Preparing a Holiday Planning Checklist for Your Residential Community
1. Budget for the HolidaysThe first thing to incorporate into your holiday planning checklist is a holiday line item in your annual budget. Holidays can be expensive. Consider how much you may need for holiday parties, new decorations, and other seasonal items. Your residents will appreciate not having an extra expense each time there's a special event.
2. Plan to DecorateDecorating for the holidays is an undertaking that takes careful planning and preparation. Even if you plan on using last year’s decorations, ensure they are up to date with modern trends! According to Lee Newman, general manager at FirstService Residential, “even if you are using the same decorations as last year, you will still need to think ahead in several key areas. Taking just five minutes can save hours later down the road if something doesn’t work out.”
3. Secure your ContractorsIf you need to hire a contractor to put up lights and decorations during the winter holidays, it is recommended that you start taking bids in July or August. “These vendors get booked up, so you want to ensure you are on their schedule by September,” says Newman. If you wait, you just may be left out in the cold.
4. Check Your Holiday LightsWhen you’re ready to install your holiday lights around your community, make sure they work by plugging them in advance. Save yourself time and money on installation costs by testing ahead of schedule. “We test our lights well before it’s time for installation,” says Newman.
5. Prepare to Replace DecorationsThere usually comes a time in the life of most decorations when they need to be replaced. Look over yours to make sure they don’t look old and worn out. An ideal time to do this is when this year’s holiday season is over and you are taking everything down. Not only will you save time by not packing up and storing decorations you won’t want to use next year, but you’ll also get the best deals on new ones right after the season ends.
6. Reduce Your LiabilityYou might think decorating for the holidays is a time to get creative and have fun, but it’s essential to be mindful of safety precautions. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are approximately 15,000 decorating injuries every year that require a visit to the emergency room. Anyone who might be at additional risk while decorating—from your housekeeping staff to your decorating committee members—should be covered by your liability insurance. Verify with your insurance carrier that you have proper coverage before anyone starts climbing on ladders.
7. Brace for PackagesEvery community gets inundated with packages during the holiday season, so you should be proactive about handling the influx. If you don’t already have one, you should create a standard operating procedure (SOP) in writing that your management team and staff can apply each year. This will prevent last-minute scrambling and ensure that every new employee knows what to do. Depending on the size of your community and the number of onsite staff members you have, here are some of Newman’s other recommendations:
Organize packages in a way that makes sense, especially when you receive a large number of them daily. For example, if your property is a high-rise building, you may want to categorize packages by floor.
Create additional storage space during the holidays, especially if your usual space cannot handle many oversized packages. One possibility is to use the area where you store your holiday decorations since it will be empty at this time of year.
If space is at a premium, you may want to have residents preauthorize automatic delivery to their door (if this is practical for your staff size). In a building with 24-hour coverage, you could have your night staff deliver packages during the quieter hours.
Inform residents that they must pick up packages within a specific timeframe, or the parcel will be returned. This is probably best left as a last resort and applied only if you are having an issue with residents not picking up packages for long periods.
Organizing packages in a way that makes sense is especially crucial when you are receiving a large number of them every day. For example, if your property is a high-rise building, you may want to categorize packages by floor.
Creating an additional storage space during the holidays, especially if your usual space cannot handle too many oversized packages, is also a good idea. One possibility is to use the area where you store your holiday decorations since it will be empty at this time of year. Newman points out that he has even used a bike room because it provided enough space and could be locked up. “Every community has some sort of space it can transform short term,” he says. “You just have to be creative and adapt to your space.”
If space is really at a premium, you may want to have residents preauthorize automatic delivery to their door (if this is practical for your staff size). In a building with 24-hour coverage, you could have your night staff deliver packages during the quieter hours.
Another alternative is to inform residents that they must pick up packages within a certain timeframe or the package will be returned. This is probably best left as a last resort and applied only if you are having an issue with residents not picking up packages for long periods of time.
In smaller communities, package notifications may not require much more than putting a notice on residents’ doors or in their mailboxes most of the year. However, it can become unruly during the holiday season when people receive numerous gifts from relatives and friends.
An electronic alert system can make it easier for your staff to quickly notify residents when they have received a package. This also allows residents to know right away when a package has arrived. A good property management company should be able to provide you with value-added software that—among other things—offers email or text notifications. Such a system could also send follow-up notices if a resident has not picked up a package.
Too often, packages go missing when there is a lot to deliver. One common mistake Newman sees is the tendency for community staff to sign off on an entire delivery as one unit. “When you get many packages at a time from UPS or Fed Ex, the driver is in a hurry and wants the employee to sign off on all the packages at once. Your staff should take the time to check each package and ensure it is logged properly,” says Newman. Having an internal tracking system in place can make this easier and alleviate potential problems.
Newman also recommends including an auditing process as part of your SOP. “Our staff audits packages at every shift,” he explains. They then email or call any resident who has not picked up a package. The property that Newman manages implements FirstService Residential’s proprietary software, FirstService Residential Connect, to track packages, alert residents, and handle package auditing.
8. Thank Your Staff
It’s not always easy for residents to know the proper etiquette for saying “thank you” to staff members. Is it appropriate to tip, and if so, how much? Is a gift a better option? And what about inviting staff to private parties?
Many communities establish a gratuity fund for their staff, which can relieve residents from the discomfort of trying to determine appropriate amounts themselves. The board or the community manager can take responsibility for distributing the fund to staff members according to seniority. You can plan to distribute the gratuities during a pizza party or other holiday event, along with a card signed by all the contributors.
9. Enhance Security
With more guests coming and going during the holidays, you’ll want to be extra diligent about your security and safety procedures. Ensure guests sign in and complete any necessary paperwork for extended-stay guests. This allows the staff to give them entry to the building or the floor if the resident is not with them. Remind residents that they are responsible for the actions of their guests and ask them to inform their guests of your association’s rules and regulations.
Since your staff will see more unfamiliar faces, check that video and other security equipment are functioning correctly. Your board should also review policies regarding parties and whether residents will use your clubhouse or other amenities for holiday gatherings. Require residents to hire additional security if they plan to hold a large gathering in any common area.
10. Plan the Holiday Party
Last but not least on your holiday planning checklist is the annual holiday party. Associations often throw holiday parties, and the community manager will attend as a host for the event. It’s typically recommended to avoid inviting other staff members to keep things on a professional level. It’s also not recommended for staff members to accept invitations to private holiday parties hosted by a resident.
We all know the joys of celebrating our communities during this time. But with so many things happening at once, it can be difficult to keep up! That’s where an experienced company like FirstService Residential comes in handy. Contact our team to find out how we can help keep your community on track this holiday season or learn more about value-added services like FirstService Residential Connect.