As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter our lives, quarantines and social distancing have become part of our everyday rituals. And while we are far from having the coronavirus under control, many states are taking the first steps to opening back up for business. The question for industries such as the real estate business is what the new normal will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. While vacant office buildings are bound to see signs of life in the coming weeks, it’s fair to say that we might never return to the bustling office cubicles and crowded workspaces of the recent past.
Although real estate professionals have had a couple of months to think about how to prepare to go back to work, management still needs to answer the following questions before things can return to anything resembling normal.
A recent survey of real estate workers revealed that the industry expects people to return to offices, but not all at the same time. The results showed that 84% of managers are planning to stagger schedules to maintain lower numbers in the office and allow for social distancing.
Furthermore, companies will also institute cleaning protocols to keep the workplace safer. Indeed, nearly three quarters of survey respondents said they will limit group meetings and advocate frequent hand washing. Some managers added that they will enforce limits on the number of workers in the office at any one time.
Because so many people have been forced into working from home during the lockdown, industries have realized that they can remain productive and stay connected without being present at an office.
Prior to the pandemic, many in the real estate industry might have been skeptical about the feasibility of working remotely. However, the measures we’ve taken to combat the virus have transformed many technology skeptics into believers. Indeed, the biggest question that this new reality poses is what the physical workplace provides that the virtual cannot.
One of the adjustments managers will have to make with a remote workforce is learning how to lead virtual teams. For example, virtual teams will probably require a bit more interaction than face-to-face teams because of the solitary nature of working online. Consequently, it will be crucial to have clear lines of communication, well-defined expectations, and regular feedback. The key for managers will be to make their remote workers feel just as much a part of the team as those in the office.
One of the opportunities the stay-at-home orders have created is the chance for professionals to retrain while things are slow or if they’ve been laid off. In New Jersey for example, Gov. Murphy has approved using Zoom Meetings to teach real estate classes. Therefore, a real estate salesperson could qualify for a broker license by taking online classes at a real estate academy while he or she waits to return to work
Although many programs have been suspended due to their reliance on hands-on instruction, some states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania have approved online training for some industry compliance programs such as lead and asbestos refresher classes.
In Michigan, Gov. Whitmer adjusted her recent executive order allowing real estate workers to join construction workers in returning to work at the end of the first week of May. Originally, she was only going to allow outside construction work to resume, but she amended the order to include real estate professionals.
As a result, real estate industry pros including agents, brokers, appraisers, home inspectors, surveyors, and registers of deeds can all begin working. Naturally, certain safety measures will be required such as limiting the amount of people at a sale property.
Essentially, realtors in Michigan echoed the industry-wide complaint that it is tough to sell homes and other properties just by using online tools. While people who generate leads online or via the telephone such as referral agents don’t suffer nearly as much from a lockdown, salespeople claim that buyers have walked away from deals because they could only look at photos or videos of a property instead of viewing it in person. These complaints highlight the undeniable reality that many real estate transactions can only be completed in person.
While work will inevitably feel a bit different from the recent past, the coronavirus has essentially added another level of safety to the workplace. Although many companies have adjusted by working remotely, others have found that core parts of their business cannot operate effectively online. For this reason, states need to strike a balance between stay-at-home orders and living with the threat of COVID-19. As states throughout the country gradually open back up for business, they will have to pay special attention to the spread of coronavirus in their communities to gauge the success of their new policies.