As part of our #LockdownLessons series, Bizcommunity is reaching out to South Africa's top industry players to share their experience of the current Covid-19 crisis, how their organisations are navigating these unusual times, where the challenges and opportunities lie, and their industry outlook for the near future.
Tony Clarke, MD of the Rawson Property Group
We chatted to Tony Clarke, managing director of the Rawson Property Group, to get his take.
How is your company responding to the crisis and how have you had to change the way you work?
Tony Clarke: There’s no doubt that we have needed to act quickly to continue to serve our customers in these challenging times. The Rawson Property Group has invested heavily in time and money (millions of rands and 2.5 years) in building our award-winning technology ecosystem which we are leveraging to its fullest to contribute an ‘essential service’ to communities across our country, and we are committed to meet these urgent needs in our communities.
To enable the continuation of these services as seamlessly as possible, we have introduced six efficient products; virtual valuations, Rawson 3D virtual tours, Rawson virtual showhouses, electronically signed documentation and online meetings. These will serve as important stop-gaps during lockdown and social distancing, and ultimately form part of a much larger service strategy as well.
How are you navigating ‘physical distancing’ while keeping your team close-knit and aligned and your clients happy?
Clarke: We’ve had to rely heavily on technology to keep interacting and communicating efficiently with our staff, partners, key stakeholders and clients. Constant communication in the form of email, video calls, webinars helped teams stay connected and informed. Our innovative suite of tech tools enabled our agents to serve existing and new clients efficiently and effectively, in spite of lockdown restrictions.
In order to keep our staff informed, upskilled and to ensure that our agents make the best possible use of their time, we created our very own internal Covid-19 e-learning page. This was developed specifically to house all relevant information: documentation, daily training / motivational videos, answers to frequently asked questions, etc., to assist in setting them up to be leaps ahead when the lockdown restrictions are lifted.
The Rawson Covid-19 task team, made up of key managers in our franchisor team, worked around the clock to provide an outline on tips and tools in the form of training videos, information packs and training material for the e-learning platform mentioned above. Making sure that the Rawson brand takes current challenges head on.
How has the lockdown affected your staff? Have you set out any guidelines or HR policy in terms of health, safety whilst working from home?
Clarke: It's clear that in today’s society, busy seems to be the currency of success, even now that our whole world has come to a halt. At Rawson, we’re grateful to have such a strong and capable workforce who have shown their support and remained focused during this time. If anything, the past months have presented an amazing opportunity for us to learn from each other’s experiences, and benefit from each other’s strengths.
With employees working from home, perhaps even more so, during this pandemic, there is no doubt that some employees may face certain challenges. Work stress coupled with family problems and other anxieties eventually leads to burn out - an issue that potentially permeates under these conditions. At Rawson, we take the health and mental wellbeing of our employees very seriously and have encouraged an open-door policy. Our staff are encouraged to engage with HR or their relevant managers about any work-related issues or other anxieties.
Communication is vital in order to identify key stress factors and address the issue by setting daily realistic goals. Doing a time audit and creating a realistic schedule for work delivery is one way to reduce some anxiety.
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Any trends you’ve seen emerge as a result of the crisis?
Clarke: Technology has rapidly become an important enabler in property transactions. Now more than ever, having the right technology is vital to maintaining operations, including being able to communicate with team members, clients.
Your key message to those in the property sector?
Clarke: We have to accept that the world has changed and will never be the same again, thanks to Covid, this also applies to our industry and the way we market property. We believe that it will be sellers themselves who end up galvanising change in the property industry. Given these precarious times, we believe it is the sellers who will start insisting that agents use virtual tools to market their homes, rather than open their homes to large volumes of people who might contaminate their space. We have to learn to adapt and thrive under these circumstances.
What do you predict the next six months will be like?
Clarke: No matter what is happening in the world, people still need a roof over their heads, which will always mean that they need to be able to keep buying, selling and renting property. There will be an urgent need – or desire – to buy or sell as soon as possible for some people and we intend on being there to meet their urgent needs through virtual property transactions. Social distancing will continue and lead to the accelerated adoption of services that facilitate streamlined real estate transactions - once more consumers experience the benefits of selling a home without dozens of show house visitors.
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