Hurricane Katrina – A Look Back at Disaster Preparedness

August 28th, 2015

Hurricane Katrina from space On September 16, 2004 Hurricane Ivan made landfall along the coasts of Alabama and Florida. Prior to the storms’ arrival, mandatory evacuation orders were issued all along the Gulf Coast due to Ivan’s unpredictable path. These evacuations caused widespread panic and Preferred Corporate Housing, a national provider of furnished apartment solutions, began receiving higher-than-normal inbound calls at its Headquarters in Houston, Texas. “People were desperately requesting apartments as far away from the coast as they could get in the short amount of time they had,” recalls Megan Margetusakis, PCH Director of Operations. “Our existing corporate clients were calling in to find solutions for their displaced employees along with all of the people who happened upon our information on the web. We were one of the only national furnished apartment providers at the time, and I remember it being extremely chaotic trying to fulfill everyone’s requests.”

Preferred Corporate Housing eventually housed hundreds of people along the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Ivan’s destruction, but knew that they had to come up with a better plan for servicing disaster-related situations for the future. “We knew we had create a specific planning and response process for any future disaster-related situations that might occur,” said Jon Lanclos, Founder of PCH. “When a Hurricane is on its way, its too late to start trying to create a plan, and we wanted to be prepared in the future. We also knew that we were at risk for future storms and we need to be prepared as well. That’s how we came up with the Preferred Placement Program®

This unique disaster preparedness plan allowed us to track the anticipated path of a potential storm, compile an instantaneous list of all existing clients located near the path of the storm, and simultaneously source all viable furnished apartment solutions outside of the storm’s path to offer to anyone who may be evacuating prior or displaced. Using our proprietary database platform, we were able to incorporate automatic alerts, employee phone trees, mobile office solutions and other critical disaster recovery elements that would allow us to be a resource for any company effected by a disaster, no matter where it occurred.

The remainder of 2004 along with the beginning of the 2005 hurricane season, which began with Hurricane Dennis hitting the Florida coast in July, gave Preferred Corporate Housing several opportunities to test and perfect each element of our newly formed Preferred Placement Program®. “Although there were some kinks, I was proud of the plan we had created and our ability to service our clients who were displaced after Hurricane Dennis. If we had not taken the time following Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis to perfect our systems and plans, we would not have been ready for what came next,” said Lanclos.

new orleans post KatrinaOn Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans. Preferred Corporate Housing had enabled the beginning phases of its Preferred Placement Plan® the week prior and was already operating its “Ready Room,” to prepare for another influx of calls once the storm passed. “It was pretty close to business-as-usual at the beginning of the week,” said Margetusakis. “Although we were receiving a higher call volume and were responding to more housing requests, we were following the plan we had in place and things were going as smoothly as could be expected. As news reports of the failed levees and floodwaters started surfacing, we watched, along with the rest of the world, in horror as people were stranded in their flooded homes and at the Superdome without food or water.”

“As we learned of the levee breaches and widespread devastation, we expanded our search radius to incorporate more cities away from the devastated regions. We knew that we would need more available housing than originally planned, said Lanclos. “With our past storm-response experience and our allocated resources, we had quickly developed a reputation with our clients and apartment community partners of being a go-to resource for furnished apartment solutions following a disaster.”

PCH received a call from an American Express Travel Agent on August 31, around 5:15pm. “Normally we would have been shutting down for the day,” explains Samantha Elliott, President of Preferred Corporate Housing, “but we were all still busy helping people find housing that we had extended our office hours for the week.” The caller explained that she was representing a major energy company who’s Louisiana office was currently underwater in New Orleans and who was looking to relocate its entire team and operations away from New Orleans as quickly as possible. The caller had been turned away by three other national corporate housing providers who explained that they had already reached their inventory capacity and could not accommodate a group of this size.

The company was Dominion Exploration and Production, one of the largest providers of electricity, natural gas and related services at the time. Dominion Exploration’s Louisiana office, Dominion Tower, was located directly across from the Superdome, and was the central office for more than 325 employees who were displaced from their homes following Katrina’s devastation.

astrodomePreferred Corporate Housing was up to the challenge. It was decided that Houston, TX was the best location with enough housing solutions for all 325 employees and their families. Utilizing the designed Preferred Placement Plan®, Preferred Corporate Housing’s team was able to source and furnished all 325 apartments at 21 different apartment communities in the Houston area.  Dominion evacuated the families and brought them to Houston where they arrived to fully furnished, fully equipped apartments. For many, it was the first time they were able to sleep in an actual bed, prepare a meal, and even shower since the storm hit.

