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Transforming Maintenance with AppWork


Join Paul Rhodes and Michelle Wood, VP of Learning and Engagement at Atlantic Pacific Companies, as they discuss AppWork's transformative impact on maintenance operations. Discover how this innovative platform enhances workflows, improves employee productivity, and fosters a culture of recognition through gamification. Learn how AppWork can elevate your property management practices and engage your maintenance teams like never before.

[Paul Rhodes] (0:39 - 1:53) Hello there. Welcome to the Maintenance Mindset. Today, our sponsor is Appwork.

And Appwork is more than maintenance. It's an advanced business intelligence software platform. It provides maintenance workflows and reporting, creating tech leader boards, which provide gamification and friendly competitors competition and recognition.

It also allows a property to focus on the power of productivity using a digital make ready board and work order tracking. It even assists in identifying a technician that needs training or exceeds at a skill and is able to be used as a resource. Check out more at appworkco.

I have the absolute pleasure of being joined today by Michelle Wood. Now, Michelle is the vice president of learning and engagement for Atlantic Pacific companies. And we're put together today just because of Appwork.

And I am so glad that they did, because I've had the opportunity to follow Michelle on LinkedIn. And we've kind of run in a lot of the same circles from a speaking standpoint. So, Michelle, how are you doing?

[Michelle Wood] (1:54 - 2:03) Paul, thanks for inviting me and bringing me here. It's my first podcast. So I'm excited to join you and the Maintenance Mindset.

[Paul Rhodes] (2:04 - 2:26) Wonderful. Well, we're gonna end up talking today about Appwork specifically. But before we get there, could you tell me a little bit about what a learning and engagement vice president does?

I'm familiar with learning and development, but what's the difference? What does a day look like in your world?

[Michelle Wood] (2:27 - 3:59) That's a great question. I think we both work in multifamily. So we're both familiar with wearing many hats.

But in this role, for me, you know, I originally started the Atlantic Pacific marketing and training department many years ago, back in 2010. And there was a short time where I left the company, and they had a director of marketing and a director of training. About two years ago, when they called for this opportunity to rejoin the company and take on the training, I did some deep, deep soul searching.

And through conversations, we talked about what this role would look like. And really, we wanted it to be something that could not only empower our employees or provide learning and professional development, but also from an employee engagement standpoint, where we are able to connect with our employees and have this level of appreciation and execute that seamlessly. So I work closely with our operations and marketing team, to really engage our employees through various efforts.

It could be our appreciation picnics we do annually, our leadership conference. And in May, we actually kick off and lead from my team, the maintenance appreciation month, which is a month long celebration with weekly games that our teams look forward to every year.

[Paul Rhodes] (3:59 - 4:04) That maintenance engagement month, that's an every year activity?

[Michelle Wood] (4:04 - 5:11) Every year, we deploy a calendar. One of our traditions is a pimp my ride maintenance style. So we challenge the office team and maintenance team to work together to come up with some designs.

And it's really been fun. We had some incredible ones from our teams last year. It's very competitive, as you can imagine, people in my family like a healthy competition.

But this year, we're playing bingo, we have a national trivia showdown, where we mix in a little bit of maintenance knowledge and a little bit of company knowledge. Last year, we had, you know, a new employee probably a month in, take home the gold for our national trivia. So he kind of came in and flexed his muscles.

So it's a lot of fun. And in between the games, we empower our teams on site to shower the maintenance team with surprise and delight moments. That could be ice cream on a hot day or soaking their feet in the pool, whatever they set up.

We encourage it all month long.

[Paul Rhodes] (5:11 - 5:30) That's fantastic. I like the fact that it's more than just a maintenance appreciation day or a maintenance appreciation moment. So many of those that you see on social media, it's just a real quick flash in the pan for our maintenance teams that are out there all day.

[Michelle Wood] (5:30 - 6:06) They're carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders and our properties. And so we just felt it was really important to give them more than just a day or a week. Yes, it's a heavy lift, but we enjoy it.

