Best Practices: Business Continuity
Updated on March 20, 2020
Arguably every company around the world has seen its priorities shift dramatically in recent days and weeks, as impacts from the spread the coronavirus enter completely uncharted territory. During this pandemic it is essential that your agents feel a sense of business continuity.
Although in-person meetings and gatherings of any size should be held virtually, rescheduled or canceled, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are still myriad ways that business can be conducted successfully.
The following information may help you in successfully conducting business during this trying time.
Keep Your Transactions Moving
On Thursday, March 19, the Governor issued a stay at home order to all Californians, only making exceptions for essential services. At this time, it appears that county recorders offices, while many are not open to the public, are continuing to record documents submitted electronically (which is the typical way it is handled in most transactions) or by mail. We are obviously in a fluid situation and that situation could change. C.A.R.’s Legislative Team in conjunction with other real estate and lending trade associations requested the Governor to mandate that the work of county recorders and particularly the recording of transactions be considered an essential service.
C.A.R.’s Legal Dept. has also issued guidance on Open Houses and Showings as well as created a new addendum (C.A.R. Form CVA) within zipForm®.
Additionally, C.A.R. is holding webinars on the new form and other member benefits available to you to help keep your business and transaction from stalling.
Get a Small Business Administration Loan
If you are in need of a loan to help keep your business moving during this pandemic, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to California small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Get more information about the loans here.
Now is the time to leverage the technology that you probably already have in place.
While most brokerages have digital platforms in place to handle transactions, not all brokerages have set ways to communicate digitally beyond phone calls or email. It may be tempting to use a variety of communication tools, however; most tech experts recommend selecting one or two tools to meet your needs and to fully embrace the capabilities of that product.
Even though messaging platforms are quick and convenient, leaders should not rely on them exclusively since some issues require a deeper level of conversation that’s hard to achieve through online chats. If there is an issue that needs clarification, pick up the phone. If the software you’re utilizing isn’t something you use daily, now is a good time to offer a refresher course for your team.
Given the current environment, you and your agents should be working remotely. This is where virtual communication software comes in.
One popular instant messaging tool is Slack. Slack is an instant messaging system with various add-ins for other workplace tools. The add-ins aren’t necessary to use Slack, though, because the main functionality is all about talking to other people. Learn moreabout Slack, how it works and why so many companies are using it.
If you’re looking for video conferencing software, you may want to consider Zoom. This video- and audio- conferencing and screen-sharing tool allows up to 1,000 participants to conference remotely at once. Learn moreabout this software, as well as the different pricing tiers and capabilities.
While technology can make communicating quick and seemingly painless, if you’re using it to communicate with clients, be sure to follow all guidance regarding record retention.
Communicate with Clients and the Public
If you haven’t already, now is the time to communicate openly and often with your agents, clients and the public. Nearly all major companies have made adjustments and have communicated these changes to anyone impacted by them.
If you have a brick and mortar office that people are used to visiting, and you have closed the building, be sure to let your agents and the public know. It’s a good idea to not only send out electronic communication to your database alerting them to the closure and that your agents and employees are working remotely as a result of the coronavirus, but also to post a notice on the door for anyone who I not on your email list and who may stop by looking for an agent.
Watch for Phishing and Hackers
Unfortunately, hackers are using COVID-19 to their advantage. Phishing scams purporting to be from the CDC and other official agencies are already being reported. Employees, eager for news on what’s happening and how to protect themselves and their families, are likely to click on links in unsolicited e-mails more than ever before. Your security posture should include a review of the systems you have in place to stop phishing campaigns and other threats before they hit employees’ inboxes, so you aren’t trying to shut down a potential breach while your team is working remotely.
Having anti-virus softwareinstalled and keeping it current is highly advised to protect your systems and ensure hackers do not access private and/or sensitive information.
Another protection you may want to consider is adding cyber insurance to your policy. Cyber insurance generally covers your business' liability for a data breach involving sensitive customer information, such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, account numbers, driver's license numbers and health records.
Conduct Meetings Virtually
With new cases of the coronavirus popping up daily in the U.S. the CDC has issued guidancefor gatherings, namely cancelling or postponing any gathering for the next eight weeks. This means most meetings will need to be conducted virtually. [D1]
Here are some best practices and insights on conducting virtual meetings.
Prior to the start of the meeting, gather and distribute any informational materials the attendees will need during the meeting. Not only will this allow the meeting to move faster, but also will result in greater participation during the meeting as attendees will have had time to review and give thought to the items prior to the meeting.
If you are using a new system to conduct your meeting, be sure all attendees are familiar with the technology and have tested it out prior to the meeting. You don’t want to spend the first 10 minutes trying to work out tech glitches. Not only should attendees test connecting to the meeting virtually, they also should test out their speakers, mics, and other functions of the system such as “muting” “showing video” and “raising their hand.”
To avoid having the meeting become chaotic, establish a meeting leader ahead of time and decide whether the attendees will be muted or able to freely speak throughout the meeting. Establish these ground rules ahead of time so everyone is on the same page.
If the meeting involves several stakeholders or attendees, allow for some issues to be side barred and/or tabled for discussion offline. Sometimes issues don’t involve everyone and discussing issues during the virtual meeting that do not affect everyone can take away valuable time from all.
If some stakeholders are unable to attend the meeting, you may want to consider recording the meeting and providing the recording afterward.
For more information about conducting board meetings and adhering to legal guidelines during a virtual meeting, visit C.A.R.’s legal guide.
Getting the right technology tools in place is the first step. The next is to significantly increase the level and frequency of communication.
One real estate executive said she conducts daily, 15-minute calls to brief her team on plans for the day and to share important company and industry-wide updates.
Daily check-ins may seem burdensome or unnecessary, but many executives believe leaders should do quick, daily calls and schedule weekly video chats to keep everyone connected.
Now is not the time to worry about whether someone is aware of a deadline or a task that needs to be completed. It’s better to err on the side of caution and ask.
Mail and Deliveries
If you have U.S. postal mail and/or packages delivered to your office, you may want to consider having these items rerouted or sent to a PO Box during this transition.
Whether you have a live person answer phones during normal business hours or a recording that directs callers elsewhere, don’t forget to update your messages and/or forward your lines.
You may be uncomfortable with having your team remote and could be questioning if they’re actually working when they’re supposed to be. Keep in mind that you hired them for a reason, so trust them and their work ethic.
It also may be helpful to conduct individual meetings (virtually) to set expectations with each agent and employee to ensure you’re on the same page.
Maintain Company Culture
Remember the little things. If part of your company culture is to celebrate work anniversaries, birthdays and other important dates, then continue to do so – just virtually. Maintaining some sense of normalcy is helpful during times of transition. Some companies have reported having their morning coffee together via video conference, while others have coordinated virtual happy hours. Whatever it is you and your employees can do to stay connected is helpful.
Plan for the Future
While you may be triaging immediate needs right now, it is a good idea to use this situation to identify needs and pinpoint improvements for the long term.