How do we restart the office? It’s question that every broker has been asking themselves constantly since the start of the pandemic. While the last 18 months have truly pushed the limits on what can be accomplished virtually (there are now more FaceTime sales than ever), many brokerages have also realized that in-person meetings are still essential when it comes to fostering a sense of teamwork and community.
“There’s something to be said when you get a group of agents in an office,” moderator Jack Markham told the audience at a session titled “How to Bring Agents Back to the Office” at Inman Connect Las Vegas. “They’re feeding off each other and they’re feeding off that energy. There’s mentoring going on that is so hard to do virtually. Going back to some of that in-person contact is going to be important.”
While widespread vaccination is helping bring back many things, the pandemic is still not fully behind us and it can be tough to decide what is or is not possible when it comes to in-person activities. For brokers who are trying to figure out whether returning to an office environment will work for their team, the key is to start small, Vanguard Properties Realtor Nina Dosanjh told the audience.
“You don’t have to do a full company-wide in-person event,” Dosanjh said. “You can do smaller things on a larger scale and still have that small community atmosphere, collaboration and culture of abundance.”
Many brokerages are choosing to embrace a hybrid model that merges the virtual with the in-person. What exactly this looks like will vary from brokerage to brokerage; some are having their agents come into the office two out of five days a week while others are keeping the work-from-home pandemic schedule but hosting regular meet-ups to bring the group together.
“You really have to meet the agent where the agent is,” said Melissa Sofia, a Realtor with The Avenue Home Collective. “There were some that just did not want to embrace the technology and […] there were ones who were doing business and wanted to talk directly to the broker. There is going to be an ebb and flow of how we create this new office environment because it’s going to be different for every agent and every broker.”
Sofia also added that brokers shouldn’t be scared to encourage more in-person attendance if they feel that their work culture benefits from it. Real estate is a social job and while many enjoyed the increased flexibility of working from home, just as many others found that they do their best work in a collaborative environment.
“My agents had loved being independent on their own,” she added. “Nobody asked them where they were, there was no accountability and no schedule. I thought we would drive agents away by having the expectation [of a return to office], but as they started to see the majority of the agents come back to the office and really start to grow exponentially because they were surrounding themselves with the other agents of the brokerage, the opposite happened.”
The important thing, Dosanjh said, is to try different things and and not be too attached to any kind of opening plan. Instead of insisting on a return to how things were in 2019, be flexible as you look for ways to build the best work environment possible.
“This is not going to be our last pandemic, it is not going to be the last time we have to pivot and adjust as an industry,” she said. “We’ve done it before when all of the acquisitions were happening and people thought technology was going to take over. We realized that relationships matter and that face-to-face contact is irreplaceable.”