And we look at it as an opportunity to say, hey, we appreciate you all year long. But here's some love for the month of May. We know it's going to get tough.

Summer's coming. AC season. Let's go into it with a positive mindset.

And it's just been really great. We've been doing it now for five or six years. So it's pretty much part of our culture.

That's fantastic.

[Paul Rhodes] (6:06 - 6:35) So many management companies, they take the learning part or the training section of employee development does end up falling into that marketing side. What was the genesis or what was the biggest benefit you found to separate out employee development from marketing?

[Michelle Wood] (6:35 - 8:05) Well, Paul, you know, early on in multifamily back in 2010, 11, 12, you know, the Internet, those things were changing the game. So you could do both. But I think really to give your team members the support and the professional development opportunities that you need now with technology, the separating of the two really made the most sense for us because then you have two high level thinkers thinking about different projects.

And, you know, I spent a lot of my last half of my career as a director and VP of marketing. And so when I took this role as VP of learning and engagement, everybody thought and asked, you know, do you miss marketing? And to your point, there's a lot of there's a lot of crossover.

And really, I am still marketing, but I'm marketing to our internal customer. And so I get to do a lot of those great creative campaigns that marketers love. And I shouldn't be sharing this because now all the marketers might start making a move for roles like mine.

It's going to make it a little tougher to find jobs. But it's really the best of both worlds because I do still get to be creative. But I also get to empower our internal team members.

And the joy that that gives me is far greater than any algorithm Google ever gave me.

[Paul Rhodes] (8:07 - 8:45) And at the end of the day, there is a large piece of marketing that goes into training and development. You have to ensure if you're going to have students in the room, then you've got to effectively get the message about where the room is located, when the room is going to be available, what's going to happen, what you need to do to prepare to get there, and do it in a way that not only your student is aware of it on property, but also the rest of the employees on the property so that they your student can actually focus on what they're learning.

[Michelle Wood] (8:46 - 9:36) And that's absolutely correct. And the other piece of it is, you know, being a critical part of the learning and engagement, you know, that's also culture. And so culture is also a piece of marketing because it's who we are.

And so if we want to attract new talent, they need to be able to see what we're doing and who we're doing it with and how we are as an organization. And I think, you know, that that weighs heavily on the operations, the marketing and the learning and engagement team. So we, we really focus on creating these experiences, because we want it to be a great place to work.

But at the same time, we also need to be able to have the mindset to say, how are we going to attract new talent, especially maintenance right now, as we're all dealing with, you know, the shortages.

[Paul Rhodes] (9:37 - 10:28) And so having that thought process, it really has given me a unique perspective, which is is good to be able to leverage those unique perspectives in not only decision making, to change a path or to change a direction, but also in deployment of the decision as it's made, you know, making the decision to change in some way that is, it's not even the starting point. The that's before you make the decision, and then you actually have to do it. And when you decide to do something big, that's, that is where the real work begins.

And I could definitely see how having a marketing background and multiple disciplines, disciplines that are all related could go into making that a success.

[Michelle Wood] (10:29 - 11:27) As a matter of fact, it's a good point that you're bringing up, because it gave me we were, you know, we talked about, we're talking about app work today. And that was something, you know, originally, like many, I started in operations. And so I really have that unique perspective.

And I remember thinking when the operations team now came and said, Okay, we're gonna roll out this new maintenance tool, aren't you excited? And, you know, that my my training, my learning and development brain is starting, okay, we got to talk about this training, we got to figure this out. You know, I look up the tool, and I'm like, wow, they've got some great marketing, like, okay, it looks good.

But the I guess the cynic in me or the, I was like, Oh, here we go. Another great marketing campaign on a product that I'm gonna have to train. And ops is rolling forward.

And I wish they would have talked to me first.

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[Michelle Wood] (12:45 - 13:00) Then the first meeting with the app work team, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't just another great marketing tool or marketing campaign that the the tool may actually be and operate the way that they say it does.

[Paul Rhodes] (13:01 - 13:24) So it actually delivered on the promise of gamification is is the biggest topic or the biggest promotional piece that that I see from a sponsor reading standpoint. How is that delivering?

