Innovation is happening all across our industry. One of the most interesting innovations we’ve seen in the past couple of years is the growth of virtual brokerages.
At first, this strategy was met by the industry with high skepticism. As time has gone by, we’ve learned that agents can be successful without a big-box brand name or a physical office. Agents are working from their homes, coffee shops and cars more than ever before, and it’s a trend that will likely continue on for the long haul.
This brings us to the biggest question that’s still hotly debated: As a broker, how can you best supervise agents remotely?
Many firms don’t even have an office anymore. The common pushback has been that virtual companies aren’t managing their agents and are endangering the public.
In actuality, these virtual companies are ahead of the curve. This isn’t just a challenge for virtual companies, it applies to all brokerages.
Most agents, even in traditional firms, aren’t using the office anymore, so these agents aren’t being reached by traditional methods.
Many traditional brokerages manage agents with the assumption that they’ll come in to the office. The meetings and trainings are all in-person. The document submission in some firms is still in-person.
In contrast, virtual companies have figured out, by necessity, how to reach their agents wherever they are.
At its root, the method is as simple as taking everything a broker needs to do and doing it in a remotely accessible way.
Let’s take a look at the key things every broker must do and a few ideas to move your firm into the future:
Be available to assist
Once upon a time, assisting your agents with questions and issues meant leaving your office door open so anyone could walk in and ask a question.
Now, availability is more about being connected and reachable. You probably need at least three contact methods: phone, email and one app-based channel. Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack, Voxer or a company intranet will do the trick.
Ensure your agents know how to contact you by providing your contact information when agents onboard, in meetings and trainings, and in any outgoing communications.
You also need to be available to handle public complaints. Typically, the phone number published for a firm is the office number — so when you’re not in the office, the public can’t reach you.
To avoid this hiccup, set up call forwarding from the office number or get a simple forwarding number like RingCentral to make yourself available no matter your physical location.
But remember, you don’t have to be on-call 24/7. I suggest putting your hours in your email signature and voicemail greeting and setting up a late-night auto-responder for texts.
Move communication and training online
At one point, disseminating information to agents meant holding an in-office meeting every Tuesday morning to go over updates and train.
Now, because agents largely skip out on the Tuesday meetings anyway (free food helps, but it doesn’t solve the problem), you have to make meetings more flexible and easy to access.
Start by conducting your meetings online. Even if you host physical meetings, you should offer a path to participating through a web-based program (Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts).
At a bare minimum, meetings and trainings should be recorded and shared. Build a video library of all your recordings. This way, agents who missed a session can still receive the information. You’ll be able to reach at least two to three times your typical audience by taking your meetings online.
Going online enables you to shorten and focus training classes. For an in-person meeting, your guilt from knowing everyone had to plan and travel to attend drives you to prepare a longer meeting. For a virtual training, you can keep it to 15-20 minutes and get right to the point with high-impact content.
An email newsletter provides information to your agents in a predictable, easy format. It should contain updates from the firm, your state licensing authority and Realtor boards, and a few best practice tips. Some prefer to read over attending a meeting or watching a video.
Start a group chat for your agents. If you have a company Intranet, then great. If not, make a Facebook or Slack group where agents can ask questions and share. It’s also a great place to share important updates or even a “tip of the day” to stay in front of everyone.
Make reviewing documents easy
Agents are required to turn in their documents very quickly in most places. That’s nearly impossible if you require them to physically go to the office.
There are dozens of online transaction management systems out there. Test a few, and choose one. It’s worth a couple dollars per month per agent to ensure you’re receiving documents immediately and can provide immediate review and feedback to your agents.
Consistently supervise activities
This is the part where we all roll our eyes. Your state licensing authority does not actually expect you to physically watch, monitor and approve every action of every agent. “Active and direct supervision” are simply buzzwords at this point.
Think of supervision as setting clear expectations, subjecting specific items to broker approval, spot checking everything else and proactively resolving issues as they arise.
Set clear expectations
Your firm policy manual should be written in English, not legalese. It should be provided to your agents when they onboard. It should be regularly reviewed, updated and shared with your agents.
Policies should draw clear lines showing what agents can and can’t do and be as concise as possible. You need to know it well to support and reinforce those expectations.
Give broker approval
There are a few things in your state that need broker approval in advance. Maybe it’s agency agreements. Maybe it’s advertising. Whatever it is, create a way for agents to submit those items to you. You can do it through a website, an email address, a Google Form and lots of other ways.
Just make sure that your solution is easy and efficient so that agents use it.
Spot-check your agents on things that aren’t subject to broker approval each time. Friend them on Facebook, and follow their business pages. Call your agents periodically to check in. Audit their licenses. Google them to ensure their online presence contains accurate information.
Issues are going to come up, no matter how perfect you and your agents are. Your state licensing authority is looking for you to be a problem-solver so they don’t have to get involved.
Discover the issue, fix it, educate your agents, and put in reasonably preventive measures going forward. Whatever you do, don’t ignore an issue that comes up. Be proactive.
If you can put even a few of these practices into your management, you’ll find that not only will you be a more effective broker, but you’ll also be a more effective leader.
Your agents will appreciate your efforts to make their work easier. You don’t need to become a virtual brokerage — but adopting some virtual practices will keep you competitive and compliant in the future.
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