Since COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., the pandemic has shifted the economy and our way of life. Many of these changes are visible, as Zoom calls replace conference rooms, bedrooms become workspaces, and living rooms morph into gyms.
While the pandemic impacts extend far beyond the confines of multifamily communities, the vast majority of this sector has pivoted as adeptly as any other industry. These changes are especially true when it comes to amenities, which communities have relied upon to differentiate themselves from competitors for years. Amenity offerings are devoted to providing residents with a sense of community and proximity, and now most indoor common areas remain underutilized due to safety precautions.
The good news is that while the pandemic has rapidly transformed our interactions—both with our neighbors and the building environment—the core human elements that have fueled the rapid rise of amenities have not changed for more than a decade. More than ever, residents at multifamily buildings still hold a deep desire for a sense of community and human connection. It is incumbent upon the industry and amenity providers to give residents just that.
The early returns on this evolution have been promising thus far. From the moment states around the country began launching into lockdowns in mid-March, the multifamily industry had to shift quickly to partner with owner-operators and third-party property management companies to create safe solutions through virtual programming. Seemingly overnight, thousands of residents at buildings across the country were streaming fitness classes from the comfort of their own homes. Since then, the industry has seen even more innovative approaches take hold to keep residents engaged. In many of our partner communities, on-site teams have begun hosting virtual wine tastings, trivia nights, piano bar nights, and more where participants can engage and bond. I firmly believe that necessity is the mother of invention. Since the pandemic has arrived in the four short months, various parties across the sector have responded in kind to help chart a viable future for amenities.
The industry’s road forward will not begin and end with the embrace of virtual programming. I predict that a hybrid approach of virtual amenities and safe, socially distanced in-person experiences will become widely adopted. Rather than relying on dedicated indoor space for group fitness programming or other communal gatherings, multifamily communities will need to make further use of available outdoor space to foster a renewed sense of comfort among residents. Similarly, many tenants may show an increased desire for individualized services such as personal training, which can occur in smaller amenity spaces or the comfort of their own homes. A large share of the audience for fitness classes and other amenities may also decide that they are ultimately more comfortable forgoing in-person activities in favor of virtual ones. Thriving communities are likely to need flexible or hybrid offerings that will allow for social distancing, catering to a widening range of comfort levels and capacity issues.
Adjustments will not be limited to the types of amenities communities offer, or the way residents access dedicated amenity rooms and common areas. Before the pandemic, many tech-forward buildings incorporated features, such as touchless entry, or centralized systems that allowed residents to reserve access to limited-capacity spaces such as gyms or game rooms. These systems will be more critical than ever post-pandemic. Residents will look to their buildings to implement and enforce social distancing rules and proper sanitization processes that will foster feelings of cleanliness, safety, and comfort. These additional measures will help those who may feel wary of using shared amenity spaces.
While the pandemic has changed many aspects of our day-to-day lives, there is comfort in the consistency of pure human nature. Even in the absence of physical closeness, the underlying desire for connection that has charged the rise of amenities in multifamily buildings remains as present as ever. The industry has shown tremendous skill and ingenuity in solving the unexpected challenges that have arisen in the past few months. All of us—from amenity providers to owner-operators to property managers and others—must continue to work together to fuel that same spirit of evolution. We all share the common goal of providing renters with meaningful experiences. By listening to our residents and each other, we can continue to adapt and succeed, no matter what the future may hold.
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