By Don Kottick
I have been interviewed by the media over the past few weeks asking what Sotheby’s International Realty Canada and the leadership team did to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Dianne Usher, one of our regional managing brokers in Ontario, reminded us that the Chinese use two symbols to represent the word “crisis” – one symbol represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
As a management team we quickly decided that we were not going to take holidays or approach the crisis in a passive fashion. We decided collectively that we were going to lead and not follow others as everyone was scrambling to find their way.
Early on, we determined that to lead during a crisis, you need to have transparency, clarity, effective communication and rock-solid leadership. Our team quickly developed and released protocols to our Realtors in an environment that was changing daily. We refined our protocols on a regular basis as government edicts changed, all the while ensuring we had safety and operational protocols for sellers, for buyers and for third parties such as home inspectors and photographers. We were one of the first brokerages to outright ban open houses, and we ensured that any in-person visits followed strict protocols ensuring the safety of all involved.
Next, we brought forward our suite of virtual tools supplemented with updated training on how to operate in a completely virtual environment. During the initial phase, we migrated our entire physical national administrative operation to a fully remote, virtual operation with all the staff working from the safety of their homes. In a few short days, our national staff executed our disaster recovery plan and seamlessly created a completely virtual company.
We moved our office meetings in each region to ZOOM and dramatically increased the frequency of our meetings. In times of crisis, communication is paramount as it ensures the management team is able to bring clarity and calm while bringing forward the operational protocols, especially in a very fluid, changing environment. Elaine Hung, chief marketing officer, said, “As the isolation period moved from days to weeks, the need for human connectivity increased for both emotional and psychological reasons. This was evident by the high attendance at our virtual meetings and sessions.”
During this time, we intensified the number of virtual training sessions, which included sessions on our national and international marketing tools, our social media tools and our technology tools. Each week we brought in different speakers via ZOOM from marketing and branding people, to sales experts, to motivational speakers and a whole host of technology-based seminars. We also included national and international virtual cocktail parties to give our Realtors and staff a break from living in isolation.
From the very beginning, we encouraged our Realtors to find ways to give back to the community and use this pause in the economy to connect and support their sphere of influence. We are of the belief that if you do not connect with a client during the COVID-19 crisis, then you might as well remove them from your client list. Our Realtors came up with amazing and creative ways to connect with their clients, such as virtual babysitting, children’s bingo and virtual Jeopardy, just to name a few. We conducted virtual sharing groups for our Realtors to share their creative and innovative ideas and provide a forum for them to discuss issues they were facing.
We were surprised to hear that a few brokerages had informed their Realtors take some holiday time and a few national franchises were slow to provide protocols or direction to their Realtors. By this time, our team was in overdrive with a mandate to overcommunicate and provide as such support to our Realtors as possible. This was not a slowdown for us. As a result, even though we were not actively recruiting, many Realtors were calling our management team for virtual interviews as they had heard of the support we were providing.
Seven weeks into the crisis, you could sense the anxiety and tension increasing throughout society as a whole. To counter this, we instituted more virtual sessions relating to positivity, mental health and motivational training. It was during this time that we decided to make Jack.org, a wonderful mental health charity for youths, our national charity.
We still don’t know how long we will be in isolation and we don’t know what the recovery will ultimately look like, but our management team continues to increase the frequency of motivational and training sessions for our Realtors to keep everyone engaged and sharp.
I know that we as an industry will get through this, I believe there will be a flight to quality, with some fringe Realtors leaving the industry, but I believe the best Realtors will continue to transact and will continue to flourish.
We hope that everyone out there remains safe and healthy, and we look forward to the day when our markets rebound with real estate leading the economic recovery.