Welcome Aboard Acclimating New Association Staff Members

Little in life is more nerve wracking than that first day on a new job: ‘Are you prepared to do this?’ ‘Are you even qualified to do this?’ ‘Is your shirt buttoned correctly?’ ‘It is, right?’ ‘Why does it look wrong?’ ‘Should you change your shirt?’ 

All of these questions and more – along with all the actual job-related stuff –are likely running through the brand-new employee’s mind, and can make for a whole lot of anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be this way. An employer – including a board or property manager  –  can do a lot to mitigate an employee’s jitters and set him or her up for success. Whether this means providing new hires a thorough-but-concise employee manual, a probationary period, a mentor, or a veteran employee that the new staffer can shadow varies from job to job, employer to employer, and even employee to employee (everyone learns differently!). Regardless, it’s in the best interest of everyone involved for employees to feel capable and supported as they keep your building or association running smoothly. 

This is especially important in a community association setting where a staffer is likely to be confronted by a parade of unfamiliar faces, many of whom the employee may be accountable to in some capacity. The faster and more effective a manager or a board can introduce the employee to the people and challenges that he or she will encounter, the better for everybody involved.

The New Jersey Cooperator spoke with several management professionals with very different perspectives to get their wisdom on how best to orient the new person on the job; how to deal with staff that management itself inherits when taking on a new client community; and what to do when there is no formal staff to speak of. Here’s what they had to say:  

Employee Orientation

Glen Kassis, a property manager with Metropolitan Management, LLC in Tenafly, New Jersey: 

“When hiring a new staff member, it’s important to realize that everyone has a different set of skills and ability to communicate. Matching the right person to the right job is 75% of the equation, so make sure that you’re not using a cookie-cutter interview process, but one fine-tuned to the specific job. If it’s a technical job, a similarly-skilled supervisor or employee should be part of the interview process.

“Communication is the key to success for any staff member. All new and existing staff members need to understand their roles and responsibilities at the workplace to ensure that they meet expectations. Providing all staff members with an initial comprehensive orientation packet and updates as they’re needed will reduce stress, and will be worth every minute spent preparing those packets. Having employees sign a receipt for the packet can help motivate the staff member to read it and understand their individual responsibilities.”

Joe Urbanczyk, a property manager withFairwood Management in East Amherst, New York:

“The best way to position a new staff member for long-term success is to constantly train them in –  and to reinforce – the rules. I have a written job description for each position that I staff, and an employee handbook for each of my buildings. (None of my employees are union laborers, FYI.) I like to take a hands-on approach with each new hire in order to get them acquainted with the building and the unit owners.”

Daphne Morton, a licensed community association manager at Carillon Club in Naperville, Illinois: 

“Our HOA, Carillon Club, is a large gated community in Naperville that consists of 778 homes with a clubhouse; indoor and outdoor pools; tennis courts; bocce ball courts; garden plots; a three-hole golf course; and three large ponds. Four full-time staff members oversee all of this. I’m the community manager, and then we have a lifestyle director who plans all of the trips, outings and presentations at the clubhouse, along with preparing a monthly newsletter. Additionally, we have a maintenance person, and an administrative assistant who also serves as our concierge. The latter had been working here for three years, but departed in May, after graciously giving us a one-month notice. This allowed me to hire someone prior to her departure, and allowed the board to approve the start of the new hire 10 days before the previous assistant left, thus overlapping payroll. The overlap provided important initial training for the new assistant, who could shadow someone with significant experience in the role. And I continue to work with this new assistant and train her at the front desk position.

“We are also currently working on a procedures manual, which will be a fluid document listing all staff position jobs and the procedures which we use daily, weekly or monthly for each staff position. It is important to have this type of manual in place –  not only for new staff being hired, but also in case someone needs to step in and do the job of another staff member due to illness or an accident that causes a staff member to be absent for any length of time.”

Laura Nicolini, an executive director for FirstService Residential in Lake Barrington, Illinois:

“The training for a new employee incorporates both the management company standards  (employee handbook, review of FirstService Global Service Standards, etc.) and the community or building’s standards (training manual for position, building components). What I find to be most effective is an on-boarding checklist that touches on as many training points as possible. This checklist should be divided up for training with the supervisor and also multiple staff members. This not only helps the new employee learn, but also to socialize and meet their co-workers. Additionally, those co-workers are then invested in the success of the trainee and are there to support them in the future.

“As the new employee completes their training checklist, the supervisor should follow up and ask the employee to show the supervisor what they’ve learned. This gives the opportunity for reinforcement and to close the gap on any missed training points. Frequent check-ins by the supervisor in the first several months are key to setting the tone, expectations, and long-term success of the new hire.”

Steven W. Birbach, President and CEO of Vanderbilt Property Management LLC in Glenwood Landing, New York:

“We actually don’t have a protocol in place for staff at a building that we take over as management, the rationale being that if a super or porter has been employed for 10 or 15 years, they may not appreciate being presented with a job description noting every item management is expecting from them. Instead, we prefer to evaluate each employee and work with the board to meet their goals. Our first priority is cleanliness. We will evaluate a porter, super or handyman and make any recommendations directly to them. For example, the porter may have been cleaning the entrance glass every morning for years; we may encourage them to re-clean in the evenings as well, since residents coming home from work or errands may want to enter a pristine building, regardless of time of day. We also make sure that all rubbish and recycling is properly managed. If needed, we will prepare a detailed hour-by-hour job description which staff can easily follow to make sure all areas of concern are being addressed.

“We also recommend that the super come to the board meetings to discuss maintenance and operations. The super is best prepared to answer questions on maintenance issues regarding specific apartments. The super should also be involved in which capital projects are being considered. Their knowledge and insight is critical as to which project must be addressed and which can be held until the subsequent year.

“Having an experienced and capable super can save a building thousands of dollars in repair costs. If repairs can be handled in-house, that will benefit the owners. For example, if a super can replace a shower body and install bath tiles, the association can avoid hiring a plumber and contractor. Similarly, a super who can make boiler or burner repairs is in high demand.”

Marian Servidio, Owner of the Park Place Management Company in South Burlington, Vermont:

“We actually don’t have a support staff per se. But for new owners, we send out a welcome letter and a list of information on how to operate their thermostat, who to call for what particular service, and that type of thing. Then, we have Community Associations Institute (CAI) information about the various officers’ positions which we circulate to board members, and offer to host an orientation meeting for any new or incoming board members that require guidance.”                             

Mike Odenthal is a staff writer/reporter with The New Jersey Cooperator.

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