e. workshops, seminars and conferences. These were abundant sources of customers, mentors, information and networking. However, the pandemic landscape requires a more hands-off method of connection. To this end, virtual meetings have taken centre stage.
The range of virtual event types is limited only by your business’ imagination and the available technology. Without a doubt, web-based events can be as simple as a Zoom meeting with a host and chat room. On the other hand, they can be an elaborate virtual recreation of a venue, complete with breakout rooms, exhibitors and entertainment.
A newer trend is starting to evolve as restrictions on public gatherings are being lifted: the hybrid event. Hybrid events are a combination of in-person and virtual presentations. Attendees can choose to attend virtually, fully in person or as a combination of both, depending on how organizers plan the event.
Live property management events
Live events can be anything from an educational workshop or seminar to a full-blown conference or trade show. These events are often hosted by an industry association, a business or, more frequently, by several companies, allowing the organizers to reach more participants. And businesses get a forum to share their product or service.
If you’ve attended an in-person conference or trade show, you know how exciting it can be to stroll through the exhibition area. Taking the time to talk to vendors, pick up brochures to take back to your colleagues, reconnect with your extended network or add new connections. The buzz in the air as attendees discuss the program, new products and services enhances attendee experience and increases the event’s overall success.
- Greater reach for potential customers and vendors
- Opportunity to review products and services you may not have been aware of
- Ability to discuss issues, concerns or new technology directly with vendors
- Reconnect with your broader network
- Real-time question and answer periods
- The cost of registration, travel and expenses can be prohibitive to attending
- Most of the time, when a live event is over, it’s over. There’s little to no access to attendees, presentations, documents or final thoughts
The pandemic caused legislators to severely restrict public gatherings. As a result, participant or presenter health and safety concerns and government restrictions affect every aspect of in-person events, including the quality and potential opportunities.
Virtual property management events
Depending on the organizer’s goals, a virtual event may allow attendees to participate by video only, by video with sound or by simply watching a digital stream of the session. Pre-pandemic, virtual events started picking up momentum but were not especially prevalent, nor were they particularly impressive. However, technology has had to expand by leaps and bounds to be able to provide incredibly interactive experiences for attendees.
The struggle for businesses and technology to intersect in a meaningful way to create professional yet welcoming online interactions has been documented all over social and mainstream media alike. Specifically, clothing faux pas, interruptions by children and pet outtakes were all part of the learning curve to get us to a place where large virtual events can successfully achieve the same goals as live events. And in some cases, surpass in-person events.
Innovative technology is a must to create a successful and effective virtual event. Access to chat rooms, breakout spaces and virtual exhibitor booths allow attendees to connect on a more intimate or one-on-one level. Given that, the virtual property management event, PM Springfest, was a high-quality example of this, with their breakout demonstrations, the tech express pitches sponsored by CRESSblue and virtual kiosks. Using technology to enhance and promote the brands sponsoring, participating and exhibiting can take a so-so virtual presentation to a powerful event that can exist online for much longer than the short lifespan of an in-person event.
- Registration fees only, making them much more cost-effective
- Anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection can join the event
- Keynote speeches and presentations are clear and visible to all participants
- Excellent for shorter-form events like educational presentations and webinars, such as Reopening the Nation’s Workplaces presented by CRESSBlue
- Participants can live stream sessions and watch ones they missed on-demand for as long as the content is relevant
- Participants cannot connect face-to-face
- Attendees can be “blind,” i.e. they may have no idea who else is attending the event
- Viewers may easily be distracted by their environment
Technology issues—whether the event’s or the participant’s—can interfere with satisfaction, thereby ruining the experience for some.
Hybrid property management events
This newer event format brings together the best of live and virtual events. Hybrid events allow participants to show up in person or conveniently participate from wherever they happen to be. For some conferences, this means choosing one option. While for others, it means choosing which sessions to attend in-person and which to watch virtually.
Hybrid property management events may be the most valuable and effective way to provide learning and networking opportunities. Apps and websites offer both in-person and virtual attendees many ways to connect with each other and organizers.
- Costs range from low to high depending on the attendance type
- Attendees choose how they want to take part
- Organizers can provide added value to participants who attend in person with swag, cocktail hours, special lunches and more
- Greater opportunity for guests and presenters to attend from anywhere in the world
- Exhibits can be both digital and live
- Internet connection issues may affect the quality of the experience for an attendee choosing to join virtually
- Participants who attend in-person may choose not to use connectivity tools and apps designed to reach out to virtual participants
The worst thing about a hybrid event may be having to choose which stream to use. What’s more, organizers may include bonus content or swag for one stream and not the other to boost participation.
Why bother with property management events?
The real estate industry is based on trust. Trust comes with connection. Building the relationships necessary to become successful in real estate, specifically property management, requires connecting with agents, owners, tenants, lawyers, accountants and tradespeople. How property managers connect with their network transformed during the pandemic.
One of the biggest networking challenges that owners, property managers and businesses providing real estate services or software have recently faced is the lack of in-person events, places where you can look someone in the eye and shake their hand. Events where social cues and body language tell you which business is an excellent fit with yours.
The long-term gains from property management events can be felt across various aspects of any business. Trade shows and conferences are exceptional venues to learn about new products and services on the market, hear about the current state of the industry and where it’s going, and promote your business. Events with a niche focus can bring an audience intent on participating and learning about that particular topic. Expert speakers and panellists analyze new industry-specific possibilities and trends. And the question periods and social hours attached to these shows are fertile ground for business growth and high-quality connections.
The next normal
People are hard-wired to find connections and common ground. For now, we have to find our virtual community. But from what we can see, the next normal for property management events will lean toward a hybrid format, bringing together the best of both worlds to create connections and build relationships. From a practical standpoint, in-person events guarantee the best opportunities to build a network and strengthen our industry. They most likely won’t disappear forever. But they will definitely be forever changed.
Whether you prefer live, virtual or hybrid events, the important thing is to attend them. By participating and engaging with the real estate community, you build a strong foundation for learning and sharing your expertise with others. This is how we thrive in the face of a crisis that has us standing six feet apart.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as professional advice; please consult a competent professional for advice specific to you. This blog is written to stimulate thinking on concepts related to commercial leasing. Please join the discussion with your experiences.
Martin Sommer, CEO, CRESS Inc.
Martin is a founder and the CEO of CRESS Inc., a Canadian SaaS company that automates lease administration and asset management. Martin also manages Karanda Properties Limited industrial portfolio as Director of Operations in all areas of commercial property management, including new development, asset management, capital expenditures, operations, leasing and lease administration of the industrial portfolio. Martin writes about property management workflow and issues. Book Martin to speak at your industry event.