It’s never been a more interesting or exacting time to be an indie broker. In November, Inman celebrates the indie by narrowing in on what growth tactics are working best and what tech is emerging that offers the best competitive advantage.

We hear a lot these days about waves. Waves of infection. Waves of layoffs. Waves of business closures. But a different kind of wave might be crashing on your business very soon, and it could be even more devastating than a pandemic. It’s a tsunami that’s been building since March, and it’s already causing agents nationwide to search for something different. 

This wave isn’t about compensation; it’s about community. Because if we’ve learned one thing over the past eight months, it’s the importance of bonding with our colleagues, customers and neighbors daily.

Sporting events, concerts, church services, even listening to our favorite podcasts and radio personalities on the morning commute — all of these things provide a sense of community, and we have fewer and fewer of them left. This year, many families won’t even be celebrating the holidays in the same house, sitting around the same table, sharing the same stories.

We’re in a community crisis.

Real estate is no exception. For example, think about how vital the Inman conferences have been over the years. Remember the knowledge you’ve gained, the friendships you’ve made, and the people you’ve connected with through those experiences.

The community crisis is taking a toll in real estate, and it’s showing up in employee attrition. For weeks, more and more people have told me that their attrition rates are spiking while their businesses are thriving. Some level of attrition is typical this time of year. One of my coaches used to say, “Every fall, all the agents get wheels on their desks.”

But this year is different. It’s more significant, more profound and more pervasive.

Why is this happening? In short, agents aren’t leaving for financial reasons; they’re leaving for community reasons. We’ve never been more connected yet more emotionally disconnected. At a time when you’d expect people to be clinging to their jobs and craving more security, instead, they’re choosing community — or at least the promise of greater community — as their No. 1 value.

Even knowing that they’ll have to rebuild their book of business from scratch during an economic recession, they’re saying no to impersonal cultures and yes to the promise of more substantial connections with customers and colleagues.

This doesn’t surprise me. As someone who fell in love with team structures early in my career and now runs one of the country’s largest team-owned real estate brokerages, I know the benefits of tight-knit teams. As the Be Generous Movement founder, I also know how good it feels to get involved in your community and help people — especially through in-person volunteering. I’ve built as much community into my culture as possible because, frankly, no one needs it more than I do!

How do you build or maintain a sense of community during a pandemic? There’s no easy answer or magic bullet, but you can ask yourself some critical questions to see if the community crisis is headed your way: 

Are you seeing Zoom fatigue?

Initially, everyone hoped that virtual meetings would only last a couple of months. Now it’s clear that many offices won’t return to full capacity until next summer, maybe even later.  

We’re all-virtual at our brokerage except for our live training sessions, which follow strict CDC safety guidelines, and we do our best to maintain high levels of contact and communication. But every industry is seeing Zoom fatigue. 

Last spring’s energy levels — when this was all “novel” — just aren’t there. Remember how people used to compete for the most creative Zoom backgrounds? That isn’t happening anymore. A malaise has set in. 

I’m hearing more about people joining meetings late or forgetting about them altogether. Distraction is at an all-time high, and that’s the first sign of slippage.

Are some employees starting to leave?  

Community is a universal need, but it’s growing more and more expected at work. For an increasing number of people, a job is more than a paycheck. They need to feel like your company stands for something bigger than your products or your industry. They expect involvement in the greater community and a strong sense of camaraderie in the workplace. 

I’m hearing so many stories about agents jumping ship because they’re being promised things like “a small team environment” or “a strong sense of connection with colleagues” somewhere else — even if they have to start over totally. Their career decisions are more emotional than logical because community is more important than money or benefits.

Are you investing in employee development?  

I’m proud of what we have done to create a tight and caring community. We pride ourselves on our team structure, community involvement, and obsession with personal and professional improvement. 

But I also know that we have to do more. That’s why I’m finally taking a big step that I’ve thought about for a long time: I’m hiring a full-time executive in charge of culture and employee development — we’ll call the position a chief community officer. 

Why am I doing this? Because community and development form the glue that keeps a company together, fuels growth, improves productivity and attracts talent. 

This is never clearer than when you can no longer see your colleagues in person, go to conferences together, learn together or socialize like you used to. I encourage you to consider doing something similar. It will signal to your employees that you “get it” when it comes to community, and it will keep that value front and center every day. 

Have you built enough ‘culture equity’ to survive the wave? 

The community crisis threatens everyone, but leaders who have spent years building positive cultures now benefit from drawing on that equity. Others can’t because their companies are too big, their cultures are too impersonal, and many have never thought about this issue until now. 

If you have a culture where everyone’s on their own, then you can’t bring a sense of community back that was never there in the first place. If you’ve built some level of community, now is the time to step it up even more.

Get creative. Think of new ways to keep people motivated. Make sure people know each other’s love languages. And communicate as much (and as well) as you can before it’s too late!

We all want to go back to the sense of community we used to feel throughout our lives, but the world keeps making us wait. That’s frustrating, but it’s also a huge opportunity to build, maintain and grow a stronger sense of community.

If you succeed in doing that, it’ll pay off tenfold when the pandemic is over. If you don’t, don’t be surprised when employees start walking out the door searching for something many are looking for, but few are finding. 

Kris Lindahl is the founder and CEO of Kris Lindahl Real Estate, the #1 team-owned independent real estate brokerage in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and #12 nationwide.

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