COVID-19 Provides Opportunity For Operational Stocktake
The pandemic has re-written the survival guide for real estate businesses and some of the lessons learned and tactics employed will be here to stay. This goes for franchisors as well, says Laing+Simmons Network Growth Manager Travis Wentriro.
“When the gravity of the COVID-19 situation became apparent, we had some initiatives ready to be rolled out because of the existing crisis management plans we had in place. But for others, we’ve had to mobilise quickly in order to protect and support the offices in our network,” Mr Wentriro says.
“For instance, we knew in a crisis that consistent, factual and accessible communication with our network was paramount. But COVID-19 is shifting the goalposts daily, so the importance of regular communication has been amplified over and above the plans we had in place.”
It required a lot of energy from the team. The Laing+Simmons internal newsletter was quickly elevated to a daily distribution.
“This ensures all current updates from the Government and other industry bodies are immediately provided to our network, with relevant links, how-to guides, feedback from our Government relations program, helpline information and more,” he says.
The company’s social channels have become information hubs – not just for the network, but for the industry.
“We made the strategic decision to broaden our communications strategy to an industry audience, instead of keeping content strictly among the network. It sounds cheesy but given the severity of the situation to real estate businesses across the board, we took the view that we’re all in it together,” Mr Wentriro says.
This open strategy was complemented by Laing+Simmons Managing Director Leanne Pilkington’s daily video updates as President of the REINSW, that were distributed to the wider marketplace.
Open, immediate and accurate communication during the crisis has been one critical response. The need to prepare for life beyond COVID-19 is another.
“One of the first priorities we identified was the need to not merely help our network survive the pandemic, but thrive beyond,” Mr Wentriro says.
“That meant taking the opportunity to up-skill, expand our knowledge and introduce new training solutions for the network. One of the first strategies we implemented was to assemble a who’s who of industry professionals and put together a comprehensive series of Zoom training sessions for our whole network on a weekly basis.”
Industry identities like Rik Rushton, Tom Panos, Claudio Encina and Phil Harris presented on sales, Fiona Blayney and Kasey McDonald provided their property management insights, Tanja Lee took the network through a mindset session, and Tiffany Wilson gave Laing+Simmons people a crash course in the COVID-19 social media landscape.
Coming up are Zoom sessions on technology with Steve Carroll, a coaching session with Being Bold’s Caroline Bolderston, social tips from digital specialist Imogen Callister and a presentation from CoreLogic’s Tim Lawless.
The company’s health and wellbeing focus had to be taken to the next level as well.
“Obviously, we needed a firm focus on the financial side, facilitating business health checks and detailing the financial support available to our offices. But this was complemented by an equally strong focus on the mental health of our principals and their teams, through increased investment in our Employee Assistance Program and reinforcing our open door policy for all employees to the Managing Director and head office team,” he says.
The Laing+Simmons Employee Assistance Program provides anonymous counselling services to any Laing+Simmons team member to help with any aspect of their lives, be it professional or personal. Laing+Simmons picks up the tab, no questions asked.
If it’s a franchisor’s obligation to provide value to its network, so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, a crisis scenario can sharpen the focus on the value a franchisor provides, according to Mr Wentriro.
Being a boutique network has enabled Laing+Simmons to be nimble and agile in its response to COVID-19, he says.
“The resource sharing and support environment among the Laing+Simmons network during the pandemic has emphasised the importance of being part of the right group, as opposed to the biggest group. We’re proud that every Laing+Simmons office has to date kept its doors open and many are actually in a stronger position now,” Mr Wentriro says.
“The crisis has given us a new clarity in our operations. Some of our infrastructure has proven critically important. Elsewhere, we’ve had to adapt. Where the pandemic has revealed shortcomings, we’ve committed to make the necessary corrections to future-proof our own head office operations.
“The result is a renewed blueprint for success to ensure we are prepared to support our network and our people through future unknowns,” Mr Wentriro says.