[Michelle Wood] (13:25 - 16:29) So I think that that is a from a facilitation and learning standpoint, I love anything that can be gamified, especially for our maintenance teams and multifamily. We are so, so competitive. I mean, you tell me there's a field day at the local association and I'm the first one in line to, you know, grab the baton.

So when we heard gamification with app work, we thought, what does this really mean? Are our guys going to get excited? They have created these great little badges that our maintenance teams can earn and we customize them to what we thought, you know, we wanted our teams to achieve and it's becoming an evolution of you know, what it needs to be.

But it's funny that you asked about that because while we were rolling it out, so we did it in phases. We started with one pilot property and then we tested a market and then we expanded to other markets. And I took we have a regional maintenance supervisor in Florida that was a great help.

His property was one of his properties was our pilot and then his market was our our second pilot. And so when it came to rolling it out across the country, I asked if I could take him on the road with me, just for moral support, heavy lifting, all the things. And I remember we were driving, we were actually in Atlanta.

And it was about 7.15, 7.30pm. We were driving down the highway, probably in traffic because it was Atlanta. We his phone rang and it was one of his maintenance supervisors. And you know, the old property manager and regional in me like my heart started pounding.

I'm like, Oh, God, fire, flood, blood, what are they calling about? And so I'm driving and he's on the phone. And I'm just waiting and waiting.

I hear him talking and they're, you know, they're catching up. And so every few seconds in my head, I'm like, when is it? When is he going to drop the bomb?

Like, you know, I have a flood on a whole building or you know, and all of a sudden I hear David is his name. I hear David say, I'm not gonna call you guru. And that's not gonna happen.

And I just start laughing. I don't even know what's happening. But I'm, you know, I'm making up a story in my mind.

They hang up and I'm like, so what was wrong? And he said, Oh, nothing. We were just catching up.

But he wanted to call me to tell me that he had earned his maintenance guru badge via app work and that I should now refer to him as guru. Our maintenance teams, our supervisors, they picked it up right away and they are loving it. The fact that he called about 730 at night and gave me heart palpitations to be called guru.

It's a moment I'll never forget. So everybody's kind of finding their flow, but they're really enjoying that piece and the competition, a little friendly competition.

[Paul Rhodes] (16:29 - 16:57) Wow. Is it is that competition? I mean, I can understand the competition on at the property level where you've got a group of texts that they all know each other and you've got that natural ribbing that occurs.

Yeah. Is it happening out of market yet? I'm curious to see like, is Florida calling or are they competing against where you said Atlanta?

Are they actually fighting each other?

[Michelle Wood] (17:00 - 18:30) So there's a couple ways that they're fighting each other. I'm doing air quotes if you're listening. Our regional maintenance supervisors, I have no doubt in my mind that they are calling each other and saying my portfolio got, you know, these badges or the other piece that we haven't even talked about inside Upwork is the review process, which after a work order is completed, the resident receives an email that says, hey, we finished, you know, give us a rating or if you'd like to call us back because it's not actually working. And so we're getting a ton more feedback than we were with our survey program because it's right there.

It's quick. And they're opening that email because it has to do with their home. And so they're also, air quotes again, fighting over how many five star reviews their team members are getting, which is really incredible to see because really maintenance are the unsung heroes.

And so they're really loving the instant feedback. And listen, sure, we've gotten a couple 1, 2, 3 stars, but we see that more as an opportunity to get ahead of something that a resident's not happy about. In some cases, it's a miscommunication.

They got an email alert, and they thought we weren't coming back. But really, we just assigned it to needing parts or something. So some of it's education.

But listen, the feedback and the actionable items are incredible.

[Paul Rhodes] (18:31 - 19:55) I really like, we got the opportunity to view a demo and to play around in the environment and a test environment a little. And the one thing that stood out to me is something that you actually highlighted of the way it's set up. It gives you an opportunity in a non-confrontational way to provide, for lack of a better term, failure insight.