“It was the proudest moment for me,” said Elliott. “We saw the living conditions these people were coming from, and for my team to be able to provide a safe, comfortable place for these families while they began the rebuilding process was an accomplishment that I will never forget.” These Dominion employees and their families were home in the PCH furnished apartments for the next 6 months. Although approximately 200 families returned back to New Orleans in early 2006, around 140 employees became permanent Houston residents and did not wish to return.

Its been ten years since Hurricane Katrina caused more than $108 billion dollars in damage, more than 1,300 deaths and displaced more than 400,000 people from the Gulf Coast region. “Looking back, there isn’t much I would do differently,” recalls Lanclos. “We had a plan in place ahead of the storm, and though we could never have predicted the amount of devastation, we were able to provide immediate solutions when others could not.”

“We still use the same Preferred Placement Plan® today,” says Margetusakis. “We’ve improved it as technology and resources have changed, but the shell of the plan is the same.”

“Hurricane Katrina taught us so much about our company – our strengths, our culture, our capabilities,” said Elliott. “I am so grateful we had the opportunity to help those families, and while I hope no one has to experience that kind of devastation again, I know we’ll be ready to help the next time we get the call.”

To read the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Case Study in its entirety, visit http://www.corporates.com/dom. To learn more about Preferred Corporate Housing’s furnished apartment solutions in more than 42,000 North American locations, or to receive a customized employee housing proposal based on your specific program needs, contact Krista Ripper at (800) 960-0102, krista@corporates.com.

Capture the “Back to School” Mentality

August 24th, 2015

back to schoolWhether you’ve been out of school for three months (congrats, grad!), 30 years or somewhere in between, there’s something about those back-to-school commercials, sales in the department stores and yellow school buses hitting the streets once again that creates an undeniable energy in the air.

While every day is a new chance to begin reaching for new heights, feeding off that back-to-school adrenaline can be a great way to get a running start! Here are three simple ways to apply that back-to-school mentality to your day-to-day.

1. Wipe your slate clean
One of my favorite things about beginning a new school year was the chance to start over; embracing the feeling of “I can be whoever I want to be and accomplish whatever I want to accomplish this year!” If you haven’t felt that feeling since your own school days, allow yourself to get swept up in the excitement and use this month as an opportunity to reignite your passion for your goals. Back-to-school means a “new start.” Forget about the barriers that have held you back from reaching your goals in the past.

2. Reassess your (lesson) plan
My favorite part of a new school year was getting to read through my syllabus for each class and looking ahead to see how much I was slated to accomplish throughout the next year. While I loved the idea of what was to come, I was also overwhelmed at how much work was yet to be done! That’s why teachers use lesson plans; to break the work down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Use this time to do the same with your “plan of attack.” Review your goals and break down the work into smaller, more manageable action items.

3. Expand your horizons
A new school year always brings new opportunities – new skills to master, new clubs to join, new friends to make. Apply this same principle to your day-to-day. Are there new skills you can master that will help make you more successful in your position? Are there networking opportunities that could lead you to new business contacts? Try something new; expand those horizons; never stop learning!

The craziness of summer is dying down. Back-to-school is the perfect time to get back on track with your goals and get re-energized and re-focused. In the words of Brian Herbert, “The capacity to learn is a gift, the ability to learn is a skill, the willingness to learn is a choice.” Feed off the back-to-school energy all around and make the choice to keep learning!

Tenant Screening – A Welcome Requirement?

July 13th, 2015

Background checkThe use of tenant screening, more commonly referred to as “background checks,” is growing in popularity in multi-family apartment leasing. These days just about every landlord and property manager utilize some sort of credit and rental history screening process for the financially-responsible party, but now the integration of background checks for residents is becoming just as commonplace. In the past 24 months, Preferred Corporate Housing has seen a significant increase in the communities which now require specific guest information to be provided so that criminal background checks can be performed on each occupant. While each property management company has it’s own criteria they use to evaluate whether or not they will accept or reject an applicant, PCH is finding that communities are following the guidelines and recommendations from their local civil authorities. With many states and municipalities having passed legislation requiring the tracking of criminal offenders and sexual predators, apartment communities may be required by local law to perform these tenant screenings.

“PCH provided our fully furnished apartments in 49 out of the 50 U.S. states in 2014, and we’ve seen an uptick in background checks/tenant screening processes in every state we serviced,” said Anna Doran, Senior National Account Executive for Preferred Corporate Housing. “This is a welcome trend from our perspective because, even though it may cause a bit more paperwork on the front-end, adding criminal screenings is a way to improve safety across the board for our corporate clients,” said Doran.

