In this edition of our Spotlight on Housing series: 2020 In Review, we spoke to the enigmatic Boris Worrall – Group Chief Executive at Rooftop – about the changing needs and expectations of their residents, and what this means for the future.
Please could you give a brief introduction to yourself and Rooftop?
“I was a journalist for several years, before working in criminal justice and then as Head of Comms at a Housing Association. Over time, my career took a more strategic focus and this paved the way for a role at Orbit, as Director of Strategy. During several years with Orbit I developed and honed my leadership experience and in 2017 I took the leap to lead Rooftop as group CEO.
“Rooftop was already a high performing and efficient organisation, but it was in need of both infrastructure and operational modernisation.
“Externally, my focus has been to drive our five-year strategy to increase the number of homes we deliver, 1,000 by 2023. We’ve increased output from around 130-140 a year to 180-200, although the pandemic has obviously reduced output this year.”
How has the pressure of the pandemic changed the way you communicate with and serve your residents?
“We have experienced much more interaction by phone and email, but we’ve also implemented new digital communication tools. A really powerful example of that is, supporting victims of domestic abuse via Microsoft Teams. As a result, we’ve been able to reach many more people, and are finding that some clients actually prefer it this way too. Aside from the travel time saved, the sense of being behind a computer rather than in a room with other people, has also proved beneficial for some.
“this year is about evolution rather than revolution; finding out what works best for customers and colleagues.”
“We’ve also changed how we allocate and let properties and deliver our other core services too. Although some things have worked very well remotely, the fundamentals of housing management haven’t changed, and this year is about evolution rather than revolution; finding out what works best for customers and colleagues. As a place and people based organisation, we will still be visible out on the ‘patch’ retaining a physical and personal presence and will continue with our blended approach of interactions in person, on the phone and digital.”
Related reading: Inside Housing survey reveals where social landlords are in their digital transformation plans
How have customer needs and stakeholder expectations changed this year?
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we spoke to hundreds of vulnerable customers and our CSAT ratings actually increased. In the early months of the lockdown our residents really felt supported and that we were there for them.
“customer expectations have been rising over time, partly because our experience as consumers in the private sector”
“However, when we came out of the first lockdown, we had a backlog of non-emergency repairs and we are still working through these. We have seen a corresponding drop in customer satisfaction as people are now having to wait longer for repairs.
“More broadly, customer expectations have been rising over time, partly because our experience as consumers in the private sector is generally one of a trend of quicker, better, more responsive service. It’s a real challenge to deliver the equivalent service experience to 6,000 or 7,000 individual homes, which are all unique in some way.
“I think there is a real challenge for housing associations to embrace the sentiment of points made in things like the Housing White Paper. We need to get a really clear focus on improving customer service, and particularly ownership and responsiveness on complaints handling.”
Related reading: How Futures Housing Group are using digital to maximise person-to-person support for residents
What unanticipated achievements have come about as a result of this year?
“Well, we already had flexible and remote working arrangements in place, so we were able to become fully mobile within 72 hours prior to the lockdown. This taught us about our capability to adapt quickly and effectively.
“Remote working brought with it several benefits, such as improvement to our ‘meeting management’. Meetings now start and end on time and are generally a bit more focussed. Office running costs are down and we’ve even reported less employee sickness as people have felt the benefit of being at home and more flexible in how they manage their day.
“the case for ‘the office is dead’ is overstated and premature”
“On a different note, we haven’t been able to go to conferences this year, and they are really useful particularly in terms of networking, learning and immersing oneself in the sector. But travel is expensive and that has been swept away, and I do wonder if we ever got the value we quite thought.
“All said however, the case for ‘the office is dead’ is overstated and premature – I don’t think that is right for us. People miss the social interaction and the informal conversations which matter as a business.”
What does this mean for 2021 and the future beyond that?
“The end of furlough and potential economic ramifications of Brexit may mean many more of our customers could face economic and social hardship and they’ll need our support.
“We will do all we can to help those communities to build a recovery out of the economic shock. It will be challenging, but at the end of the day that is in our DNA and social purpose is what we are all about. We have the resources and the skills to make that difference.
“From an organisational point of view, we’ll adopt a more fluid and flexible approach to working and ultimately, we will be a more employee friendly organisation.”
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