Keeping Your Community on Track During the Holiday Season
Holidays can be a lot of fun when you live in a planned community, condo or co-op. But when you are on your association’s board of directors, they can also be a lot of work. You have to make sure all the prep work is done, decorations are up, vacations are covered and parties are planned. Can a group of volunteers—as dedicated as you may be—possibly get it all done? And do you dare wish to do it with minimal stress, too?
Of course you can do it all—and without the usual headaches, too! In this article, we provide pointers that your board can apply to make even the busiest holiday season more manageable.
Include holidays in your annual budget.As you work on your association’s annual budget, be sure you don’t overlook holidays. Consider how much money you will need for holiday parties, new decorations, toys or candy for the kids, etc. Your residents will appreciate not having to put out extra money each time a holiday event comes around.
Plan your decorating.When it comes to decorating, don’t assume that you can just throw it all together at the last minute. According to Lee Newman, general manager at FirstService Residential in San Diego, even if you are using the same decorations as last year, you will still need to think ahead in several key areas.
Contractors.If you need to hire a contractor to put up lights and decorations during the winter holidays, you would do well to start taking bids in July or August. “These vendors get booked up, so you want to make sure you are on their schedule by September,” says Newman. If you wait, you just may be left out in the cold.
Holiday lights.Imagine that your maintenance staff (or that contractor you hired) is ready to put up lights around your community. However, when you plug them in, you discover that multiple strings are out. If only you had tested them in advance! Save yourself a lot of hassle, as well as time and money, by checking your lights well in advance. Says Newman, “We test our lights well before it’s time for installation.”
Replacements.There comes a time in the life of most decorations when they need to be replaced. Look over yours to make sure they don’t look old and worn out. An ideal time to do this is when this year’s holiday season is over and you are taking everything down. Not only will you save time by not packing up and storing decorations you won’t want to use next year, but you’ll also get the best deals on new ones right after the season is over.
Liability.Okay, maybe this isn’t the most enjoyable thing to think about during the holidays, but it’s certainly one of the most important. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are approximately 15,000 decorating injuries every year that require a visit to the emergency room. Anyone who might be at additional risk while decorating—from your housekeeping staff to your decorating committee members—should be covered by your liability insurance. Verify with your insurance carrier that you have proper coverage before anyone starts climbing on ladders.
Be ready to receive more packages.Every community gets inundated with packages during the holiday season, so you should be proactive about how to handle the influx. If you don’t already have one, you should create a standard operating procedure (SOP) in writing that your management team and staff can apply each year. This will prevent last-minute scrambling and ensure that every new employee knows what to do. Depending on the size of your community and the number of onsite staff members you have, here are some of Newman’s other recommendations:
Organizing packages in a way that makes sense is especially crucial when you are receiving a large number of them every day. For example, if your property is a high-rise building, you may want to categorize packages by floor.
Creating an additional storage space during the holidays, especially if your usual space cannot handle too many oversized packages, is also a good idea. One possibility is to use the area where you store your holiday decorations since it will be empty at this time of year. Newman points out that he has even used a bike room because it provided enough space and could be locked up. “Every community has some sort of space it can transform short term,” he says. “You just have to be creative and adapt to your space.”
If space is really at a premium, you may want to have residents preauthorize automatic delivery to their door (if this is practical for your staff size). In a building with 24-hour coverage, you could have your night staff deliver packages during the quieter hours.
Another alternative is to inform residents that they must pick up packages within a certain timeframe or the package will be returned. This is probably best left as a last resort and applied only if you are having an issue with residents not picking up packages for long periods of time.
Alerts.In smaller communities, package notifications may not require much more than putting a notice on residents’ doors or in their mailboxes most of the year. However, during the holidays, especially in mid- to large-sized communities, this approach can quickly become unruly.
Having an electronic alert system can make it easier for your staff to quickly notify residents when they have received a package. This also allows residents to know right away when a package has arrived. A good property management company should be able to provide you with value-added software that—among other things—offers email or text notifications. Such a system could also be used to send out follow-up notices if a resident has not picked up a package.
It’s too easy for packages to go missing when there are a lot to deliver. One common mistake Newman sees is the tendency for community staff to sign off on an entire delivery as one unit. “When you get a lot of packages at a time from UPS or Fed Ex, the driver is in a hurry and wants the employee to sign off on all the packages at once. Your staff should take the time to check each package and assure it is logged properly,” says Newman. Having an internal tracking system in place can make this easier and alleviate potential problems.
Newman also recommends including an auditing process as part of your SOP. “Our staff does an audit of packages at every shift,” he explains. They then email or call any resident who has not picked up a package. The property that Newman manages implements FirstService Residential’s proprietary software, FirstService Residential Connect, to track packages, alert residents and handle package auditing.
Find appropriate ways to thank your staff.
It’s not always easy for residents to know the proper etiquette for saying “thank you” to staff members. Is it appropriate to tip, and if so, how much? Is a gift a better option? And what about inviting staff to private parties?
Here is Newman’s advice for addressing these sometimes sticky situations:
Gratuities and gifts.
Many communities establish a gratuity fund for their staff, which can relieve residents from the discomfort of trying to determine appropriate amounts themselves. The board or the community manager can take responsibility for distributing the fund to staff members according to seniority. You can plan to distribute the gratuities during a pizza party or other holiday event, along with a card signed by all the contributors.What about tipping your community manager? In many cases, managers receive an association-approved performance bonus and are not included in a staff holiday fund. Property management companies also have rules regarding what can be accepted, so it’s important to adhere to those guidelines. FirstService Residential employees are required to disclose any gift over $20 in value to their immediate supervisor.
Associations often throw holiday parties, and the community manager will attend as a host for the event. It’s typically recommended to avoid inviting other staff members to keep things on a professional level. It’s also not recommended for staff members to accept invitations to private holiday parties hosted by a resident.
Keep it safe.
With more guests coming and going during the holidays, you’ll want to be extra diligent about your security and safety procedures. Make sure that guests sign in and that they fill out any necessary paperwork if they are an extended-stay guest. This allows the staff to give them entry to the building or to your floor if the resident is not with them. Remind residents that they are responsible for the actions of their guests, and ask them to inform their guests of your association’s rules and regulations.
Since your staff will be seeing more unfamiliar faces, check that video and other security equipment is functioning properly. Your board should also review policies regarding parties if residents will be using your club house or other areas for holiday gatherings. Require residents to hire additional security if they plan to hold a large gathering in any common areas.
With just a little foresight, your community can function smoothly and your board can still manage to have some holiday fun. To find out how an experienced management company can help keep your community on track during the holidays and every day, or to learn more about value-added services like FirstService Residential Connect, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading property management company.