Another reason multi-families are adding these types of criminal screenings to their leasing process is in effort to eliminate “negligent leasing.” This is a widely used term in the multi-family rental industry used to describe a rental situation go awry due to lack of due diligence and pre-screening on the part of the community management. Negligent leasing is a real concern today as properties can potentially avoid theft, violence and damages by simply running a criminal history check on guests before accepting them to their property. Fair Housing laws require that if any screening of this nature is performed on one potential resident, it must be applied to all potential residents across the board.

“We prefer to place our corporate clients at communities that require these type of criminal screenings for guests because it adds a bit more peace-of-mind about the neighborhood,” said Megan Margetusakis, Director of Operations for PCH. “Our clients have an expectation of safety when they stay with us, and while we can’t guarantee that crime won’t happen, we can do our due diligence to reduce the risk by placing them in communities with resident screening requirements.”

Although resident screening services can potentially weed out unwanted, potentially dangerous neighbors, many corporate clients have balked at the requirements to provide the personal information needed to complete these screenings for their corporate travelers. This hesitancy is not due to fear that their employees will not pass the screenings, but rather protection of their employees’ personally identifiable information. Drivers License numbers, date of birth, and even social security numbers are often required for these screenings. International travelers may even be asked to provide copies of their passports.

“The most important thing for corporate travel and mobility managers to understand when it comes to resident screening requirements is that we must abide by the community requirements when placing your employees in our furnished apartments,” said Margetusakis. “Because of Fair Housing and other local laws, we do not have the ability waive these requirements on a case by case basis for any guest or employee. What we can offer are secure ways to provide the required personal information that doesn’t violate the company’s PII policy and/or place the employee at risk for PII exposure.” said Margetusakis.

Tenant screening, background checks, criminal history review…they are all here to stay, and it is highly-likely that their inclusion in rental approval processes will continue to gain popularity throughout the country. Corporate Travel and Mobility Managers should be prepared to counsel their employees on this requirement and talk through best-practices and safe methods for providing the necessary personal information for these screenings.

Post-Vacay: How to Get Your Groove Back

July 6th, 2015

back to work

Even if you love your job as much as we love ours, getting back into the groove of things after a vacation can be quite challenging, especially if it was after an extended holiday. From the email backlog to nonstop “catch-up” meetings and events, sometimes your body is present at the office while your mind is still enjoying the sandy beaches and pina coladas! Everyone needs a break now and then to decompress and forget the duties and responsibilities of business, but the key to making the most of your stress-reducing vacation is knowing how to effectively get back in the swing of things after taking time off. Here are a few tips to ensure your return to work is smooth sailing:

1. Check out…but Check-In – A recent Harris poll of 2,071 US workers showed that 6 out of 10 people said checking their emails while on vacation made it easier for them to ease back into work. Staying in touch with the office, even if just to keep a watchful eye from afar, helps relieve that anxious feeling when its time to return.

2. Use that last day of vacation as a “rest and recovery” day – Take the last day off to rebound from your vacation. Relax and enjoy some quiet time. Turn in early and get a good night’s rest. Don’t wait to sleep on the plane or use the last few hours to down the remaining shots of tequila. Use the last day to transition back to the reality version of yourself so you’ll be prepared for the next day to work.

3. Keep your mood upbeat – If you just left the Mexican resort of your dreams, why not listen to the music that reminds you of all the fun you had while you’re on your way in to the office. Throw in a quick cardio workout to get the endorphins flowing and help you rebound from all the guacamole and margaritas. Start your day back to work in a great mood and hold on to it as long as possible.

4. Keep things simple and stick to a game plan – Not all 280 new emails need to be answered within the first hour of your arrival back. Prioritize by importance/urgency and don’t get overwhelmed. Follow up, in detail, with the people who have an immediate demand, and for those who don’t, send a quick email saying you will soon follow up.

5. Reassess your goals – Chances are, that tropical vacation and whatever took you out of your groove is probably still on your mind. Get your mind back to the present by writing out your goals for the upcoming week. Reassess what you want to accomplish now that you’re back in the swing of things, and you may even have a fresh perspective now that you’ve had a chance to clear your head.