In other words, you know as well as I do, the only way I know I need to improve is when I fail at something. And there are times it's standing up on a stage, you get finished, you get off the stage, and you thought that the training you gave, the session you just taught, or the lesson you just gave was brilliant, knocked it out of the park, you're wonderful, time to go, pop a cork, you know, all of that celebration. And then you've got that one student that comes up to you and says, I didn't quite understand this piece of it.

Right. And your entire celebration goes out the window. And from a maintenance standpoint, that's one of the challenging pieces of data for us to get is that, for lack of a better term, failure feedback in a non-ego crushing way.

[Michelle Wood] (19:56 - 20:30) I couldn't agree more with you. Like they are, we're able to see the reporting from AppWork. We've never had this visibility before, which is one of the things that drew us to them.

So we can see we have a report about the reviews. You can see it's, everything is very simple. The report is very easy to understand.

You know, there's software, there's property management software out there where they have a whole help guide just to understand a report. And we don't, we've never had this visibility.

[Paul Rhodes] (20:31 - 20:46) Yeah, but wait, if it's simple, it can't be good. We need this to be overly complex to have a instruction manual on the help button that tells you how to read a simple report.

[Michelle Wood] (20:46 - 24:42) Where so that is, it's been true my entire career. But I'll tell you this, we had during rollout, and I want to talk about the report. So I don't want to forget that.

But during rollout, the app is so easy to figure out that we were trying to bring our technicians during training into the, the sandbox, the test environment to walk them through how to do things. And several of them found themselves into the live environment and completing work orders before we even trained them, because it was that easy to get in and that intuitive of a tool. So I don't get paid for this.

This has been my experience. And I, for those who know me in the industry, I don't get behind a lot or I don't, not that I don't get behind a lot. But I don't talk openly about a lot because my experience is usually my experience.

And then I'll talk to somebody else that their experience is not the same. And so I just haven't had that experience with app work, where I was willing to say, this is something that is just incredible. Because anytime there's been something that we've wanted to see it do that it wasn't doing.

Sean or Christine or the team at app work, they have these little notebooks and they like write it down. And then like a day or two later, they're like, hey, we implemented that. Here's what it looks like in the live environment.

What do you think? And we're like, do we have to pay you some more money? And they're like, no, we, it was a good, it was a good idea.

So we're going to implement it. It's really like, that is truly been the coolest part of the product is because even as a marketer, even as a learning and development facilitator, and as an operator, there's never been a time in my career where I gave feedback about a product, and I wasn't met with, let me talk to the developers that the or we'll see about it. And it never happened or no follow up.

And that hasn't been the experience here. It's literally been within a day or two, there was one thing that took a week, and I think I gave them a hard time, which I'm really good at. It's one of my favorite hobbies is giving people a hard time.

So I can't say enough great things about how quickly and receptive things are. But to talk about the report, just to, to clarify the simplicity of the reporting, we're able to use the reporting to say, Okay, Paul's our technician, and Paul works at this community, he's completed 100 work orders, he has closed, or he's, he's been assigned 100 work orders, he's closed 35 of them, and he's had 10 callbacks. We can go so far as to say, What were these callbacks?

And so we dig into the callbacks and say, Oh, they're all plumbing related. Well, maybe Paul needs some additional training specifically on plumbing. Or maybe we have enough team members at that property where Paul does so well at HVAC that he no longer does plumbing.

And you can set the skills in app work that each technician has. And you can only allow them to be assigned work orders that are actually in their skill set. So if they have plumbing, that's not a skill set, they'll never be able to be assigned a plumbing work order.

So it's really cool. I mean, we're not using all of those features to their full potential just yet. Because, you know, it's, it's a new product, we want to make sure everybody's using it and feels comfortable.

But there's some really cool stuff that can be done from a training and learning standpoint. And the visibility, like I said, is like nothing we've ever had before.

