Social distancing is a new phenomenon for many. As humans, we are instinctively social creatures, who like to be surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones, and there’s nothing we look forward to more than sharing experiences. Though the evolution of human social behavior is not fully understood, researchers believe it was a gradual process, evolving from couples to clans to larger communities. Once The Digital Age took hold of the globe, our social interactions ceased being limited to in-person exchanges. Now that we can email, text, direct message, and video chat, digital interactions often supplement face-to-face contact, and some people even prefer it this way.
In the wake of COVID-19, an infectious disease caused by a virus not previously identified in humans, many government officials and medical professionals are promoting social distancing to prevent overwhelming the health system of our country. More than just a buzzword, social distancing is vital in stopping the spread of the illness, which happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or otherwise releases droplets of saliva from the mouth or discharge from the nose.
As of this week, COVID-19 cases surpassed 1.6 million people worldwide. Although nearly 100,000 people have died from the illness, over 350,000 have successfully recovered. With America now being the most infected country in the world— with over 450,000 confirmed cases—experts have recommend self-isolation for everyone to “flatten the curve” of infection rates, which are adding up at lightning speed.
Across the globe, social distancing has been difficult for many countries to implement successfully, including Italy, Germany, and France. America has been no different. As a result, government officials have started enforcing stricter guidelines on our daily lives. The majority of states have closed gathering spaces, such as schools, restaurants, gyms, churches, movie theatres, and more.
Yet, despite this, Americans aren’t completely without social outlets. Unlike other pandemics, wars, and crises, COVID-19 is unique in that we have the Internet, social media, and other web-based resources at our side—all of which support constant connectivity and can help multifamily housing professionals weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Internet can provide more than entertainment during this time of uncertainty. We will depend upon it to connect us to the outside world – whether that means placing online orders for food and grocery items or providing crucial digital services to apartment residents and prospects. Since 95 percent of the country is under stay at home orders, American citizens must self-isolate, especially older, more vulnerable populations with co-morbidities.
Although share economy apps, like Uber and Lyft, have suspended rideshare services during this worldwide health crisis, food and grocery delivery apps, such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, are stronger than ever. At the end of last year, Forbes reported that the food delivery industry is expected to supersize to a 200 billion-dollar industry by 2025.
With people stuck at home and states limiting restaurant operations to delivery and pick-up only, both Uber Eats and DoorDash experienced their highest customer spending over the last eleven weeks, with their weekly customer spending increasing by 15 percent since Q1 of 2020. The numbers clearly show that many people are turning to these stay at home tech services to protect their health and well-being when a degree of separation is needed most.
TechCrunch has also recently reported that grocery delivery app downloads are soaring amidst the health crisis, with Instacart, Walmart Grocery, and Shipt experiencing a surge in daily downloads by 218 percent, 160 percent, and 124 percent, respectively. Grocery store delivery and pickup presents an easier option to stock-up on essentials, while limiting one’s exposure to other people, and in turn, the virus. With its added workforce of 100,000 warehouse and delivery employees, Amazon Prime is also fighting hard to meet online shopping demands during the coronavirus outbreak.
Like every other sector, multifamily professionals must turn to digital tools to meet consumers’ needs during this unprecedented time. Because there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, it’s safe to say that we can expect similar outbreaks in the future that will require the same amount of social distancing. Therefore, we must collaborate, communicate, and cooperate with one another and come up with ways to reduce the impact of this very real scenario on our industry.
One way to do so is by devoting time, money, and other resources to our own versions of stay at home technology within the real estate sector. Consider investing in products that align with social distancing, such as interactive chatbots, livestream tours, and other digital marketing and leasing tools, to keep prospects satisfied, occupancies up, and rents paid.
By finding ways to minimize the severity of current and forthcoming social disruptions— such as the novel coronavirus— with solid online user experiences and workflows, you will set your community up for success during future challenges – and who doesn’t crave a bit of certainty during times of emergency, instability, and change?
Kerry W. Kirby is a global entrepreneur, technology innovator, philanthropist, and the founder of 365 Connect, an award-winning technology firm within the multifamily housing industry. Over the course of his career, Kerry has been the recipient of an array of highly acclaimed awards, including the esteemed Louisiana Governor's Technology Award. He has been named to the Silicon Bayou 100 List of most influential entrepreneurs for nine consecutive years and has received a prestigious Titan Entrepreneur Award for his technological achievements. An acclaimed speaker, author, and award-winning podcaster, Kerry has appeared on the BBC Digital Planet program, NPR News, and various media platforms and outlets. Kerry has contributed to an array of articles and studies on the convergence of technology in the rental housing industry.
Kerry serves on the Board of Advisors of Rainbow, a national nonprofit organization that provides service-enriched housing programs for affordable housing communities across the country. He also serves on the Board of Advisors of the Multifamily Women’s Summit, an event that allows women to strengthen their expertise, influence, and professional network in the multifamily housing industry, and is Chair of Technology Initiative for the Multifamily Innovation Advisory Council, a private, members only group focused on assisting owners and operators of multifamily communities by reducing risks associated with vetting new technologies and implementations.
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