Residents may be self-isolating, but property teams are using technology to come up with fun and creative ways to keep them engaged, entertained, healthy and feeling like even if they are alone, they are together

By Sarah Yaussi

Sarah Yaussi is vice president of business strategy for the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at syaussi@nmhc.org.

As the days have turned into weeks and the weeks into months, property management teams have pulled out all the stops when it comes to finding ways to create community and connections amid social distancing norms and lockdown situations. Here’s our list of the best ideas to date.

1.That time residents tried that thing that they were always too busy or too scared to try.

Whether it was encouraging residents to learn a new language, try their hand at writing a novel or pick up crocheting, you provided links to an insane amount of online resources (MasterClass, anyone?) for those looking to add to their list of, err, skills.

2.That time that entertaining pets was as important as keeping residents busy.

Sharing pet photos on social platforms can certainly be a much-needed mood-lifter when staying at home for days (weeks? Months?) on end. But hosting virtual “yappy” hours, sharing at-home grooming tips, suggesting games to play with your pet and sending out how-to training and pet trick videos? That’s next level stuff.

3. That time you let residents break the rules.

While a no-no in normal times, many operators encouraged residents to decorate sidewalks with fun drawings and inspirational messages—some even provided the chalk!—hang signs in their windows or off balconies or put up some yard signs. Great way to acknowledge first responders or even graduating seniors.

4.That time you brought the music.

There’s nothing like live music to liven things up, and apartment operators are taking this to heart. A number have hosted balcony parties where a DJ or one-man band pushes out some tunes from the courtyard while residents enjoy the music from the safety of their balconies or windows. Others have invited residents to join live concerts featuring local or international artists or pointed residents to sites with robust calendars of virtual concerts to fit any musical taste.

5. That time competition got heated.

You showed residents that online games aren’t just for frat boys anymore. From online tournaments to virtual bingo, trivia nights and scavenger hunts, there’s been plenty of friendly community competition.

6. That time residents did so much good.  

From encouraging residents to write letters to nurses, first responders, soldiers and teachers to teaching them to sew face coverings (even supplying the fabric in some cases!) and collecting donations for local food banks, you helped residents help those dealing with the real deal when it comes to COVID-19 hardships.

7. That time apartments turned into restaurants.

Turns out many people find cooking therapeutic. Managers offered up new recipe challenges or asked local chefs to host a virtual cooking lesson or two. We also loved the idea of creating a community cookbook and one company’s blog on how to create the perfect virtual dinner party.

8. That time no one wanted to cook anymore.

Even those who love to cook deserve a night off from the kitchen and apartment operators have been quick to provide residents robust lists of local restaurants, fast food operators, bars and liquor stores available for takeout or delivery services. Some are rewarding residents with discount codes or gift cards to local purveyors or service providers like Uber Eats, Postmates or GrubHub.

9.That time you helped residents escape.

With non-essential travel basically been banned, some operators have been scratching residents’ travel bug by publishing lists of virtual museum tours or even national park visits. Others have askes residents to share pics of their favorite places or jumped on the #viewfrommywindow bandwagon.

10. That time it was okay to quarantine and chill.

Binge watching has moved from guilty pleasure to everyday occurrence. Some operators have responded by offering residents free or discounted subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix or Disney+. Others are sharing resident must-watch series recommendations or hosting virtual watch parties. We thought the company that created a social media bracket to determine the most bingeworthy series was particularly brilliant.

11. That time working out at home became not only doable but desirable.

With gyms, fitness centers and even parks shut down, residents worried about how to stay healthy and avoid putting on pandemic pounds. Apartment operators responded with lists of fun (and often free!) #Quarantinefitness routines, sites and apps. Others negotiated resident discounts for at-home training bundles and on-demand classes or organized live balcony workouts.

12. That time you invited Marie Kondo to move in.

Armed with tons of organizing tips and resources (thanks, managers!) and inspired by series such as “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” residents have been tackling closets and pantries with a vengeance. Turns out many things no longer bring them joy, so trash bins are filling quickly, although that’s another story. Many of the closet makeover challenges and before/after contests on social media yielded some amazing results.

13. That time both kids and adults wanted story time.

Property operators are setting up virtual book clubs and reading challenges, as well as sharing book and podcast recommendations for those looking to enrich their free time. We also give thumbs up to the companies that corralled live and on-demand story times for the little crumb crunchers in our communities.

14. That time you convinced everyone s/he could be an artist.

Some operators leveled up their Zoom happy hours and hosted virtual paint and sips, where attendees participate in a professionally led painting class. Those with extra game have gone with a Bob Ross theme—or at least alerted residents to the fact that the full catalogue of “The Joy of Painting” is now available online for free for people to host their own.

15. That time headspace became as important as physical space.

The stress of the pandemic and requisite self-isolation is challenging for many residents. Property managers have been very proactive in providing links to great stress reduction strategies, meditation apps, virtual yoga classes and teletherapy resources, as well as healthy parenting, mental health and suicide prevention organizations and resources.

16. That time you made surprises a good thing for residents.

Some operators are getting super creative with finding ways to delight residents with special treats delivered right to their doorsteps. We loved finding images on social media of on-site staff (outfitted with PPE, of course) wheeling a “treat cart” around, dropping candies, snacks and other fun stuff at residents’ door. Kudos, too, to the company that delivered mimosas on Easter Sunday in a similar fashion.

17. That time virtual hugs became a real thing.

Real hugs are verboten in this era of social distancing, but that’s not stopping apartment firms from sending virtual hugs to their residents as a show of support and appreciation. Some are going so far as creating shareable gifs and mees or starting a virtual hug campaign where residents can make cards for local seniors isolated during this time.