[Paul Rhodes] (24:43 - 25:40) Wow. So if a management company is looking to change from a large piece of processing, which, I mean, the background information, taking a company from an older system or a different system, and completely re-engineering the environment around how the job of maintenance is done, what sort of a timeline, and based on your experience, what sort of a timeline can a management company expect to see if they're going to go about making the decision once they did make that decision? What kind of a timeline are you looking at?

Are we talking a matter of weeks, months, or quarters or years? What, what sort of a timeline does that look like?

[Michelle Wood] (25:41 - 27:27) You know, I think it depends on company size and resources. I have a small but mighty team. We're 3 people.

But we, you know, we, we launched it within, across our portfolio, which is made up of about 18,000 units. I would say we have about 15,000 on. So we, we own and operate and develop both market rate and affordable housing.

And so our market rate teams are the only ones using it at this time, simply for, you know, budgeting purposes and all the things that go into the operational pieces. But we launched it successfully at just over 45 properties within, within the month, and that included in-person training, maybe a month and a half. But the tool is, the integrations are pretty seamless.

Our systems team worked closely with the app work team. And really, it's, you know, we use our property management software, our residents can still put their service requests in through their resident portal. So there's not a new portal for them.

Really, we didn't even alert our residents, and some may disagree with us, but we didn't tell them we were launching a new tool. They just, they actually noticed by the increased communication they were getting. And so our onsite teams reported back to us that the residents' experience was a pleasant one, because they were complimenting and commenting on how much communication they were now getting on their service requests.

So very, very simple timeline, as far as rolling it out. There's some software changes in the background. And our systems team might say, well, it wasn't that simple.

I don't know anything about that.

[Paul Rhodes] (27:30 - 27:34) From our viewpoint, a switch is flipped. That's it. Everything works.

[Michelle Wood] (27:36 - 27:41) Exactly. They cross their arms and bow their head and everything was on.

[Paul Rhodes] (27:41 - 27:42) With the magic wand.

[Michelle Wood] (27:42 - 29:14) Yeah. But from a training standpoint, really, the AppWare team has been so supportive. So the timeline was super simple.

We scheduled some training. In fact, I scheduled a team-building leadership training for our maintenance supervisors and property managers in the morning. We took a break for lunch.

And then in the afternoon, we basically, you know, brought all of our maintenance team members. So we brought our maintenance supervisors and their technicians in with the property managers. We trained them on the technician app, we dismissed the technicians, and then we kept the supervisors and property managers and moved into the dashboard and the make ready board.

So it, it can be done. We never brought our the rest of the office team together. In person, we allowed the property managers to train them because it is that simple.

We did host some follow up, you know, check in calls to flush out any, any issues, you know, like any tool you're going to have, I can't log in, I forgot my password, or this stupid app from the people who prefer paper, this stupid app isn't working. And it's like, let's talk about it. And it's, you know, they didn't download the app, they were trying to go to the internet or, you know, something along those lines.

So never was there anything that was a big sticking point. And I've been through some, some software transition, some new tool launches in my career. Best one yet, I'd say, and that's, that says a lot.

[Paul Rhodes] (29:15 - 29:44) Chris Boundsallah In this case, is there any lessons in hindsight that you learned from this rollout process? I think you said you did it in like a month. If I if I followed the timeline correctly, from no property, or maybe just a pilot property using it to full deployment.

If I understand right, you you did it in a month, I'm assuming you got a lot of frequent flyer miles.

[Michelle Wood] (29:45 - 32:46) That's right, I did. So we launched Florida in February, that was our test market. And then once we ironed out, you know, the logistics, the policy, the procedure, we launched Georgia in February 28.

And Texas in March. So yeah, it was basically a 30, maybe 45 days, if you count the pilot, I would say lessons learned if I'm wearing my operator hat, which I tend to lean into at times, I wish we would have would have done it sooner. I think we had property managers in the class, after training, say like, I want to go complete work orders.

Because the simplicity and the team is great. And at work, they have these wow signs that they ask you to hold up if you're like, wow, this is a really cool feature. And the the biggest wows from our on site teams during the training that I took note of, and there were a lot of them, so I'm going to forget some were the fact that we no longer had paper service requests.

