I’ve seen and learned a lot in my 30-plus years in self-storage, but the coronavirus has been like no other experience. Not only have we had to alter how we function in our day-to-day operation, but unfortunately for me, I’ve known several people who’ve contracted the virus, with varying degrees of severity. Some have barely registered as ill, while others have been very sick. There have even been a few deaths in my world. All of our self-storage sites have taken COVID-19 very seriously since day one, but we still ended up with infected employees.
The first team member to fall ill was a site manager, who then spread it to other employees. This person believes she got it from an elderly parent. Two staff members went out quickly with fevers and coughs, feeling terrible. Both improved after a week but couldn’t get a negative test reading for a few weeks. They both found it harder to get tested the second time, and results were taking up to 10 days. They were out of work for more than a month.
We’re not sure how it spread so fast among our group considering we had followed all the recommended protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’ve been practicing social distancing, wearing masks and cleaning. (Unless, of course, they weren’t following proper procedures when no one was looking.) We have Plexiglass on our counters and in our windows as well as hand sanitizer by the gallon. We also have a spray cleaner like hospitals use to disinfect our doors, keypads, etc. We’ve been taking staff temperatures onsite. Fortunately, the office was closed to the public when staff became infected, so no tenants were actively exposed.
When the site manager got sick, we let her work from home as much as possible, so that when her paid time off and extra 80 hours of COVID pay were up, she’d still have some income. Let me tell you, it’s tough running a property when half the staff is out! To keep communication clear, we’ve used email, phone and texting.
Communicating with customers has also been a priority, and we’ve deployed similar methods there. We have our software set up to easily email tenants. We also have several postings throughout our properties and websites detailing how we’re operating during the pandemic.
Looking back, I don’t think there’s anything we could have done differently. As an employer, you ask staff to follow the same safety guidelines during off hours to keep the work environment safe, but how do you really know they’re adhering? So many people have possibly spread the virus by not knowing they were infected.
My advice to fellow self-storage operators is to be as prepared as you can. We tend to think bad things won’t happen to us, but crises can come at any time. Have a backup plan in case you suddenly lose frontline staff. For customers, be easy to do business with by offering as many touchless and online services as possible.
Susan Haviland is the owner of Haviland Storage Services, which specializes in auditing, manager training, market studies and operational reviews. She has more than 32 years of industry experience, from serving as a site manager to acting as vice president of operations at Extra Space Storage Inc. and Price Self Storage. She's a frequent speaker at industry conferences and tradeshows. For more information, call 760.401.0297; visit www.havilandstorageservices.com.