Stepping up as a Leader in the New Reality: Managing a Remote Workforce

Written by Posted On Friday, 03 April 2020 05:30

Humans are, by nature, social beings. We thrive on connection and interaction - and Realtors, by the very nature of their work, find their greatest success in building and nurturing relationships. Sending agents home to work alone in a time of fear and uncertainty has been a challenging, sometimes costly task for brokers.

“We saw the crisis coming,” said Cameron Merage, founder and CEO of First Team Real Estate in Orange County, Calif. “Not long before it was scheduled to take place, as the number of coronavirus cases was rising, we cancelled our annual Hall of Fame Gala, a grand event honoring more than 700 of our best and brightest agents. We did the groundwork, put away our tuxedos and gowns, and sent everyone home to work remotely.”

It was a matter of safety first, Merage said. “The governor had not yet shut down the state, but for moral and legal reasons, we felt it was the right thing to do.”

While a patchwork of statewide mandates debated whether real estate is an essential or non-essential business, a similar decision to send agents and employees home was made by hundreds of brokers nationwide.

“These are scary times,” said CEO Jason Waugh, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Northwest Real Estate in Portland, Ore. “We elected to honor ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ guidelines in an all-out effort to help flatten the rising curve of the virus.” 

Waugh’s company, like most across the country, is open for business to one extent or another since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure last week expressly included residential real estate as an essential business. 

But with social distancing and other restrictions clearly in place, and agents and employees adapting to working from home, brokers are innovating new strategies to keep them connected, busy, and engaged.

“It’s important to maintain morale and the collaborative spirit that’s part of our company culture,” said Merage, “and for everyone to take heart that we’re pulling together as a team.”

Virtual meetings, long considered an option, have now become standard industry-wide.

“I’ve attended more meetings in the first weeks of this crisis than I’ve attended in the last three quarters,” said Waugh. “Workshops, roundtables, even virtual happy hours – anything and everything to keep our people engaged.”

It is business as usual in different ways, noted Lori Arnold, president, Coldwell Banker Apex Realtors, Dallas, Tex.

“We’re doing Coaching 101, and keeping agents up to date on what we can and cannot do and how to do it,” Arnold said. “But in this stressful time, we’re also reaching out emotionally and spiritually. One of our managers, for example, who is a certified yoga instructor, is conducting video yoga workshops.”

Staying in touch is critical, agreed Joan Docktor, president, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Real Estate, serving Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware “People are scared for their families and themselves. They’re trying to work with kids at home and a nagging sense of helplessness. We’re doing virtual sales meetings, offering hundreds of online training classes, but we’re also doing Zoom chats and team sharing, People need to vent.”

They are the kinds of efforts brokers everywhere are encouraging agents to pay forward.

“Our people are calling everyone they know to see how they’re doing, whether they need any help, any groceries,” said Arnold. “It’s not just busywork. We know we need to help where we can.”

Companies are also pushing out informative videos that agents can forward to their clients.

“We know we can be a calming voice where it’s needed,” noted Waugh. “We can also reassure people that life goes on, that we are still able to help them buy and sell when they need to.”   

Technical teams have stepped up to the new reality, rapidly expanding support systems for remote work and virtual meetings. Matterport 3-D and other technologies are enabling dramatic virtual open houses – and agents unfamiliar with newer technologies are now learning fast. 

“The good news for many is that technology is no longer a mystery,” said Drayton Saunders, president of Michael Saunders & Co., in Sarasota Florida. “While real estate will always be a people-to-people business, we are all learning there are more efficient ways to conduct the business end of real estate.” 

Without question, during this health crisis, there will be lost sales and revenue. 

  “But with proper disclosures, disclaimers and guidelines, we are still closing deals and selling houses,” noted Docktor. “We opened a contract just today on the basis of a virtual home tour. I know of at least one case where an inspector did a virtual inspection.” 

Given the pent-up demand for housing widely expected when the crisis is behind us, there will be opportunity for agents and companies who navigate prudently and creatively.

“Agents and brokers who have done the best job of reaching out, of staying in touch and helping out where they could, will reap the rewards of gratitude and loyalty later,” said Arnold.

Savvy brokers, too, will likely have internalized new and better strategies.

“We will all have new skill sets and perspectives,” Waugh observed. “Many of us will have realized, for example, that it takes far less energy to ‘visit’ many offices virtually than to travel for miles only to repeat the same message.”

At the leadership level, Merage said, brokers must work at their most creative level.

“In these trying times, our first concern must be health and safety,” he said. “But companies with the resources, experience, and liquidity to come through this and learn from the experience can look forward to increased success.”

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Barbara Pronin

Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade. She is also the author of three mystery novels and two non-fiction books.

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