It’s often said that good people are hard to find. That may be true, but for residential communities like co-ops and condos, finding good people—and then hiring and retaining them—is a major key to success. Doing so can be a roundabout process; unlike the faceless, contactless, online employment sites so common in the business world today, hiring and vetting for service jobs in co-op and condo communities is more old-fashioned, often conducted through word of mouth and personal referrals.
Perhaps that’s because of the unusual nature of service roles in a residential building; most doorpersons, lobby attendants, custodians, and porters work in commercial buildings that are only open during business hours and only contain business tenants. And while those positions certainly have their own pressures and challenges, they don’t have the extra layer of service involved when you’re working in someone’s home. Because co-op and condo buildings are homes, the relationships between residents and staff members are significantly more intimate—and that’s why it’s so important to have the right fit for every role.
Today’s Job Market
Like pretty much every other facet of the world economy, COVID has brought changes to the process of hiring building staff. “When jobs were plentiful and unemployment low,” says Dan Wollman, CEO of Gumley Haft, a Manhattan-based real estate management firm, “guys who bagged groceries at Gristedes looked for doorman jobs. Only about 15% of the national workforce has a fully funded medical plan—and they wanted well paid union jobs with benefits. 32BJ, the building workers union in New York, has that. It’s very desirable. It’s otherwise hard to incentivize workers on a fixed wage. They get a holiday bonus, but everyone gets the same amount, so they don’t get more or less for doing a good or bad job.”
However, “Now is an interesting time,” Wollman continues. “During the summer, many people made more on unemployment than what we paid. Lots of employees didn’t go on vacation, so that helped us relieve staffing shortages. Currently, we see new applicants from the hotel trade, which we like. Those workers tend to be more mature, understand customer service and the work environment.” Wollman adds that recently, he hired some “former stockbrokers” who were burned out on the Wall Street game and decided to make a career change.
Scott Wolf, CEO of Brigs, a real estate management firm located in Boston, echoes Wollman, particularly when it comes to applicants with a background in hospitality. “We are looking for service-oriented people,” he says. “If someone wants to get out of the restaurant business, for instance, we are looking for them. I want a service industry background—people with customer service experience and people skills.”