One thing we have all learned during the past 18 months is that we don’t have to be in our office to be productive. That said, I’m much more productive when I’m in the office and have access to my dual monitor computer setup, a high-quality printer/scanner, and most importantly my teammates.
Unfortunately, not being around my teammates has made it more difficult to maintain the same level of productivity and has taken some fun out of the business. Moreover, I believe the lack of personal interaction has had more of an impact on those just getting started in the business than industry veterans like me.
The three primary areas where they are being negatively impacted are; the lack of learning that comes from being around other productive brokers, getting to know their new teammates, and building relationships within the real estate community.
I remember my early days at Trammel Crow Co. where our office layout was a truly open environment; no offices or cubes for anyone, just desks. At times this created a loud and distracting environment, but it also provided me the opportunity to hear all types of conversations from first-year brokers making cold calls to the head of development discussing projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Young brokers are too often given tasks to complete with little direction or mentoring because one or both are working remotely which makes learning much more difficult. I’ve learned more through observing and listening to some of the sharpest real estate minds in the city than I could ever learn online or by Zoom.
One of the ways we have attempted to keep the environment fresh at The Retail Connection is by having our senior brokers take turns sitting in the bullpen. We’ve found the experience to be just as rewarding for the senior brokers as it is for the brokers just starting out.
The second area of concern is the ability for young brokers to interact and get to know their new co-workers, especially the senior brokers and company leadership. Historically, this occurs by spending time together in the office, at lunch, and other networking opportunities.
My concern is that the limited face-to-face interaction will lead to frustration due to the difficulty to build company relationships. Prior to COVID, we installed a ping-pong table in our break room to not only foster office camaraderie but also encourage brokers to get out of their offices and socialize with the entire team. These organic in-office activities are great for everyone but particularly those just starting out in the business.
We also have a tradition of a Friday lunch outing at Katy Icehouse or some other fun (preferably outdoor) venue. The goal is to find activities that foster meaningful relationships which in turn fosters commitment and loyalty.
The lack of togetherness also makes building relationships outside the office even more difficult. A great deal of my enjoyment (and success) in the business is built around the relationships I have made with people outside my own company. I still believe the key to our business is networking and building meaningful relationships which are clearly challenging in today’s environment.
Hopefully, we can return to safe, face-to-face interaction soon for the benefit of all. Until then, we all need to recognize the challenges that younger brokers are facing and make every effort to be inclusive in our day-to-day activities.
Steve Zimmerman is the brokerage managing director of The Retail Connection.