With research suggesting that social housing tenants are almost three times more likely to experience problems accessing services, Housing Associations (HA’s) are starting to invest more in making themselves part of the communities they create and house.
Part of this realisation almost certainly comes from a growing argument that tenants should be seen as customers and that by doing this, it strengthens trust and creates the meaningful and proactive relationships needed to build and sustain local communities.
As part of this, many Housing Associations are already using their headquarters as more than office space – they are also becoming community hubs in an attempt to make interaction with residents more positive, easy and proactive.
With that in mind we’ve identified our top five ways that Housing Associations can improve service delivery through the design and use of their office buildings.
- Reflect the needs of the community you’re serving.
Spaces for customers need to reflect their needs and bring the community together. It might be using colour and imagery to reflect area’s history and to create a vibrant and inviting space, providing baby changing and breast-feeding areas or play-zones for children of young families, offering private meeting spaces so people can discuss personal issues freely or making a bookable space available for fitness classes, learning new skills or hosting residents’ forums.
- Think connectivity.
Integrate technology so that residents have more proactive reasons to visit and build a relationship with you. Use of computers, free WiFi and the ability to access training, support and other digital tools make it easier for residents to communicate with you, while also putting you at the heart of the community and showing your desire to meet residents’ broader needs, above and beyond core accommodation provision.
- The flow of information.
Think about the experience of your employees. Look at where the admin, finance and maintenance teams are based and check that the environment supports how work is done. Think about which departments you can co-locate to aid information sharing and ease of communication – perhaps the lettings team should be adjacent to the maintenance department so that snagging and maintenance tickets can be processed quickly. Ask yourself what other tools could be implemented to help information travel freely through your organisation .
- Be sociable.
In the same way that sociability matters for tenants, it’s important for employees in back office support roles too. By creating spaces where employees can come together, you will foster good working relationships, aid knowledge sharing and improve problem solving and process efficiency to the benefit of customers. This can be achieved through the addition of break-out and collaboration spaces, inclusion of an onsite café, by hosting staff social events and training, as well as using digital tools such as intranets and Facebook workplace.
- Create shared purpose in your team.
Whatever your HA’s values, they should be instilled in your team in order to create shared goals, a clear sense of purpose and a consistent experience for residents. While this can be achieved through improved internal communication, workplace design can help too. Consider how layout, use of colour, artwork and graphics and even the way meeting rooms and shared facilities are themed and named, could better support organisational goals. If values are around transparency then perhaps a board which captures the number of customer complaints handed efficiently helps to convey that. If keeping families together is a core objective, then testimonials and resident imagery could be used throughout the office as a visual reminder of the common goal.
Housing Associations have an opportunity to reinvigorate the relationships they have with residents by thinking about the needs of their employees, how work is done and most importantly, the communities and people they serve. The process starts with taking a fresh look at how office space is used and identifying where it could add greater value by supporting customers’ needs. It’s this holistic and proactive approach that will help Housing Associations improve service delivery.