How COVID-19 changed business practices

The pandemic literally changed the world.

It certainly changed the way we conduct business of all kind.

The real estate industry has learnt a lot of lessons from March through to the end of June, and continues to learn. These lessons learned from how we have been forced to adapt have a great many positives.

My observation of the main things we’ve had to do differently – and witnessed our clients respond to – includes:

A new level of communication
The prospect of improved, diversified, meaningful, transparent etc, etc communication had always been flagged, but it took COVID-19 to ramp it up. We communicated more clearly and more regularly.

We can all now telephone, text, instant message, email, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Yammer, chat on Teams, message on LinkedIn etc, etc… There is an overwhelming choice of communication means.

Consider how new some of these are and just how our communication channels would have coped if this pandemic had occurred even five years ago.

Post-pandemic, I’m sure we will want to continue to gather, to meet, to see and understand new locations but, ironically, virtual conferencing has proved of benefit through reducing costs, allowing greater access to top-shelf speakers, opening an event to a wider audience and giving participants an increased focus through less distractions, among other things.

Tools of technology
Our environment had been rapidly changing pre-pandemic and some technological changes have been happening much more quickly. COVID-19 exacerbated the need for new technologies and rapid decision-making.

For example, think how quickly people adapted to virtual open homes, how elderly people got set up for online banking. Consumers are trialling ways of doing things that would have taken much longer to adopt before.

The current crisis opened new doors and opportunities for businesses to explore technologies that they may not have considered before. The transfer of information, the need for its immediacy and relevance, is just one aspect.

The use of new technology such as Matterport, EyeSpy360 and HomeLive opens up markets at many levels in local to international locations.

Australia and New Zealand will be very attractive to immigrants and investors as we move out of this crisis. COVID-19 has reinforced the ‘safe lifestyle’ concept and taken it to a whole new level.

Importance of being strategic
COVID-19 has provided businesses an opportunity to adapt and we have seen success come with the ability to quickly shift, adapt and focus.

Strategy allows businesses to examine how they are preforming and what systems are in place to keep them sustainable.

COVID-19 is a situation that is well beyond the experience of most business owners and business leaders. The pandemic, the restrictions and the repercussions are exceptional by any standards, bringing with it, extreme uncertainty.

We have had to strategically look at management and business plans as three scenarios impacting operation and the continuity of business – best case (limited impact to usual business trade); worst case (forced closure due to spread of virus and government policies); and likely (some impact including, for example, reduced revenue, increased costs to meet social distancing requirements, need to work remotely and disruption to traditional ways of doing business.

Alexander Graham Bell said: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Speed in which to react
We learnt to respond and make changes with greater speed. We constantly evolved on a day-to-day basis, sought immediate feedback and acted on it. We were far more nimble than before COVID-19.

Agile workplaces were better prepared for the impact of the pandemic and embraced a trust culture, a different way of measuring output, a work-anywhere structure and a better use of technology.

The slow shift over recent years to greater agility and greater choice was accelerated. Not only did we change fast, we discovered that people have a greater capacity to accept and adopt change than we might have expected.

Listening and filtering information
Communicating about COVID-19 to people in our business, to clients and consumers at the right level and appropriateness was challenging. Reliable, accurate information was critical.

We chose our sources wisely and weren’t swayed by the plethora of commentators and the barrage of reports, figures and statistics.

We realised that overloading ourselves with interpretations and opinions based on scattergun sources could potentially lead us down the wrong track. It wasn’t the time for misplaced forecasts and grandiose claims, whether optimistic or pessimistic.

In essence, as the four company directors met (virtually) at 8am every day, we used an information filtering system to sift, select and refine, the real-time message we would convey.

We were monitoring the real estate market on a weekly basis at the ground level. Our agents were the information source. The market was, and is, improving, week by week. It was, and is, a solid market.

COVID-19 might reshape our future markets, but I am not about to delve into the practice of forecasting.

What we must now do is to maintain the best of the business practices we implemented through the lessons the crisis taught us.

I think we will come out of this better skilled in technology, communication, delegation, clarity, and time management. I believe more of us respect the agile workplace, with its varied environments and efficiencies to cater for different personalities and tasks.

The real estate future will be exciting.

Today I step aside from the managing director position. However, as Chairman of the RE/MAX Australia board, I will be as passionately involved with the real estate industry – in Australia and globally, as always.

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Michael Davoren

Michael Davoren was the coowner and Managing Director of RE/MAX Australia and RE/MAX New Zealand.