Technology has been a great facilitator throughout the pandemic, enabling virtual home tours and notarizations, as well as face time with others through a variety of video conferencing systems.

But, technology certainly isn’t a cure-all, and running a brokerage isn’t only about getting business done. Culture is key to keeping agents happy and productive, and is something many brokerages have struggled to preserve through these challenging times.

Independent brokers, who often pride themselves on having a unique company culture, are doing their best to try and keep their teams engaged in a largely remote work world. Here are a few strategies some indie brokers are implementing to try and keep their company’s culture going strong.

Daily check-ins

Since the start of the pandemic, Thomas Mestas, president and CEO of The M Real Estate Group, initiated brief, daily Zoom calls with everyone across his brokerage’s four different offices. Most of the time he said they don’t even really talk business, but use the call to maintain a group relationship. And even though this idea isn’t necessarily new, it’s a good reminder that’s it’s still effective.

Thomas Mestas | The M Real Estate Group

“Every day — with the exception of one day that we haven’t done it — we’ve done Zoom morning meetings,” Mestas told Inman. “It’s for 15 minutes, so it’s not anything too long, it’s not boring. Sometimes we do ask questions about real estate events that are going on, but a lot of times we just make jokes and have a good time, and just socialize a little bit.”

The short time provides a little reprieve during which people can connect with one another, but also creates a forum during which agents can air any questions that have come up.

“And we’ve noticed, the ones who plug into it are actually the ones that are really doing quite a bit of business,” Mestas added. “In fact, all their numbers have doubled since last year, so they’ve actually done more business this year than they did last year. It obviously takes commitment … It’s not like a magic pill and you’re not going to see results immediately, but they all know they can come in, and even the ones that don’t plug in every day, they come in if they have an issue [and] they know there’s a place they can get advice or answers to any questions on a daily basis.”

Putting a spin on virtual conferences

When she and her agents learned that this year’s National Association of Realtors (NAR) conference would be virtual, broker/owner of Garcia Properties Jenifer Garcia said everyone was “super bummed,” but not surprised. She went ahead and registered her whole office to attend the virtual conference — as she would any year — and quickly realized “there’s no way any of us, myself included, area going to actually do this,” she told Inman.

Jenifer Garcia | Garcia Properties

“Because it sounds so boring! I mean, you’re sitting in your home, sitting in front of your computer for hours at a time, and then like, your dog barks, or your kid needs something, and like, no one does any of these classes.”

After a bit of brainstorming, Garcia decided to book rooms for her agents to stay at a remote lodge near Branson, Missouri, for four nights during the conference so that they could focus on sessions while also preserving the spirit of attending a live conference.

“We did not do a lot of group activities, obviously, because of COVID,” Garcia explained. “But it was a good chance to get away kind of into a resort-type environment. And we each had our own room, and that way, instead of holing up in our house with our dogs barking and our kids driving us crazy, at least we had our own private space to concentrate on the conference. And then I orchestrated to have a private bonfire happy hour every night that we were there, so that was fun, and we did some fun outdoor hiking activities together, so that was really awesome.”

“A lot of people, myself included, when we were planning this in the days leading up to this were like, ‘Should we be doing this?’ … but we had our masks on the whole time we were around each other and a lot of it was just either outdoor hiking stuff or individual alone time,” Garcia added.

Switching up Zoom meetings with a socially-distant event

Billy Buck, president and CEO of Buck & Associates, Inc., recently organized an outdoor volunteering event for his team cleaning up a highway near their office in Arlington, Virginia. Initially, he said people were skeptical about getting together, but they kept their distance and wore masks, and Buck said it was so nice to just be physically around one another after so much time apart. Afterwards, they also enjoyed an outdoor lunch.

Billy Buck | Buck & Associates

“To say it was so nice to pick up trash with everybody sounds insane,” Buck said. “But, it’s just nice to see people even masked up and everything else. It’s just nice to be around your colleagues, physically. To be near them for proximity’s sake.”

And it sounds like this won’t be the last time the group does it either.

“After the highway cleanup and after the lunch, everybody’s like, ‘Let’s get another one on the books,'” Buck said. “Which is the first time I’ve ever heard that!”

Garcia said she and her team are now way beyond the Zoom meeting honeymoon phase when it seemed convenient and exciting — for about the first month of the pandemic.

“Anytime I hear ‘Zoom meeting’ I’m like, ‘Ugh, we’re all so over it!'” she told Inman.

When they need a change of pace these days, Garcia said they take their meetings to the great outdoors and make things more interesting with boxed lunches and picnic blankets.

“So we bring our picnic blankets and we descend on the park like locusts, and I bring individual picnic boxed lunches for everyone and we just hang out on our blankets and shoot the shit, and have a good time.”

Keeping things festive

New York City-based brokerage Elegran has always focused on maintaining a mindset of “#inthistogether” and “#strongertogether,” Elegran CEO Michael Rossi told Inman in an email. In that spirit of togetherness, the company has worked to keep up communications and morale across the company through different virtual happy hours and by recognizing special events.

Michael Rossi | Elegran

“[We hosted] marketing department trivia sessions and virtual happy hours across the organization with team building games such as real estate-themed ‘Jeopardy,’ ‘Family Feud,’ and, soon to be unveiled, ‘The Price is Right,'” Rossi said.

“Acknowledging special events like birthdays and having a high ratio of managers to agents to ensure all agents’ needs are heard on a daily basis is key,” he added. “We’ve also implemented new trainings focused around agent personal care, empathy and embracing vulnerability in uncertain times. Having programs like these in place creates a stronger sense of community and maintaining a strong social component — even virtually — can not only hold people together, but also lift them up.”

Email Lillian Dickerson

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