The strata industry has grown rapidly in the last decade. By 2019, average lots per plan had doubled in four years as more large developments came onto the market.1 While COVID may have stalled the residential momentum, it looks likely to bounce back.
While revenue growth is good news for the industry, it’s also driving a constant need for high performing staff. And it highlights the importance of scalable systems that can expand just as rapidly – and help people manage increasing workloads.
“Over two million lot owners outsource the management of their titles in Australia,” says Tim MacKenzie, National Head of Strata at Macquarie Business Bank. “But there are only 3,000 to 4,000 people to service this huge volume, so there’s a real pressure to find, engage and retain quality employees.”
While the industry performed well through COVID, many strata businesses also used that time to reassess their operations. That included ways technology could create better efficiencies and experiences, improving employee engagement, and setting up new models for growth.
Technology, the enabler
Digital investment had been growing steadily across the industry, but the pandemic significantly accelerated adoption. And MacKenzie says it has made businesses re-evaluate how they see technology.
“It served as a bit of a wake-up call,” he explains. “Businesses started viewing technology as an enabler, not just a cost. I think this will become widespread, as people realise the opportunity to free up capacity and improve both client and employee engagement.”
Australia’s largest strata property service provider, PICA Group, has invested in ways to centralise and automate processes and services, and increase efficiencies.
“For a multi-branch operation like PICA, this means we don’t have to replicate the same role across multiple locations,” says Kirsten Terry, Head of People and Culture at PICA Group. “For example, Genesys PureCloud allows us to manage a central customer contact centre. We’re scoring 30 in our NPS for this service, so it has been very successful.”
PICA also uses technology to enable clients to self-serve – improving customer experience and saving strata managers significant time.
“Self-service is not second nature for strata – customers tend to rely heavily on their strata managers for information. We hope our customer portals can take care of some low-level queries, and educate customers on how to get information themselves,” Terry says.
Hartley’s Body Corporate Management (HBCM) in Queensland has always been interested in how technology can enable business growth. After investing in an electronic voting platform four years ago, the firm was one of the first to implement this innovation.
“We have always tried to stay ahead of the curve,” says Simon Barnard, owner of HBCM. “By giving our people a toolbox of resources, we can free up their time so they’re available for clients.”
HBCM is also exploring the role of technology in community engagement.
“We’re working on ways to create a more tailored, thoughtful experience for our clients. This begins with better communication and access to streamlined systems. We have already alleviated many time-consuming tasks, so they can focus more on relationships and less on administrative processes,” Barnard says.
To make these changes effective, both companies support implementation with employee training. PICA uses tools like Walk Me to use real life, real-time tasks to train staff, while HBCM has a dedicated in-house training and education role.
Engaging and retaining top talent
In 2019, Macquarie Business Bank’s Strata Management Benchmarking Report found recruitment was challenging for two-thirds of strata businesses. As the industry grew, competition for top performing staff intensified – making employee engagement more important than ever.
And the businesses that get it right see immense benefits. High performers see 50% less turnover than others, which in turn reduces business disruption and improves client experience. Workplaces where people were more engaged and satisfied recorded significantly higher productivity, with employees managing an average 19% more lots and generating almost twice as much profit than others. 1
So what are they doing differently? MacKenzie says it comes down to a few things.
“Employees highly value the ways effort is recognised, and not just in monetary sense. Another important thing to look at is career development. Strata managers want to broaden their experience and skillsets – along with a supportive, flexible culture.”
As a family-owned business, employee engagement is integral to HBCM’s operations according to Barnard.
“We use surveys, brainstorming sessions and frequent team-building activities to encourage open feedback channels. We’ve also invested in a new People and Culture Manager, who provides support and counsel to all team members,” he explains.
Recognition and rewards are personalised to individual needs and values. And webinars, seminars, peer-to-peer experiences and professional partner training keep staff engaged through learning and professional development.
PICA runs regular employee surveys to study the correlation between employee engagement and customer experience.
“It helps us make sure that the initiatives we're implementing address root causes of problems,” Terry says. “We have a task force that analyses the key themes that emerge from survey. We pick one or two to focus on as a national group, and develop initiatives around them.”
PICA also pays for employees’ licenses, Certificate IV in Strata Community Management, and other continuing professional development courses. “We have also put our executive team through an AGSM @ UNSW course, to develop strong leadership skills within the business,” says Terry. And while PICA offered flexible working arrangements well before COVID, it has updated its policy so all staff can work from home two days a week.
A more sustainable future
Given salaries in the industry are around 50% of total revenue, MacKenzie says businesses should start thinking about ways to make future growth sustainable.
“Successful firms focus on creating efficiencies, and find new opportunities and improve the customer experience in the process,” he says.
“And when your brand starts to be associated with better experience, it will lead to better commercial outcomes.”
Leading firms like PICA and HBCM have found significant efficiency gains through technology. This not only protects margins, but also frees teams to explore potential revenue new streams.
Keeping clients informed is a top priority for firms, especially when it comes to legislative changes.
“It’s the strata firm’s job to make sure clients, buildings, and owners all comply with the legislation and are following legal requirements. And the industry as a whole is really good at that,” MacKenzie says.
PICA’s internal regulatory department makes sure everyone understands the latest changes and their implications. Dedicated teams also provide employees with extensive in-house training.
“To educate and inform our clients, we bring in lawyers and other industry partners to run information sessions, discussing what the changes mean and any impact,” Terry says.
HBCM also put together a team to analyse its procedures and processes, and identify areas that need to change as a result of new legislation.
“We have an expert technical partner and a dedicated in-house resource providing training,” says Barnard. HBCM also keeps clients informed through monthly newsletters, website news updates, and regular community meetings.
These trends were evident long before we learned the word COVID. But the pandemic created a sense of urgency, and brought about many changes the industry had long been waiting for.