In New Zealand, the response to Coronavirus ramped up quickly, with the country given just 48 hours to prepare for full lockdown. Wherever people stayed the night of March 25, they were told to remain.
All but essential services shut down. All businesses except supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics and lifeline utilities closed their doors.
Ray White Ponsonby director Gower Buchanan notes nothing quite prepares a business leader for a shift of that magnitude.
“We always knew a full lockdown was coming and I thought we were mentally prepared for that,” he says.
“But it wasn’t until it happened that you appreciate the level of imagination required to get organised and ready. As soon as you know, you make decisions very quickly.”
Gower’s decisions, made in conjunction with his 120-strong team, have been nothing short of inspiring.
Stripped of all the traditional selling tools and facing a lockdown that will last at least four weeks, Gower’s focus has turned to his team’s mental welfare, along with truly serving their clientele.
The initial response
With just 48 hours to prepare, Gower says his staff were quick to spring into action. Once notified, the leadership team assembled and drafted a plan. By 4.30pm Monday that roadmap was being relayed to the entire group via Google Hangouts.
“We had Tuesday and Wednesday to bring forward auctions, to help tenants secure accommodation to get a roof over their head and to work with landlords. There were a lot of people to communicate with. We had to make clear decisions very quickly,” he says.
Those properties taken to auction sold, tenants were moved in.
“My staff did amazing things in that time,” Gower says. “I am so incredibly proud of my team and the way they adapted, the way they communicated, helped people and supported one another.”
A two-speed approach
A week into lockdown, Gower explains the business now has a two-speed approach, with an emphasis on keeping staff focussed.
“It would be very easy to not make the most of what’s ahead, but we are still trying to transact and give people the opportunity to buy homes. There are people with stock who are still looking to transact,” he says.
“Tonight we have an online auction scheduled. We hope to see more of those. There is also preparation for the other side where we are working to come up with campaigns.”
Staff are being encouraged to simply reach out to vendors and offer any assistance, and virtual appraisals are being conducted.
The property management team has been busy supporting landlords.
“Our area has a lot of Airbnb properties. Obviously, it’s not a great time to be an Airbnb landlord, so we are establishing a framework to support them,” Gower says.
“We are also providing advice to landlords regarding tenants who can’t pay rent. As a leadership team we are supporting our staff through that.”
The second component of Gower’s two-speed business approach involves looking long and hard at the organisation’s processes and procedures.
“We are looking at every foundational part of the business, pulling it apart and putting it back together. This includes our Cloud-based filing system.”
An opportunity for change
Gower notes the current situation offers a world-class opportunity to embrace change. For example, his office will be entirely paperless on the other side of COVID-19, while more meetings will likely be conducted online.
“We’ve had sales meetings this week where members have joined us by video while out on a morning walk. I can see a time where this will become standard.”
There’s also a strong focus on the comeback in terms of preparing buyers.
“We’ll see families make decisions on what they want from their lifestyle,” Gower predicts.
“I really think a massive seachange will occur. There will be people who find they don’t want to be leveraged up to their eyeballs anymore, who want to spend more time with their kids.”
To accommodate this, Gower’s team is staying in close contact with their database. They’ve been urged to start preparing buyers, working with them so they are ready to go in the immediate weeks after COVID-19.
“Good buyer work will win the day on the other side of this crisis,” Gower states.
Meanwhile, Gower notes the coming weeks will offer an opportunity for agents to be more relevant than ever before to their clients.
“I started out in Christchurch during the GFC and was there for the first earthquake. It’s times like these that you can feel people genuinely want your advice as a professional.
“This is an opportunity to be the most relevant we will ever be to members of society,” he reflects.
“It’s a chance to help people make informed decisions. As long as you are strong enough to have those conversations, it’s a great time to do that.
“You can’t buy that sort of relevance. This is the opportunity to do a really great job, genuinely helping your community.”
A sense of purpose
The business focus is clear, but Gower explains the major priority beyond work activity is the welfare of his staff.
At the core of this is maintaining a daily rhythm on the work front with a personal connection. To facilitate this his team have established a buddy system where each person has someone else in the business for them to contact and engage with on a daily basis.
“We’re trying to give people a sense of purpose, day in day out,” he says.
Immediately after the lockdown, the team set up Quarantine Thursday, establishing different Google Hangouts groups where members of the team could connect, and have some fun in the process.
“A book club started on Monday via Hangouts,” Gower explains.
“We have an art club where people describe a piece of art in their home. There’s also bring your kids to work day for the morning Google Hangout meeting and we’ll probably have a bring your pets to work day too.”
In the interim, the entire team is part of a daily check-in.
“We also have different guys on the team speaking about their opportunities, what they’re doing, what they see for the future,” he says.
“Ray White Corporate has put in place a new training regime and that’s been great as well.”
Gower is under no illusion that the isolation of working from home could affect his team mentally and physically, and he’s urging them to reach out to all available assistance where required.
“There are activities to focus on each day to maintain the routine, but it’s not like a normal workday. We also understand people need to take a break and decompress as well.”
But he’s fully confident his team will rise to a highly unique challenge.
“My team has been amazing, and I really believe if you have a great team going into this, you’ll have an even better one coming out.”