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In this month’s National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Power Broker Roundtable, John P. Horning, EVP of Shorewest REALTORS® and Liaison for Large Firms & Industry Relations at NAR, discusses how brokerages are maintaining their company culture in a socially distanced environment.


John P. Horning, Executive Vice President, Shorewest REALTORS®, Milwaukee, Wis.; Liaison for Large Firms & Industry Relations, the National Association of Realtors®


Barbara Wolcott, Chairman/CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Towne Realty, Virginia Beach, Va.


Chris Trapani, Co-Founder/CEO, Sereno Group Real Estate, Los Gatos, Calif.


Lori Arnold, President, Coldwell Banker Apex, REALTORS®, Dallas, Texas


Drayton Saunders, President, Michael Saunders & Co., Sarasota, Fla.


John Horning: Although some agents and support staff have been able to access their offices now and then, wearing masks and socially distanced, the majority have been working remotely. And the unique events and celebrations that are so integral to our company culture are denied for the foreseeable future. As company leaders, we have stepped up to the challenge of staying connected through Zoom meetings and other virtual get-togethers. Has this been enough to maintain the individuality that distinguishes us as sought-after companies?

Barbara Wolcott: Even the busiest agents like to hang out in the office, and they thrive on competition for awards—so yes, this has been a huge challenge. This year, both our awards gala in April and the rewards trip for top agents in May were cancelled. But we’ve always worked hard to make caring a vital part of who we are, and I’ve tried to maintain that by personally calling—at random—every one of our 375 agents. Yes, we have Zoom meetings and virtual sales meetings, but I hope these personal calls, just to chat, have helped to keep us together.

Chris Trapani: My partner Ryan and I have been focused on just this issue. In addition to Zoom meetings and Google Hangouts, we’ve been maintaining relationships via casual, in-person “Coffees with Chris or Ryan” with three or four socially distanced agents at a time. But we started the effort to keep us all on the same page by putting on a mask and personally delivering copies of an inspiring book to each of our offices. “Let My People Go Surfing,” by Yvon Chouinard, founder of the highly successful company, Patagonia, is about values and about how doing good and having grand adventures should be at the heart of every entrepreneur’s business life. That’s the message at the core of our company culture.

Lori Arnold: Fortunately for us, our major awards gala was in February, before the shutdown. But we wanted to do something special for our mid-year awards. So, in addition to a Zoom event, we set up socially distanced “watch parties” in our branch office lounges for those who wanted to attend, and in-person watch parties for no more than two or three agents at various homes. To make them extra-special, we sent out pre-party gift boxes to every agent being honored—special foods, confetti, business books, little personal things tied to each honoree’s likes and needs.

Drayton Saunders: We didn’t start the year with a pandemic playbook, but in retrospect, the most important thing we did was to stay connected to our team. Michael and I know that our role as leaders is to motivate and celebrate everyone, showing our genuine appreciation, whether it be virtually or in person. Certainly, this has taken us into the creative direction such as hosting Zoom cocktail parties and sending surprise gift baskets to recognize our agents’ successes. It has taken our entire team’s efforts to stay focused and positive while we navigate through the virtual narrative. Even if the market accelerates, we will continue to do our best at finding creative ways to drive our team.

JH: All great ideas. At Shorewest, we replaced our country club awards celebrations with a customized thank-you, sending out printed recognition programs along with a personal note and a box of gourmet chocolates personally delivered by their manager. Also, some of our offices hold weekly Zoom meetings outdoors, so people have the option of attending in person or online.

DS: Good idea—it’s vital to keep connecting in other ways.

LA: All of our agents are dying to come back into the office—but for now, combination meetings are the best alternative.

BW: And personal contact can be critical. By reaching out to each of my agents, I embody the company culture and hope to keep it meaningful.

CT: As leaders, the hard part is coming out stronger on the other side. It’s turning adversity into a victory and helping our people thrive.

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