Managing Keys: Is this your Worst Nightmare?

Imagine the scenario. Your client arrives to collect their keys. You go to the cabinet, and they aren’t there. Who has them? Where are they? Who had them last? At best you look disorganised – at worst you look unprofessional and a risk to your client’s security.

How did this happen?! The answer is quite surprising. Most letting agents don’t consider the release and return of keys as a ‘process’ which needs attention. And… if that process isn’t cared for, it is easy for it to go wrong. However, if it is properly managed, it not only stops you looking like a risk, but also saves the team time and can even impress your clients.

So do YOU have a key management process?

Basically, if you hold keys that you issue to different people throughout the day or week, then yes, you do. But have you ever given any thought to what that process really is? Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of people haven’t.

Whether you’re a letting agent, accommodation manager, facilities manager or receptionist, it can really help to have a clear process for looking after your keys and help make sure that things are done consistently and efficiently.

In this blog, I’ll explain what Key Management is, why it’s important and outline some of the things you might want to think about when designing yours. Don’t worry- it won’t take long to put right!!

What is key management?
Key management is the active process (or, really a set of processes) that businesses use to keep track of their physical keys.

These keys may be owned by the business itself (for example, they may unlock storerooms, lockers, offices, meeting rooms or classrooms) or they might be keys you hold so that you can grant access to the property of others (e.g. in a real estate agency, property management or service companies such as cleaning and security).

Although the way you manage key will probably be unique to your company, the 4 basic processes that you’ll need to take care of are more-or-less the same for everyone. These processes are

  • Taking charge and tagging of keys.
  • Issuing and returning keys.
  • Monitoring key use
  • Archiving

1.Taking charge
When you receive a set of keys for the first time, you usually need a process for capturing the details of that key and making sure that you can find it when you next need it.

If you’re a building manager or concierge, you may only need to do this once while setting up your process as the keys that you manage will rarely change.

If you’re growing a property portfolio of rentals, lettings, or serviced accommodation, then you will likely be taking charge of new keys all the time. The way you do this process might be different, but the things you do will likely be very similar.

  • Note what the key is for, property address, room number, car reg
  • Give the key a reference number. It’s almost always a bad idea to write what the key is for on the keys, so you’ll need a reference number or some other identifier so you can find it again
  • Give it a storage location. This may or may not be included in the reference number that you just gave it
  • Record the key ring details. What specific keys are on the key ring? Are there any other things like electronic fobs associated? Are there any other aspects of the key that should be recorded? State how it should be used

2. Issuing and Returning
Once you have charge of a key, you’re likely to occasionally give it out to different people and you’ll need a process for tracking who you’ve given it to.

This is typically done with pen and paper (not something I’d recommend in the 21st century) or an electronic system of some kind. When capturing who has taken a key, we recommend you always do the following:

  • Record the key reference
  • Record who is taking the key (and is now responsible for it)
  • Record when it’s due back

You may want to capture a signature or provide some sort of receipt for keys given out. Many people find this is less necessary if you have a good electronic audit system in place.

When returning keys, you’ll need to track those keys back in and state where they’ve been stored.

3. Monitoring
Monitoring is critically important. This is the process that is most often overlooked and where things usually start to go wrong.

It’s rarely enough to simply have a process for issuing and returning keys – it’s the active monitoring of which keys are out which are due back that prevents the hassle of chasing around for a key at the last minute.

Even the best of us forget things every now and again and when we’re busy, it’s very easy to forget that we’ve still got the key.

The most common cause of key-loss is when someone forgets to sign them back in and the problem isn’t noticed immediately. It might be weeks before the key is needed again and the problem is uncovered, by which time it’s often too late.

It’s therefore crucial that you have a regular process to check which keys are still out and which should be back by now, making sure you chase any late keys home before they have time to become lost.

You’ll need regular activities to:

  • Check key status
  • Chase overdue keys

4. Archiving
At some stage you may stop managing a set of keys. Perhaps you’ve stopped working with the property that the keys are protecting, or for some reason you’ve changed over a lock.

It’s crucial ensure you take action at this stage and that you record what you’ve done. Having keys you no longer need lying around only adds clutter and increases the chances of future mistakes and security risks.

The process here will probably vary depending on your industry. Do you need to return the keys to the owner or dispose of them securely? What records do you need to keep? Does anyone else need to be informed?

