What does being a housing professional mean to me?
We may be in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, with our sector dealing with drastic change, but for Stephanie Harrison, executive director of operations and customer services at Regenda Homes, what it means to be a housing professional, even in the current climate, is unchanged. What does differ is that the value of what we do has been magnified to the outside world.
I feel that the world is now getting a glimpse into how integral our role is and how the decisions we make can help combat the impact of this deadly virus on the health and wellbeing of our society. The eyes of No10, DCLG, the Regulator, our residents and the wider community are upon us, more now than ever. As professionals we will be judged, and rightly so, on everything that we do and say during this crisis and how we lead the recovery process.
So, how do we get through it? We continue to deliver against the principles that we lived by before this crisis. As I said my views on what it means to be a ‘housing professional’ have not changed, but the way that we can now demonstrate these principles is now unprecedented.
Put your customers first
A few weeks ago, I would have talked about satisfaction metrics, engagement on products and service and regulatory requirements. Now the focus should be on harnessing the knowledge you have of your customers in order to; understand the potential risks to their health and safety and their financial concerns so we can prioritise the services that are important to them and make sure they have access to support networks and hardship funds in the new world that they living in.
Call waiting time measures for contact centres are no longer so vital. What we need is to develop deep and trusted relationships between our customers and staff as we might be the only people that they have to talk to during this period of isolation.
As we are very much in the thick of it here and now, you also need to be planning and thinking ahead and prioritising about what your customers will need in the coming weeks and months and getting ready to adapt existing services and pre-empt new areas of need.
Use your expertise
Over the past 25 years that I’ve been working in the sector I have written all manner of strategies and policies linked to the political persuasion of the government. I have written processes to use new legislation and have tried out more innovations and ideas then I can recall. As housing professionals at all levels and areas of the country, we have a wealth of expertise to draw on.
Do not under-estimate how innovative our profession is and how important your knowledge is to help support your organisation and the wider sector during this crisis, particularly when we try to navigate our way out of it.
Use it to show other sectors, politicians and your local stakeholders that you know a thing or two about communities, the law, business planning (the list goes on!). We can build respect and understanding with new partners, who up until a few weeks ago had no idea who we were and what we do, but now are working with us to increase the positive impact on communities.
Do more than expected
When this crisis started to unfold, I knew that food would become a major issue for the most vulnerable and the poorest. I contacted a family connection to set up conversations with a national supermarket and as a result we hope to see a strong and stable food supply into at least one of our core communities.
I understand that while opportunities like this sound wonderful, people can feel overwhelmed by their complexity, but this is where we can make a difference. Housing professionals by nature are resourceful and now more than ever we need to think outside the box and do more than what is expected of us. Think the unthinkable, use what resources you have whether personal or professional and ask yourself ‘what else can I do?’ then do it!
As we all know there is still a terrible stigma towards social housing and our tenants. The very same tenants who are holding this country together, cleaners, delivery drivers, supermarket workers and nurses. All working on the front line in a crisis comparable to world war.
After WW1 the Homes for Heroes pledge was made and delivered after WW2. This is a relevant campaign today. If we communicate effectively at a local and national level about social housing’s role in supporting our country through this crisis, there is a real chance that we can end this stigma and make our sector and tenants modern day heroes. But if we don’t communicate and celebrate the combined achievements of our sector and tenants, we will lose the opportunity for social housing to take its place in history and defeat that negative stigma along with this terrible pandemic.
Display your high values
The reason we have been able to react so quickly and flexibly to deal with the crisis is because we are values driven. A housing professional has strong personal values. We are driven to always try to do the right thing. That’s why we have maintenance teams out in vans delivering food, why staff are providing calls to vulnerable residents on a weekly basis to make sure that they don’t feel isolated and why people right across our sector are working around the clock to deliver services and support.
I am always humbled to work in such an amazing sector with people who make me proud very single day. But we need to remember that it’s not just about us. There are community representatives, individuals and other organisations who are working just as hard and often with less resources than we have. Be generous with your praise, be clear that you are there to serve others (and not yourself) and be humble. We know that we are all resilient, you have to be if you’re going to be a housing professional, and we are there to help others build their resilience.
Your country needs you
I am personally hopeful that our country and our sector will come out of these dark times with a renewed passion for creating an equal society. That we will put health before wealth and that people will value once more those that, for very little pay, are proving to be the backbone of this country. You have never been more needed to help shape this agenda and I am proud to represent a sector and a profession that can respond to the here and now while at the same time plan for a brighter future.