Welcome to your vertical village

By Janette Corcoran

Rolling out the welcome mat is not just for the new arrival.

Engaging new residents from the get-go is widely claimed as a good thing to do, but it is often a hit-and-miss affair in our “vertical villages”. However, the cost of not properly engaging our new arrivals from day one (or even earlier) is a missed opportunity.

In very pragmatic terms, there are several benefits to be had from new arrivals “starting the way we wish them to continue” – and there are (at least) three groups invested in laying this solid foundation.

Firstly, there is the new arrival who is, hopefully, interested in knowing how things are done and what resources and facilities are available to them. Additionally, and while not usually expressed as such, these newbies are also eager to be reassured that they have made the right decision to live in their chosen vertical village. This is an important time for post-purchase reinforcement, meaning that whether an owner-occupier or tenant, they need to be reassured that their decision to live here was a good one.

Secondly, and unsurprisingly, building management is (or should be) deeply invested in ensuring new residents have a good introduction. This is because when building management can help set residents’ expectations and establish desired modes of behaviour (the rubbish goes here), then they avoid having to remedy mistakes and then track down and “re-educate” transgressors.   

Thirdly, but definitely not least, are fellow residents who are greatly invested in ensuring the ongoing liveability of their tower. As the culture of vertical villages varies, so too will the type of interest shown to new arrivals. Some seek to openly engage from the outset for the purpose of visibly strengthening their village’s sense of community. Other villages take a more subtle approach, waiting to see the skills and interests of the new arrival and how best they might contribute to the fabric of the village (e.g. social group or waste committee?).

The next question is what might this vertical village welcome mat look like?

And the answer is that currently there appears to be three components which most vertical villages have to some extent – these are the welcome pack, the induction/orientation and (the less popular) “onboarding”.

Starting with the welcome pack, this is a means of establishing connections with new residents from the very beginning. While vertical villages differ on when a welcome pack is given (e.g. before moving in or on moving day), what is critical is that this pack be viewed through the eyes of the new arrival:

What will be useful to them?

What indicates to them they have made a good decision to move here? and

What will help guide desirable behaviour?

For example, a welcome pack including a recycling bag that has instructions printed on its side (and maybe the building’s logo) is both practical and potentially behaviour shaping (we recycle here!). Also, if your village includes cafes, then some introductory vouchers could be included for a “moving-in” coffee break.

One item I have recently seen is a cigarette butt tin along with a message about high-rise “killer litter”. The key point here is that this is often the first official contact that new arrivals will have with your vertical village. Think about the message being sent – and what message could be sent.

Next there is the induction or orientation which most buildings require new arrivals to undertake. The aim here is to practically connect the new resident with the vertical village, and includes actions such as registration on the various technical and security systems. This is when all the form-filling, the FOB assigning and the acknowledgement of protocols occur. It is a critical time for imparting information and obtaining specific acknowledgements from new residents (shall I mention the cigarette butts off balconies again?).   

There is talk of moving these inductions online where new residents can directly register their details. Already being discussed are short online courses for residents on specific topics like pet care and emergency procedures. For example, residents could be required to view a video describing evacuation protocols and then answer a short survey to check comprehension.   

However, while certain aspects can be digitised, the induction / orientation is a key event that offers much more than “getting residents on the system”. It connects them with the building (and specifically building management) and sets the foundation for interactions into the future.

This is the time where messages can be delivered in ways tailored to the new residents and queries answered that perhaps might not be asked through an online form. This is not to say that augmented reality (for instance) could not be used to supplement – and perhaps in the future a “Virtual James” might be on call to provide greater detail in specific contexts!

The final and least popular element is onboarding which refers to a longer term and more relationship focused set of activities. Taking a leaf from the corporate handbook, onboarding seeks to embed new arrivals into the fold, aligning them with the village culture.  The aim is to both promote their participation and to ascertain how these new arrivals might best “fit” and contribute (i.e. what skills might these newbies have?).

This is where fellow residents take the lead and the process can be started in various ways – invitations to walking groups, personal notifications, etc. Already there is talk about how this can be done more formally with suggestions that a “building-buddy” could be offered to new arrivals (especially internationals) and/or possibly a floor-based contact – though with 40 or 50 floors, co-ordination might prove challenging!

Welcoming new arrivals to our vertical villages is important and needs to be carefully crafted so as to empower new residents and connect them to the community – and also the community to them.

And if you are interested in seeing where to start, then you might consider surveying your building’s last 10 new arrivals and seeing what they have to say about your vertical village’s “welcome wagon”.

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