Covid-19: Ethical Maintenance chief discusses importance of community engagement through pandemic
In conversation with The Parliamentary Review, Kevin Wilkinson, the managing director of Ethical Maintenance in Scotland, discusses the challenges that Covid-19 has thrust upon the business and the importance of community engagement in the property management industry both through the pandemic and when the UK eventually emerges from it.
Wilkinson’s Ethical Maintenance business is based in Stirling and Aberdeen and handles the management of common areas in apartment blocks and on housing developments.
In the original best practice article written by Ethical Maintenance for The Parliamentary Review, Wilkinson sought to hit home the message that community engagement brings huge benefits in the realms of property maintenance, and that the Scottish government’s plans for tightening up the regulation of property managers in Scotland should proceed.
“Of course, at this stage the tightening up of regulations is way down on the list of priorities for the Scottish government”, Wilkinson said. “But there is a line that community engagement is becoming more important.
“It is something that the best of property managers and housebuilders should look at once we start to emerge from the coronavirus lock-down.”
Ethical Maintenance has certainly attempted to be proactive in this regard, despite the outbreak of Covid-19 proving disruptive.
“Over the period of January to early March, Ethical Maintenance consulted all our homeowners about what they wanted in their routine property management service in the coming year”, Wilkinson explained.
“And now we’re having to re-consult everyone again. In Scotland, it is considered safe to go to work if you can’t work from home and self-distancing is complied with. Our maintenance contractors, who mostly work on their own, meet these criteria and so can continue to provide the service.
“However, homeowners, in coming together, may decide that they want to adjust the service that they had lined up for themselves before Covid-19 broke out. Furthermore, those contractors who were initially selected to provide the service may no longer want to carry out the work. So, we had to talk to them all again.”
However, the disruption is little more than an afterthought for Wilkinson, who stressed that safety must be the priority and that in the context of Ethical Maintenance’s work, effective communication with homeowners is key.
“Safety is obviously of paramount importance, and so before a contractor visits a property, they must declare themselves fit and that they understand and will comply with the current government guidance”, Wilkinson said.
“Furthermore, where homeowners that are self-isolating may have an impact on the maintenance work, they must let us know. So, homeowners and contractors know that they are as safe as they can be whilst the importance of maintaining the property continues.”
The feedback that Wilkinson and Ethical Maintenance received after the second round of consultation was mixed, but working proactively with communities to continually provide services has brought added benefits to the business which do not necessarily align with the norm for firms during the pandemic so far.
“The feedback is a real mix of the options with both communities and contractors deciding differently whether to continue the originally arranged service”, Wilkinson explained.
“The important thing for us is that the homeowners are getting the service that they want. And because we are consulting our homeowners and adjusting their service to what they want, several communities have asked us to provide their service for them and are in the process of switching to us. As a direct consequence of this, Ethical Maintenance has actually taken on additional staff”.
Wilkinson believes that the government’s message for people to stay at home has provided time for people to reflect on matters, which will inevitably result in changes to industry norms in future.
“What is for sure, the necessity to stay at home has given people more time to think about things. In terms of property maintenance, people are already talking about a more inclusive way of doing things.
“Take for example the City of Edinburgh’s challenge to engage homeowners in managing their property in flats and the solution being offered by Novoville. Although initially targeted at homeowners, the principles of engagement will become mainstream for property managers and therefore important for housebuilders too.”
In instances where properties are looked after by property managers, Wilkinson believes that there are two key questions that homeowners must ask themselves in order to gauge their satisfaction with their property manager's performance at this time.
Wilkinson said: “Homeowners must first look at whether or not they were consulted by their property managers on whether they wanted the same service to continue.
“Secondly, homeowners should ask themselves whether they are happy with what their property manager has done, in consideration of the community’s wishes about their service and the coronavirus situation.
“In our case, we have strived to ensure that the answer to both of those questions is ‘yes’. And we are seeing the benefits of that”.