We’re bringing you another episode of The Property Management Show podcast, and on this episode, you’re talking to an extra Fourandhalf team member. Michael Lushington, the COO of Fourandhalf, joins Brittany and Marie to discuss workflow automation with Will Gunadi of nextCoder.

If you have not already read or watched our blogs on this subject, you need to check those out too. Here are the links:

Will understands and implements workflow automation for property management companies, and he’s the best person to explain what it means.

What is Workflow Automation?

Think of workflows as a series of steps. Those steps are repeated every time you do something in property management. When a tenant moves out, you have steps to follow. When the next tenant moves out, those same steps are completed. This is what makes property management as an industry so compatible with workflow automation.

In this subject area, there is also a lot of talk about business process management or even robotic process automation. Those sound scary, and while they are related to what we’re discussing, we believe that workflow management is a discipline on its own.

It’s really a combination of business process management and robotic process automation. We call the small programs that feed the automation our minions. Those minions implement the workflow in a series of steps. There’s a diagram that ties business process management into the whole idea.

The diagram matters. Workflows are hard to see clearly if you don’t have a visual graphic of what you’re doing and where you’re working.

Defining what Automation Is and Isn’t

A lot of your work cannot ever be automated. A lot of people imagine total automation where you sit back and let the machines do everything.

Ah, but no.

When you’re managing 400 units or even 1,000 units; you aren’t leaving it all to machines. You’re working smarter and more efficiently. Will identifies two types of automation:

  • Automate the steps of your workflow where it makes sense.
  • Automate the notifications and alerts. You can broadcast steps to people executing.

The idea that automation means computerized is nonsensical. For property management companies, the workflow has many steps that a real human needs to do. It’s a human function.

It’s easy to automate triggers and reminders. There’s orchestration involved. But, there will always be people involved.

Are You Ready for Automation?

You should start thinking about automation before you’re ready. If you’re currently managing 100 or 200 properties, begin documenting what needs to happen. If you wait, it will only be more difficult to get a picture of how information and tasks flow through your channels. Will’s advice is to start early.

Workflow automation is applicable to most property management companies that want to grow.

Just remember – human tasks are being automated, not machine tasks.

Here’s an example: You will always need to change locks when tenants move out. There isn’t a computer program or an automated process that will change those locks for you. You can automate the reminder or the scheduling. But someone on your team will have to do the re-keying . Every time.

Building relationships with your owners and tenants is also something that cannot be automated. You can automate the way that relationship is orchestrated. You can make sure your owners get the right information at the right time. You can automate alerts and accounting statements. That’s the value of workflow automation.

Automation and Living Workflows

The technology is excellent, but sometimes we see a gap between what the company knows about how it works and the automation the company wants to put in place. Don’t try to implement workflow automation if you don’t first understand how your work is moving around.

Automation is not a magic bullet.

Get help from the toolmakers. If Will was to walk into your property management company and ask if you have documentation of the workflow, what would you say? Would you respond with a robust yes or would you squirm and say not really?

Will shows the graphical representation of the workflow that his automation product can provide. There’s something very serious that he has to explain about that diagram: It’s living.

The workflow will change as your property management business changes. If your business isn’t moving, it’s dead. So the diagram will never be static. It’s the toolmaker who needs to show you how it is maintained and how it is evaluated. As a property manager, you can really benefit from the expertise and the help of the toolmaker who designs your automation process.

Before you embrace workflow automation, understand the process you want to evaluate and improve. Put those processes down, and understand how they move.

Workflow automation helps you identify which parts of the process aren’t working as you march towards desired outcomes. You need to know when and why things get held up.

Automation can be quite like an audit. You’ll have a visual log that you can go back to look at. You want a workflow that presents your property management team with an idea of what has happened when the outcomes aren’t measuring up with the expectations.

Do You Understand Your Information?

Make sure the automation tool you’re using speaks your language.

If you can’t make any sense of what you’re looking at, you aren’t going to be smarter about how you’re working, are you? You need to understand what your reports are telling you. The screens and the graphics need to make sense.

Property managers like you stay pretty busy. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to manage the automation itself. It requires a completely separate discipline that you may or may not have. Even if you have it, there are only 24 hours in your day. You can either spend it managing properties and your business or monitoring the workflow automation.

Trust your toolmakers.

Profile of a Property Management Company Ready for Workflow Automation

A property management company that’s ready for this automation process understands the flow of information and the trail of accountability in every task. They know who is responsible for what, and everything has been documented.

You don’t have to be perfect at it, but getting started will help. So, ask yourself these important questions as you’re preparing:

  • How many departments do you have?
  • Who handles sales?
  • Who handles marketing?
  • Who works with tenants?
  • Who works with owners?

Maybe you’re doing all of that yourself.

The profile provides you with a roadmap. If you can establish who is responsible for each thing and then document what they do step-by-step to manage that thing, you have a working workflow. It’s visual and accountable.

This is the best way to begin documenting your workflow. When you have a good idea about who is doing what, you can see which steps belong in each box, and then you’ll draw lines between the boxes.

You want to separate each task by outcome and then assign accountability for each outcome.

After you create the workflow diagram, you may start to see four or five different departments that are handing off tasks and steps to each other. Even if you have one person doing all of this in the short duration, you’ll have a clear picture. It doesn’t mean you have to go out and hire five new people for each department. But with the process in place, when you do start hiring people, they’ll be able to come in and do the pieces of what that one person did. There’s a training benefit, too. With workflow automation, people can come and go within the process and the process still moves along efficiently.

Profile of a Property Management Company NOT Ready for Workflow Automation

What if you’re not ready?

Then, you have some work to do. Most of the property management companies that shouldn’t undertake this trajectory have owners who don’t want to have any part of the process. They think this means they can hand off all the tasks they don’t like and not make a real investment in outcomes.

As a property management company owner or operator, you need to commit and lead.

You play a large part in putting this together and making it work. If you can’t or you don’t want to, it’s not the right time. Automation isn’t something that happens outside of you. It includes you. It has to.

If you want an outcome, you have to make an effort. Otherwise, there isn’t enough automation to make things work for you. Before you get started, evaluate your investment, your passion, and your commitment.

Turning to Your Property Management Team

Property management is well-suited to workflow automation because things are always happening. You have employees who are rarely bored.

If they’re worried that workflow automation will replace them, they need to understand it better

Workflow automation is designed to help them, not replace them. It’s up to you to reinforce the idea that this is a positive step towards better outcomes. It replaces unnecessary tasks. Even unnecessary meetings.

Change management will need to be a part of introducing workflow automation. Some things will shift, but once you see how it’s helping, your team will be on board.

Removing the human element is not the goal of automation. Workflow automation allows the human element to shine.

If you’re at the point where you want your operation to grow, or you see that it’s growing on its own, join this trajectory and start thinking about workflow automation.

Find out more about what Will does for property managers by visiting Bionicpm.com. If you have any questions or you’d like to share some thoughts about this or any topic related to property management marketing, contact us at Fourandhalf.