What does your Key Management process look like?
Hopefully you agree that having a fully thought-out process is not an option, but is 100% necessary to keep your keys safe and prevent wasted time in the office. If you don’t have one, why not get get it in place right now? If you’ve got a process- have you got all the bases covered?

Is your process written down?
Putting your process in writing is really important. In many industries, it’s now a necessity, where legislation and codes of conduct require evidence that you are working in a compliant manner (for example the Letting Industry in Scotland).

Writing your process out also helps you to clarify the areas that may not be working efficiently. What I often see is that most people give most attention to the first two processes (Tagging, Issuing and Returning) but the crucial monitoring and archiving are often less well defined.

Would you like some help with documenting your process? We’re working on some templates to help. Why not register your interest here? Or get in touch to discuss further.

Letting Agents: Avoid this Big Mistake with your Keys!

So, what’s this big key mistake that many people are making?

Have you ever had that embarrassing situation when you can’t find a property key with a client standing right next to you? It usually isn’t your fault – ‘someone else’ had it last (but no one knows who or when)! It’s an agent’s nightmare.

Did you know that there’s one thing you can do right now that will immediately make a difference, and it will barely cost you any effort at all.

How? Very simply, nominate one person to be accountable for the key management in each of your offices. Read on for the evidence….

First, let me pose a question to you: In your office who is really responsible for keys?

We have proof that as soon as someone in a lettings branch is responsible for key management, instantly, fewer keys will be mislaid and they are always much easier to locate.

In most offices the keys are usually managed by:

  • No one in particular
  • Everyone … so no one feels responsible
  • The boss (who doesn’t have time to give it the attention it needs!)
  • An unofficially nominated person with no training or support

Is this how your lettings agency works? Then you’re not alone, but you get well ahead of the competition, by getting the right person in charge.

What do you do when you can’t find a key? Ideally, you want to go to the person who last had it – but how do you know who that was? Well, if there’s a good key process, this should be easy to find out.  And here’s the thing- get the right person in charge of the process, and the process itself will begin to improve.  However, for many letting agents this isn’t the case, you just get a chorus of ‘who’s seen the key!’

So how do we choose the best person for key manager?
Who you chose for this role will be crucial to your success – pick the wrong person, and the whole thing won’t work.

The best person depends on your business, but here are the main characteristics they should:

  • Like attending to details
  • Be a ‘nice and tidy’ person!
  • Have a good knowledge of your property portfolio
  • Be proactive and have initiative
  • Be senior enough to have clout!

Who shouldn’t be accountable and why?

  • The boss – they should have other priorities!
  • The office junior – they lack authority and experience
  • A temp – your key controller needs to know your business inside and out, and the role needs to offer continuity – you don’t want to keep retraining!
  • Everyone – this means that no-one takes responsibility, and leaves it to ‘everyone else’, so nothing is done
  • No-one – this guarantees failure!

Why should your key manager be bothered?

Clearly it is essential for your business and professionalism to manage your keys effectively. So, good control is good for business.

How do you ensure that your key manager ‘gets this’ and is motivated to undertake this task? They may be daunted to take the job on if your current system is creaking at the seams or is antiquated!

If, like most agents, you’re coming from a position where things are already in a bit of a mess then your new key manager may not be all that thrilled about taking it on. So how can you help?

Looking after keys can be a thankless task, so it’s really important that the person in charge is supported both by management giving them authority to set and enforce the rules, but also by support staff. Unless yours is a huge company, looking after keys is unlikely to be their main day job. You may need to allow them some time to get on top of things when they get started.

It also helps if you’re willing to invest in making things better for them. If they spot weaknesses in the system, provide them some resources to make improvements.

Putting the right person in charge will not solve every key issue you face, but it will certainly be a good step to significantly improve things.

Key Control – it’s important, it’s a process and it needs managing!

First and foremost, you need to acknowledge that key management is a process rather than something which ‘just happens’. Once a business process is identified, then it can be improved and made better for the benefit of all its users. This is definitely the case for key management. For more about what your process needs to cover, see this blog.

So what next steps can you take today?

  • Appoint someone as Key Manager
  • Make sure they are the right person
  • Make them accountable and know what ‘success’ looks like
  • Ensure they are supported
  • Consider implementing a software solution to help them

Do you need some help or are interested in a solution for your office(s)? Then please call me today on 03300 88 55 00