So those are gone. Because when the resident submits, they get a message that their work order has been submitted. When it gets assigned to a technician, they get a they get an email that says it's been assigned with a photo of our technician.

And then when it's been closed, they get an email. And so the increased communication, everybody was so excited about the no more paper work orders. The other piece is the ability to chat in the service request itself.

So the technicians use an app and the office team uses the dashboard. But there's a way to, you know, at at Michelle, and you can send a message that says, you know, the resident just called, if I'm in the office, you can send a message that says, the resident just called, they want to know when you're coming. It's an emergency.

And if you at the maintenance supervisor, he's going to get a text message, click a link, and he's brought to that message. So there's no more of that, like calling 100 times a day and saying, Hey, where are you? What are you doing?

What? And then the other big wow moment from the maintenance teams themselves is the ability from the service request, there is a button where you can call the resident. And they can call, it masks their phone number, that was always the follow up question.

They can't see their phone number, and they can talk to the resident. And the resident can't call that number back. It's just the office phone number.

So that shows up. But that gave the maintenance teams a lot of excitement, because they thought, Okay, now I can communicate with these people who maybe have a preference of somebody being home or a loose dog, or maybe it sounds like the dog is loose, but it's in a cage, you know, you can call and have those conversations. So those were some big wow moments for our teams, aside from not having to pick up paperwork orders.

[Paul Rhodes] (32:47 - 32:58) Wow, that is, that is fantastic. Yeah, where's the wow sign? It sounds like that, that everything you said, sounds like a great wow moment.

[Michelle Wood] (32:58 - 34:31) There's, there's 50 more wows. And I, I get it. I feel like I'm having this moment where I feel a little salesy.

And truly, I'm just a fangirl. They are not paying me. I just I really wish we had it sooner.

You know, we're talking about centralization, we're talking about technology. And I think what sets this product apart is the fact that it was developed by operators. And it was so successful that one of the operators stopped being an operator and does this full time.

And they're receptive, and they're quick. When I was talking to them, you know, because I again, I'm in disbelief. So I'm trying to like fact check them.

And I remember talking to Sean and saying, like, how do you get this stuff done so quick, because I was used to being being sold to in a way where the sales team was like kind of top heavy, where at Upwork, his answer was, you know, we're, we're light on the front end, there's three or four of us. But on the back end, we have developers and app engineers just wait, you know, always fine tuning our product. And so they're a small but mighty company.

But in the back end, where the work really matters is where they have the most heavy lifting happening. And so I think that that's what makes them really unique. But total fangirl.

I can't say enough great things. Well, and that's just about the, we've only tipped the iceberg of what I love about it.

[Paul Rhodes] (34:31 - 34:35) So yeah, you're just you're just starting down the down the pathway.

[Michelle Wood] (34:36 - 34:39) Yeah, yep. It seems a long way to go.

[Paul Rhodes] (34:40 - 35:09) Well, I would like to thank Upwork for for first of all, putting us in contact for for being able to have this conversation and talk a little bit more about Michelle and Atlantic Pacific companies and what you have going on. This has been a fantastic conversation. Is there anything that you have coming up that you would like to talk about with it?

Or what's next for Atlantic Pacific?

[Michelle Wood] (35:09 - 35:43) You know, that's a great question. We're just looking to make our onsite teams lives a little bit simpler, a little bit easier and improve our customer experiences. So we're going to continue working specifically with Upwork because we're using their make ready board and other pieces of their product to improve those processes.

So I'd really I really think that the next few months is going to be you know, just really making life easier for the onsite team members.

[Paul Rhodes] (35:44 - 36:20) That that sounds like the best goal possible and a great place to kind of to kind of close out. So I'd like to thank Upwork for sponsoring our conversation today. And if you happen to be curious about anything that Upwork has going on, what their offerings are, what gamification looks like and reporting and leaderboard and the digital make ready board, check out their demo at

Thanks again, Michelle. It was great to talk to you.

[Michelle Wood] (36:21 - 36:23) Thanks, Paul. Great talking to you.