A western Sydney-based agency that embraced remote working and a contactless, cloud-based approach with its services long before COVID-19 hit is now reaping some significant benefits.
The managing director of Prime Estate Agents, Steven Barkho, established his real estate agency in Wetherill Park just two years ago but has already opened a second office location in Rozelle. Over the two years, the team has grown to seven.
After previously working for McGrath, the 29-year-old wanted to create his own unique approach to providing real estate services and running his firm.
Establishing a firm that encourages his team to have a work/life balance and provides flexibility in terms of where they work were important goals for him from the start.
“All of our systems are based entirely in the cloud including all of our servers and our phone lines redirect to the mobiles of team members. We have a hot desk-style office where you can bring your laptop in to do some work,” he explained.
“We use digital task managers which allow us to digitally manage what each member is doing at any given time, which ensures we are all able to work remotely.”
With the firm set up in this way before COVID-19, since the pandemic there has been minimal disruption to the way the team works.
According to Mr Barkho, communication is a critical part of ensuring remote working arrangements work effectively.
“You need to make sure that to-do items are being tracked digitally through shared calendars and platforms like Trello which allow individuals to manage tasks on a cloud-based platform remotely,” he advised.
A lot of real estate firms, he said, are yet to make a cultural shift away from focusing on what staff are present to instead focusing on what tasks are being done.
“The main priority needs to be what tasks are being completed, so it’s important to establish goal setting for each individual member so that there is a clear idea around what outstanding tasks are left,” he said.
“[In this current period], there are going to be a lot of offices that suffer because their directors are used to having people in a certain place and having them in front of them, and when you take that away and staff are suddenly working remotely, there’s a risk their staff may underperform.”
Junior staff, in particular, can struggle a lot more unless there is effective communication in place, he stressed.
“Junior staff need a lot more support with the day-to-day, particularly when working remotely. They need additional guidance, so offices with a lot of juniors really need to work on that verbal communication,” he said.
Adapting to the pandemic period
While Prime Estate Agents has been better prepared for the current period than many firms, it has still had to adopt some innovation solutions for certain aspects of its services.
Mr Barkho explained, for example, that some clients or tenants in properties are very concerned about their exposure to the virus, so it is vital that the real estate agents work with them in terms of how inspections are run.
While there are typical protocols that an agency might follow to prevent any spread of COVID-19, the client or tenants may have additional checklists that they want followed in order to keep them safe.
Some clients, for example, will request that only limited groups of people be allowed to inspect the property, that the agent is mindful of anything that’s been touched and that it’s sanitised after, he explained. They may also ask the agent to allow a certain period of time before they return to the property after the inspection.
“Everyone has a different level of comfort and you need to work with that. Make sure the process is as seamless as possible, try not to drag it out and make them feel uncomfortable because as soon as people feel unconformable, they will put a guard up,” he advised.