The 19th edition of Harper Macleod's National Housing Conference played an important part in setting out the role of social housing in the country's transition from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
Over 5 days, our legal specialists were joined by a selection of industry and academic speakers. If you missed any sessions or would like to revisit what happened on particular days all the content is now available on-demand.
The sector has faced a range of challenges over the past year. However, this period has also brought an opportunity to make beneficial changes for both employees of housing associations and tenants with the use of technology. Our final day of the National Housing Conference 2021 featured discussion from our panel on digital engagement within the sector and how technology has delivered improvements for tenants and employees of housing associations alike.
Blackwood's approach to technology and innovation
Blackwood has invested in technology and innovation for many years to enable tenants to be able to live independently as much, and for as long as, possible. Some of the ways in which Blackwood uses or integrates technology into its properties include:
- Working in partnership and co-designing with others is pivotal for innovation.
- Take the issue back to basics and establish what the tenants and residents need to live independently, having a clear understanding of their needs ensures that the design solutions are capable of providing a meaningful contribution to the independence of tenants and residents.
- Solutions to problems don’t always have to be complex or cost a lot of money, to be effective. Technology may have a role to play but equally the right solution may involve design adjustments to standard household materials, the key is to ensure that the solution can deliver the right outcome.
- Having the right digital infrastructure is important to ensure services can be accessed.
- Finding a 'hook' to show tenants how technology can help them is often the best way to integrate technology into a tenant's life including the use of the Clevercogs system.
- Digital engagement can be used to help combat loneliness and isolation.
Reflections from the panel for the past year
The panel discussed how technology has been used and improved or changed in the past 12 months.
- Acceleration of the use of more web based services over the past year.
- Used and experimented with different communication channels e.g. email, text and social media channels.
- A reactive model rather than a proactive model in terms of communication channel has been used over the past year. Moving forward, a more proactive model will be adopted.
- Ensuring properties have access to Wi-Fi has been crucial and providing technology to allow tenants to interact and connect virtually with friends and family has been very important.
- Most tenants are now digitally included and Blackwood see this as being crucial for tenants' wellbeing.
- Almost 1600 tenants were contacted in the early stages of the pandemic to check on their wellbeing and to remind them of the digital services that were available to them.
- Creating a coronavirus hub was one of the key changes with the hub designed to be a 'one stop shop' for clients to access up to date information.
- Level and volume of information being sent out by the firm significantly increased in the period as it was important to break through the noise and volume of information in circulation.
Digital engagement strategies
Debbie explained that Blackwood had already completed a lot of its digital engagement strategy prior to COVID. Moving to a newer version of Microsoft Office, for example, has been very beneficial for staff engagement and flexibility. There will be a continued focus on digital solutions, specifically on the transactional side, moving forward. Blackwood's major focus is continuing to develop homes that allow tenants to live independently and technology plays a major role in this.
Paul explained that it already had provision in its business continuity plan for home working. Ensuring that staff had the right systems in place when the move to home working happened was crucial. Facebook live has been a channel used by the association to interact with its tenants and provide support. Moving forward, there will be a continued focus on which social media channel is best for communicating with tenants as different groups prefer different methods.
Laura added that Harper Macleod's strategy was much more extensive than it had been previously and that different social media platforms are being used for different content. Examples include Facebook which has predominantly light hearted and Instagram which is typically video content. Twitter is the most frequently used channel. The firm also moved back to basics on its strategy to ensure that the content was interesting and useful for clients. Using the statistical information available for each of the channels has been useful in measuring success and how best to move forward.
Internal engagement with colleagues
Some strategies discussed by the panel that have been implemented include:
- The importance of staff wellbeing has been at the forefront of Irvine's strategy and ensuring that staff are aware that support is there if they need it.
- Blackwood has ensured that a social connection between staff remains present. Carrying out staff surveys has been important to determine whether the right levels of support are available.
- Creating a HM Homeroom was Harper Macleod's main strategy to allow colleagues on furlough or working from home to still feel connected to the firm. Scheduling weekly team meetings and virtual social catch ups has also been a strategy used by many in the firm.
With so much change over the past year, there have been unexpected positives from working from home, some of which include:
- Significant shift in working from home attitudes.
- Increased digital appetite and many more open to using technology.
- Increased creativity and trying to do things differently from before that might not have been tried had it not been for COVID.
Watch the session and find out more
To find out more about the National Housing Conference, and watch this session visit our on-demand content.
You can also catch up on the other days which focused on:
- Governance and Resilience
- Housing Policy
- Development and Procurement
Get in touch - we're here to help
Please contact a member of the team if you have any questions about the issues touched upon in this article.