Positivity always wins

COVID-19 has presented the real estate industry with a tough and winding road, but there are positives we can embrace, as Nigel O'Neil explains.

There’s no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has battered Australians around.

It’s had a significant emotional and financial impact on our lives and businesses.

But if you look closely, there are some important takeaways from this period of chaos that we can use to improve the way we do business going forward.

A silver lining of sorts.

Before COVID-19, many businesses were reluctant to implement change, innovation or reform because they questioned whether their teams could adapt.

They wondered if they could learn and implement improved customer-centric activities or whether there would be pushback and discontent.

The pandemic forced our teams to quickly change and adapt in so many areas.

No, it wasn’t easy for everyone.

Good leaders needed to show the way, nurture team spirit, and look after the mental health of those struggling with the forced change.

But we can be proud of our team’s adaptability, resilience and can take comfort knowing that, moving forward, our plans for strategic change can
be accelerated.

The forced experiment has made it clear that some roles can function effectively with employees working remotely.

The same results are achieved and there are some useful benefits for employers and employees.

With some people travelling long distances to get to work, providing a working from home option allows them to be more efficient.

It provides them with greater work-life balance, reduces their transport costs and, in some instances, even childcare expenses.

As a business owner, you reduce costs by not having them in the office and it may be that you can, over time, cut your commercial footprint.

Having said this, your staff should come together regularly (when the
restrictions allow) to ensure social cohesion, information transfer and to build and maintain the team culture.

Meetings are substantially shorter when they are held online.

They tend to be sharper and more focused, with less chitchat and digression.

They are less likely to be convened without a clear objective and outcome in mind.

They save travel time and can (with permission) be recorded for review.

We also used them for frequent check-ins with our employees, not only to receive and pass on information and determine actions and outcomes, but to ensure they were doing okay.

In the future, there’s no reason why client meetings, such as pre-auction
meetings, can’t be held remotely in 15-minute blocks on a Friday.

This would also slash travel time and be more convenient for the vendor.

During the pandemic, the public has clearly told the industry that if we aren’t solving a problem with our marketing, then they aren’t interested.

Any agent who went out with the same, ‘I’m the number one agent in….’ marketing was harshly judged.

The message was strong – as an industry, we need to listen more, be empathetic and talk about what is relevant to our clients rather than brag
about how good we are.

This has been the case for many years, but the punitive public response during the pandemic to the same old ‘chest-beating’ messages has highlighted that apart from making the agent feel good, this type of marketing can do more harm than good.

Yes, there are benefits from working from home, and the ability to do this has allowed many businesses to continue to function and provide service.

Going forward, it’s a great option for many people for varying periods of time.

But the bottom line is, we need, and we crave, human interaction.

We need to facilitate regular face-to-face interaction of our people (to the degree allowed) so our culture can thrive, relationships grow and the human spirit, with its need for a tribe, is fed.

These are unique, challenging times for leaders but focusing on the lessons and outcomes of the past few months gives value to our sacrifices.

It’s not over (as evidenced by the Victorian outbreak) and we need to continually be ready to deftly work around unexpected hurdles, focusing on the positives, nurturing our teams and navigating our way through
this strange landscape called COVID-normal.

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Nigel O'Neil

Nigel O’Neil is the Chief Executive Officer of The Barry Plant Group. For more information go to