Preferred Corporate Housing Launches Partnership with Move for Hunger

June 11th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 3.46.08 PMPreferred Corporate Housing launched its very successful ‘Preferred Charity Helpers’ Program in the Fall of 2013. Through this client-driven initiative, PCH has committed to supporting various local, regional, national and global charities as selected by each of its National Account Program Members. In the past two years, PCH has donated over $200K to organizations like Habitat for Humanity, The Wounded Warrior Project, ASPCA and several other local and regional charities.

PCH is proud to announce its newest ‘Preferred Charity Helpers’ alliance with Move for Hunger, a hunger relief organization that works within the relocation industry to collect non-perishable food items left behind when someone moves, to deliver to food banks all across North America.

Preferred Corporate Housing will be supporting Move for Hunger in several ways, including quarterly monetary donations via the ‘Preferred Charity Helpers’ Program, and by collecting food items left behind when guests move out of one of its nationwide furnished apartments. Once the food items have been collected, Move for Hunger will use its network of partner van line companies to deliver the food to local food bank operations.

“We really fell in love with the concept of Move for Hunger,” said Samantha Elliott, PCH President. “Everyone has non-perishable food items that are a hassle to pack and transport, and most of it winds up in the trash. But by partnering with Move for Hunger and giving our guests a way to donate those items, we know we can help make a big difference to fight hunger within our country.”

PCH is Leading the Way to Orlando for the CHPA National Conference

January 12th, 2015

CHPA OrlandoEach year in February, hundreds of corporate housing professionals gather together at the Corporate Housing Providers Association (CHPA) National Conference to network, discuss hot-button issues effecting our industry, and to learn best practices from industry peers. This year’s conference will be in Orlando, and Preferred Corporate Housing is leading the way!

Michelle Velasquez, PCH’s Director of Client Services, has led the Program Task Force Committee for the past twelve months to conceptualize and arrange all the educational components of this year’s conference. But before the conference officially begins, the 2015 Board of Directors meeting will take place where Samantha Elliott, PCH President, will begin her appointment as the 2015 Executive Board President of CHPA.

Michelle and Samantha have also been asked to lead sessions later in the week. Michelle will share her expertise on supply-chain management, ensuring brand consistency across service locations and industry best practices on quality assurance measures. Samantha will lead one of the conference’s most-popular sessions, the Relocation Industry Panel, where she will act as the facilitator amongst experts from some of the worlds largest relocation management companies.

Preferred Corporate Housing is honored to be participating and leading this event from the country’s only trade organization dedicated to the success and growth of the corporate housing industry, CHPA.

What’s in store for PCH in 2015

January 12th, 2015

20152014 was amazing for PCH, and coming off such a great year, we are committed to keeping the momentum going throughout 2015. In fact, this year has already kicked off with several great things for Preferred Corporate Housing. We have already won our first large group mobilization bid for 2015, a $130k contract with the US Coast Guard that began during the first week of the new year. Our team members have already completed 2 new certification courses and contributed 5 continuing education credit hours towards our goal of 100 per year. And our webinar series on temporary housing trends has already been approved for Certified Relocation Professional (CRP) credit issued by the Worldwide Employee Relocation Council…and we are only 11 days into the new year! We are just getting warmed up!

We have several new program launches in store for 2015 that will allow us to service more clients in more locations, including international destinations, and we are expanding our portfolio of service inclusions for our clients. We are excited about adding our new, unique approach to the exceptional temporary housing services we already offer in more than 42,000 locations, and for the new opportunities these added benefits will bring for PCH and our clients.

So keep your eyes peeled and your ears open because Preferred Corporate Housing has lots in store for 2015, and you won’t want to miss any of it!

Fantasy Football Costing Employers $13.4 Billion

October 1st, 2014

Fantasy FootballIf you haven’t jumped on the fantasy football bandwagon, you may be in the shrinking minority. The NFL estimates that more than 33 million people play fantasy football each year, so the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which helps with company restructuring, downsizing and executive departures, attempted to do the math on how much time is spent, at an employers expense, managing a fantasy football team. Their research yielded an estimated $13.4 billion dollar loss in employee productivity as a result of fantasy football. The article in its entirety is posted below:

Fantasy football could cost businesses $13.4 billion a season by Benjamin Snyder

“The process was straightforward, according to the study: The firm estimated 18.3 million employees play fantasy football on the job for two hours each week and multiplied that by the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s $24.45 hourly wage average. The result: $895 million lost each week.

A spokesman told Fortune that the firm chose two hours because there is no data available on exactly how many hours employees spend on fantasy football. As a base, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association found that people play about nine hours of fantasy sports per week (of that three hours are spent on fantasy football at work and at home). From that, the firm postulated that employees conservatively spend two hours per week researching and reading up on fantasy football in the office.

