Change for the Best: 2020 in Review
In this edition of our Spotlight on Housing series: 2020 In Review, we spoke to the eminent Aileen Evans – Group Chief Executive at Grand Union Housing – about how the pressures of 2020 have accelerated their transformation programme and what that means for the future.
Please could you give a brief introduction to yourself and Grand Union?
“I’ve always worked in housing and have thoroughly enjoyed my career in what is such a rewarding and purposeful profession. I feel very lucky to be part of a sector that supports so many people to be well housed and have the best opportunities in life.
“Grand Union has 12,000 homes and a large supported housing arm: we house over 600 adults with learning disabilities, we run four domestic abuse services and a range of other supported housing, particularly for older people and people with dementia.
“I feel very lucky to be part of a sector that supports so many people to be well housed”
“For the last three years we have been on a large transformation journey. I’m very proud of the team who are doing brilliant, fast paced work on that. There is a real buzz about the place!”
How has the pressure of the pandemic changed the way you communicate with and support your residents?
“As part of our digital transformation programme, our ambition is to move 80% of our resident transactions online.
“Our end to end staff onboarding processes are now digital and we’ve also moved our allocations online this year too.
“We still needed to let homes though through the various lockdowns, and we quickly introduced video and a range of other digital tools to enable this. That was an achievement that we are very proud of.
“The only tweak I think we need to make in that area is to add some music to the videos of new homes – they are recorded on our surveyors’ phones and they might be more enticing without being accompanied by the sound of heavy breathing!
“We’ve also got plans to go fully digital with a new repairs platform before the end of the year. That was already on the agenda, but the journey has been accelerated by the pressure of this year.
“Ultimately, that’s been the story for a lot of this year: accelerating elements of the journey we were already on.”
How has this year changed people’s mindset towards technology?
“Just over a year ago, we significantly reduced our office space. As part of that, we did a lot of work around a series of personas amongst our staff and who is likely to be more or less office based.
“As a result, this year, we were able to transition seamlessly to become an entirely remote work force when we needed to be. Of course, for many different reasons, some colleagues want to get back into the office as soon as possible.
“My mindset is that if you want people to use digital then it has to be first rate”
“So, as part of making our office COVID secure, we have reduced desk space by over two thirds. To make that change work for us, we’ve rolled out Condeco, a desk booking system – a benefit of this is we are automatically able to track and trace.
“With regards to our residents, we have a great omni channel platform for managing customer contact and for getting feedback from our customers – we use Rant & Rave for that.
“My mindset is that if you want people to use digital then it has to be first rate – which is what we are aiming to do. As a result, we are seeing more and more people engage with us digitally, whether that’s for online payments or webchat.
“With all of this being said, we still have a great telephone offering and will continue to have that for the foreseeable future! And people who need to see people will still be able to. There are, for example, very few ASB and hoarding cases that can be resolved digitally.”
Post-lockdown, how does this affect your roadmap as we recover from the pandemic?
“We will continue to move forward with our digital transformation programme – at pace– and are just putting the budget in for that now.
“We are particularly keen to incorporate behavioural insight to our residents’ interactions with us. Using nudge theory, we will tailor our responses and interaction with them to their default way of behaving. We’re starting with rent but will introduce it to repairs and then the wider business.”