The Office Isn’t Dead…It Just Needs a Revamp
While some real estate agencies have decided to ditch the desk altogether, working remotely on a permanent basis isn’t for everyone – or every business. However, what the COVID-19 pandemic has taught some agencies is that the traditional ‘9 to 5’ may not have been the most efficient way of working.
In a career like property management or business development where staff are on the road for the majority of the working day, it isn’t completely absurd to offer staff a new level of flexibility. So, what are some of the new flexibilities agencies are offering their staff? The REIQ spoke to agency owners, property managers and business development staff to find out how they’re operating in a re-vamped office environment as we navigate beyond COVID-19.
The Gradual Transition to ‘Normality’
As Queensland slowly but surely returns to business as usual, many agencies are implementing a gradual transition back to the office. Some have already started staggering staff members or teams to return to work on alternate days, before allowing the entire office in at once. Alternatively, other agencies are choosing to do a roster from week to week. Adapting a gradual return to work policy, rather than setting a date for all staff to return can actually work well for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it allows businesses to comply with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines a lot easier if staff are able to gradually transition back to the office. Less people in the office equates to less people wanting to occupy common spaces such as the kitchen, and makes it much easier for people to spread out – particularly if you’re in a smaller space. The other added benefit for a gradual returning approach is for personal logistics – if staff have been working full time from home, they may need some time to organise their out of work commitments as a result of COVID-19 in order to transition back to the office full time.
Karen Herbert, Founder and CEO of Arrive Home implemented a gradual transition process before allowing her staff to decide whether or not they wanted to return on a permanent basis. “We gradually transitioned some team members back one by one during the last week of May and by June 1, I gave everyone the opportunity to come back to work at the office or still work from home,” explains Herbert. “Every team member then elected to return.”
While some (like Herbert’s team) are chomping at the bit to get back into a normal working environment, providing the option of a gradual return or extending certain staff member’s working from home period provides staff with peace of mind. Not only may some be anxious about returning to an office for health reasons, but the prospect of returning to a noisy, bustling office may be enough to make some feel uneasy – particularly if they feel like they’re thriving in an at-home office environment.
As all of us know, real estate is not your traditional ‘9 to 5’ job. However, there’s an expectation among most employers that staff are available during ordinary office hours. What COVID-19 has highlighted for many however is that by not allowing staff some flexibility with the hours they work (whether it’s early starts or late finishes), it could mean you’re not getting them at their most productive self.
Jamie-Lee Billerwell, Business Development Manager at Code Property Group has benefitted from a flexible work arrangement for some time now. After COVID-19, her team were given the option to continue to work remotely, come into the office or do a blend of both. She’s also given the opportunity to book her own hours, which she says in turn makes her a more productive employee. “I’ve always been given the freedom and trust to book my own hours, but of course this decision needs to come down to the individual’s work ethic and the culture of the company,” says Billerwell. “I select my day how I see fit and what’s most suitable for my clients so it gives me the opportunity to be more accommodating.”
Seeing how happy her colleagues are working both flexible hours or choosing a blend of remote and office work, Billerwell begs the question: Why aren’t other agencies giving their staff the space and trust to work at the maximum capacity in an environment that works well for them? “You need to cater to different people and families – for example, a single mum may want to work late at night or early in the morning,” explains Billerwell. “Giving your staff that freedom to design their own lives will only ensure you have dedicated, happy and grateful team members – I don’t know why we didn’t do it sooner!”
New Technology & Processes
In mid-March, offices across the country scrambled to find the right tech fit that allowed staff to work remotely. What wasn’t expected was how well that tech would be received. People were quick to sing praises of apps such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, which make it feel like there’s no distance between themselves and their colleagues. Herbert’s team were quick to make some tech changes, which were well received. “We have VoIP phones in the office and purchased soft phone applications for all employee mobiles,” says Herbert. “And being Microsoft 365 members enabled us to have virtual morning meetings via Teams, keeping everyone up to date and feeling connected.”
Now that some staff have returned to the office, does it make this technology redundant? The short answer is no. Why? Firstly, take a quick Google of how many people find most in-person interactions (namely meetings) as a source of time wasting. A recent US Study found a whopping 60% of employees felt they attended meetings that didn’t accomplish anything. Tech such as Teams, Zoom and Skype can negate some of those pointless face-to-face interactions with co-workers, which more often than not can result in chatting about extracurricular topics.
Of course, the other item technology addressed during COVID-19 were inefficient processes. While open inspections for rentals offer plenty of benefits, some property managers have now discovered that by-appointment or virtual inspections can rule out bogus enquiries and assist property managers in making better informed decisions when matching tenants to a prospective rental.
This isn’t to say you need to cancel all in-person meetings or from hosting COVID-19 compliant open inspections. Rather, welcome new processes and technology that work well for you and your team.
Working Out New Ways to Connect
Let’s be honest – working in a team isn’t only about smashing goals and achieving results. A big part of why people choose to work where they do is because of the people. It’s important for agencies to have the balance of flexibility, while also offering ample opportunity for staff to catch up face-to-face for meaningful connection. Billerwell says this is something Code Property Group has planned for accordingly. “We have an in-office meeting every Monday and catch up socially once a month,” tells Billerwell. “You still need to keep a good culture and check in on the mental state of your team, but of course, you can always find ways to do this remotely!”
For some businesses, the changes made post COVID-19 don’t need to be as dramatic as closing the doors to their bricks and mortar office. However, this period has offered many principals and property management teams to take a step back to reflect on what works and what can be re-vamped. It’s ample time to ask yourself: What could I do to better the productivity, performance and satisfaction of my team?