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The value of what we do has never been clearer

By David Young, FirstPort’s new Chief Operating Officer

Starting a new job always throws up some surprises. Getting to know colleagues, adapting to changes in routine, and shifting into the rhythm of a new organisation are all part of what make a new challenge so exciting.

Of course, joining as FirstPort’s new COO during the COVID-19 crisis means there’s been little time for leisurely inductions and team introductions. Instead, I’ve been getting to know people via Teams, Skype and Zoom – and getting a virtual grip on the complexities of our work for our clients and our customers.

Like people, businesses show their true colours in times of crisis. Over recent weeks I’ve been lucky to see the business at its very best – motivated by how we can each do our bit to help one another get through the current period as best we can. Whether it’s the innovation and creativity our newly home-based support teams have applied to problem solving, or the extra mile our essential workers have gone to in local communities, it’s clear to see that our colleagues are doing incredible things for each other and for customers up and down the country.

The sweet spot

All of this is a testament to FirstPort’s emotional intelligence and the business’ culture. It’s rooted in an understanding that what we do affects people’s lives.

The property management sector is in a sweet spot – just as much about people as it is about buildings. Good property managers deliver great outcomes for customers every day, while also taking a long-term approach to asset maintenance which ensures the places we manage are safe, sustainable, and able to thrive for decades to come.

Excellent customer service is a fundamental part of this work – just look at the booming built to rent sector, where high-quality service is a fundamental part of the offer. In all cases, extending the lifespan and improving the quality of an asset relies on proper ongoing maintenance and management. This is an essential part of what FirstPort does – protecting and enhancing investments, both for those who build and those who live in the homes we manage.

Yet there is a chance to do more with what we have. As a sector, are we currently making enough of the abundance of knowledge and data we have about homes and the way people live in them? How people live in their homes and use communal spaces should affect decisions about investment, planning, design and build – property management has a major role to play in the future of those processes.

Turning good intentions into reality relies on sharing expertise across the building lifecycle. This has been brought into sharp focus on critical issues of building safety in recent years, and in response to the current public health requirement for a better understanding of how we interact as people and communities. Creating places that work in practice, not just on paper, requires better partnership working with developers, planners, architects and others in the wider industry.

Leading from the front

FirstPort’s scale and capacity combined with our ambitious leadership team and owners mean we can truly lead from the front. We’re the biggest operator in our sector – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of opportunities to be flexible, nimble and grow further while keeping our customers at the heart of what we do.

FirstPort colleagues are used to dealing with unforeseen events and helping people in times of need. And the property management sector as a whole is undergoing a period of significant transformation – with customers’ expectation of great service rightly being backed by regulatory reform that seeks to drive up standards and stamp out poor practices in some parts of the sector.

Our board has done a tremendous job in recent years of leading a transformation strategy at FirstPort, showing how greater transparency and more rigorous standards are beneficial for customers. Central to the next phase of the strategy is using technology more effectively and improving our digital offer. It’s a broad programme which will make home life easier for customers through proptech, give our colleagues greater capacity and the resources to focus on the things that truly matter, and allow us to share more robust expertise and intelligence with the wider built environment sector so that we can tackle the housing crisis and build homes fit for the future.

It would be foolish to make too many predictions about what that future looks like, but the current crisis has shown just how critical having a comfortable, safe and secure place to live is. I’m proud to have joined FirstPort at a time when it is doing so much good for our customers when they need it. As we look to the years ahead, I know that the qualities and capability I’ve seen across the business so far will be more important than ever.