Much has been said about the ‘Great Resignation’ and its impact on commercial real estate – but those shifting employee preferences have also given rise to industry disruptors enabling better  streamlined processes and more engaged (read: “happy”) workers.

“Commercial real estate specifically hasn’t really faced this type of disruption in the people space to this degree before, so it’s caused us to rethink the way we’re doing things,” said Allison Dunavant, Vice President of Organizational Development at Camden Property Trust.  “We’ve been doing the same thing for a really long time. We chose to turn this challenge into an opportunity.”

Rather than seeing the Great Resignation as a “looming catastrophe,” Dunavant says she and the Camden team used the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink every facet of their business. First, there was the reality that many managers were leaving the industry altogether, forcing the company to reckon with the reality that new hires were often less experienced in day-to-day management.  Amid a continued resurgence of renting (exacerbated by limited housing supply) their old and new employees were facing unprecedented volume of leads and new tasks. And that led to Camden’s “Work Reimagined” initiative, a grassroots listening tour of sorts that saw company execs sitting down with employees to understand all of the roles they serve at work and what strengths different teams and individuals brought to the table.

“A lot of our staff were doing tasks that didn’t align with their roles – and we saw that as an opportunity to standardize and streamline some of these tasks that were taking them away from serving customers,” Dunavant says.

Another solution to “doing more with less” came down to automation and centralization. Camden also began piloting new technologies, like Funnel and Chirp, to allow them to centralize certain functions. Once the firm invested in that technology, leaders then looked to organizational design to ensure they could capitalize on their tech investment with the strengths of team members in mind. 

“When you put people in a position where they’re using their strengths, it increases engagement and that naturally overall increases team performance,” says Dunavant. “That is what drives a good employee experience.”

Using sophisticated artificial intelligence through vendor Funnel, Camden was able to schedule more than half of all property tours online and has experienced a 150% uptick in customer communication touchpoints. The end result? A “HUGE” time savings for Camden’s staff, which ultimately allowed them more opportunities to interact with customers in a more meaningful way. “AI allowed our teams to work smarter, and insulated our business in a turbulent labor market,” Dunavant says.

“Camden has a history of investing in technology and in being an early adopter,” said Tyler Christiansen, Chief Executive Officer of Funnel. “They prepared themselves to take advantage of the opportunity to pivot by having the technology pretty much in place from the get-go.”

Dunavant and her team were cognizant that many managers would likely view AI warily at first, so they started slow with Funnel’s product suite on a pilot basis and made tweaks along the way.

“We started small – we didn’t jump right in,” she notes. “And that also gave us the time and tools to implement the technology from a change management perspective, so our managers understood how their day to day would be affected. Ultimately it was our easiest and most successful tech implementation ever.”

Camden also created a shared services division to centralize back office tasks and allow greater collaboration with onsite teams. This new approach to the entire business, enabled by Funnel’s flexible platform, allowed the company to completely rethink operations, marketing and customer experience leading to short and long-term success.  

“The pandemic and the Great Resignation were both accelerators to drive those changes forward for us,” Dunavant says. “We had thought about them for a really long time, but these disruptors really helped us reevaluate how we work onsite. This isn’t going away. This is our new operating environment – and people who think otherwise need to rethink their approach.”