By Cristy Boucher

We’ve all been impacted both personally and professionally by the pandemic, and, like us, you may have been affected by other disasters; wildfires, extended electricity shut-offs, flooding or even hurricanes.  While the circumstances this year have certainly challenged us, we found it also gave us a unique opportunity to formulate new communication plans and operating procedures to weather any storm (quite literally!).

No doubt, you and your teams have adjusted to new norms that allow you to operate effectively even remotely, changed your hiring procedures and updated your response plan. RealtyCom focused first on what was most important to keep us united as a team, and to continue providing the same level of service our clients have come to expect.

Communication | Check in, check up

When our routines are upset, talking not only with your immediate teams, but checking in with colleagues we don’t normally interact with was important to make sure no one felt “left behind.”  Having a committee set up to quickly disseminate updates and working schedules helped us get buy-in from several groups quickly. Many jumped in to help make online Staff meetings work, created new Teams channels to share information, scheduled Zoom happy hours and new ways to support each other.

At RealtyCom, we used email to distribute policies and resources – but Microsoft Teams is where we came together, learned to better collaborate and we captured some funny moments of our home offices along the way (see photo below). We’ve shared industry articles, upcoming educational opportunities and webinars to attend, client updates and accomplishments (and of course some birthday memes too!).  We participated in client’s annual virtual events – pushing boundaries on our creativity and skills to produce our first RealtyCom commercial (see here). We found a lot of new ways to connect personally and professionally, strengthening our bonds as a team and we have learned new things about one another (who knew our Account Manager Jo Valderas was a professional actor?).

Throughout the year, we continually reassured the staff about job security and our commitment to help balance personal responsibilities with work, by being flexible with working hours/days and locations which especially helped with at-home childcare. Fires and electricity shut offs forced us to work from home as well, and we made sure our team remained confident in our ability to accomplish our company goals.  For a lot of the employees, the new reality of working from home has made it easy to work too much. We’ve set better work-life balance respect by creating norms around response times and encouraging people to sign off and take time off for personal care.

Everyone can be impacted differently by a disaster – my sister went through both a flood and fire in the last 18 months and has been evacuated and lived with me temporarily a few times this year and when her home was threatened by the Glass Fire. Being able to support and help her while knowing my team could handle everything was an enormous weight off my shoulders.

Operational Challenges | Find a solution

RealtyCom was one of the first companies in our area to take the COVID-19 shelter in place seriously and were able to mobilize our office and operations very quickly to allow everyone to work remotely from their homes. Yes, there were impacts to our IT Department to get everyone setup and to changes to our payment collection and processing, but overall we succeeded in augmenting our process so that both our employees and clients saw little to no impact. This allowed us to keep the pace and workflow, and actually drove new innovation to make the payment process faster for our clients, ultimately resulting in our new ACH payment program which will account for around 75% of our clients recurring payments.

Physical aspects of the job were still necessary, so we created a rotation plan to pick up mail, scan and process hundreds of recurring revenue share payments each month, and collect hardcopy executed contracts for processing remotely. We encouraged Service Providers to lean into electronic signature and notarization of agreements, which helped alleviate office visits and make the entire process much faster and convenient for our clients who also were working remotely.

46 of California’s 58 counties were impacted by de-energization again this past October. During the wildfires and without electricity, this presented more challenges to areas without internet and after three days, many cell towers lost battery backup. Many of our team, who had urgent deadlines, joined co-working sessions at a colleague’s homes, who lived in areas that were not de-energized or outside the county.

We also augmented our hiring and training process. Hiring someone and handing them a laptop just didn’t work for us – we enlarged our training schedule and program, did remote learning and also allowed limited in-person training as needed. We created ways to bond with new team members like DoorDash remote lunches and outdoor walking meetings.

Celebrate Often | Fun & consistency is key

We’ve done our best to maintain touchpoints the way we did when our offices were open. Each year we participate in charitable volunteer events and felt maintaining that human connection was much needed this year. We switched up the format instead of canceling plans – while we couldn’t get together to physically volunteer, we did a “Shark Tank”-style competition where everyone nominated their own charity of choice, and we all voted on the causes we felt important to donate to. This was a great way to get the team to feel more involved, good about the work we’re doing, plus provide a fun way to be together.

We kept up with staff meetings (albeit with a few technology lessons learned), continued one-on-ones despite having virtual coffee now, and picked up the phone whenever we could instead of email. We plan to host our annual end of year company event remotely and shorten the program a bit so everyone will be informed about our strategic plan for 2021 and changes for the year to come.

When I worked in property management, our CEO gave me the added job title of “Captain of Fun,” and until recently I kind of resented that since I was so busy. But lately I’ve embraced the fact that part of that title was really a way to “celebrate early and often.” Celebrating the team’s accomplishments, special occasions in their life, personal feats, and business goals met are important ways to recognize individual contributions to the whole.

While I’m certain we all hope next year will be less challenging, I can’t help but appreciate how it’s helped us be more nimble, creative and innovative with our work.