For a typical 15-week season, that’s $13.4 billion lost total. In other words, there are a lot of unproductive employees.

But a spokesman for the firm underscored to Fortune that the study isn’t meant to be scientific, but rather a “secondary part of the story.” Instead, it’s meant to “acknowledge the impact of fantasy football” and show how the pastime has “grown in popularity” in the U.S.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas’s CEO John A. Challenger doesn’t want to seem like a spoil sport. “We are not trying to demonize fantasy football. It is important to understand that there are more distractions than ever in today’s workplace,” he said in a statement.

He believes the figures mean little for the U.S. economy and GDP. “The $13.4 billion-figure, in fact, represents less than one percent of the $1.5 trillion in wages that will be paid out to workers on private-sector payrolls during that same 15-week period,” said Challenger (that figure hails from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

But the study also suggests that the fantasy sport is a boon for businesses. “Companies that not only allow workers to enjoy fantasy football, but actually encourage it by organizing a company leagues are likely to see significant benefits in morale, which, in turn leads to an overall boost in productivity as well as employee retention,” said Challenger.

Whether the firm’s figures are right, or not, one thing is sure: the fantasy isn’t reserved for just the football. There’s some make-believe economics at hand here, too.

PCH Sponsors Relocation Partner Forum in Beaver Creek, CO

October 1st, 2014

PCH was proud to be invited to attend the 4th Annual MSI Executive Forum in beautiful Beaver Creek, CO earlier this month.

Hosted by the beautiful Ritz-Carlton, Bachelors Gulch Resort, the annual MSI event brought together the most respected minds in global mobility to explore the latest trends and key topics impacting talent management as it relates to employee mobility. With more than 300 supplier partners and corporate HR managers in attendance, PCH was proud to sponsor such an amazing event.

The education portion of the forum kicked off with opening remarks by Tim Runnion, CEO of MSI Global Business Solutions. He placed emphasis on the importance of adaptation and flexibility in order to remain successful. He was followed by keynote speaker, Jared Cohen, who spoke about how technology is changing the landscape of the world. His fascinating take was the perfect intro to an amazing day of networking and education.

“MSI was a great host,” said Samantha Elliott, President of PCH. “They created a great event in a great location, and we were excited to be a part of it!”

The education and networking opportunities hosted by MSI provided additional insight about their core values, hot topics and forward outlook. PCH team members also earned 10 additional continuing education credits, bringing their 2014 total to 117.MSI Photo 2

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Don’t Fall Prey to the Summer Productivity Slump

July 21st, 2014

summer slackingAccording to a survey done by the Captivate Network, workplace productivity tumbles about 20% in the summertime. Of the 600 workers surveyed throughout various industries, most of us feel distracted, we take longer to complete projects, go on longer lunch breaks, and even have a drop in workplace attendance. You may be less productive because you’re distracted by summer activities or the fact that business has slowed. Maybe your managers and colleagues are on vacation so your normal hustle and bustle office environment is quieter than normal. Whatever the reason, Here are 5 things you can do to boost your productivity at work this summer.

Adjust the thermostat
I know it sounds silly, but research has proven that if the temperature inside your office is too high or too low, your productivity can suffer. Citing research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, it states the optimal office temperature is between 70 and 72 degrees (Fahrenheit). For every degree over 77 degrees, productivity drops by 2%, and below 68%, error rates increase dramatically. They also found that 10% of employees also waste time arguing over the office temperature, so if everyone could just agree on 70 to 72 degrees, we would all be more productive.

If there’s no work, find some
If you’re not productive simply because things around the office are slow, use this time to get a jump start on upcoming projects or new initiatives that might take more time to launch. The longer you wait for things to pick back up, the longer it will take for things to pick back up.

Switch up your routine, or the scenery
If work is starting to feel a little stale, you may be able to kick-start simply by changing your routine or environment. Try getting outside more during the workday. Go for a walk or have meetings outside. Or if you tend to do the same things at work in a set order, consider switching things up. The summer is a great time to start a new task and challenge yourself.

Don’t fall prey to lowering your output
Managers most-likely won’t accept poor performance because it’s a slower time of year. As long as your are getting your paycheck, your boss is assuming you are working to the best of your ability, regardless if others are vacationing at the beach.

Don’t think showing up equates to productivity
Just keep in mind that achievements trump hours spent. Just because you are in the office for the required eight hours doesn’t mean you’ve done your job. The summer is not a ticket for slacking off, so don’t do it!