Is Your CRE Brokerage Prepared to Work Remotely

Is Your CRE Brokerage Prepared to Work Remotely

Daniel Levison | March 27, 2020

Many of us are currently grappling with high-impact decisions that will change the way we operate our brokerage businesses in the future. For significant issues that deal with solutions with long term effects on your brokerage business, the concept of “scenario thinking” can help improve decision making. 

Scenario thinking challenges conventional wisdom, but also relates decisions to company or industry KPIs allowing decisions to be monitored over time. To develop best practices for scenario thinking, we suggest reading Peter Schwartz’s great article about it.

Mark Warrington-Read, Founder & CEO of Warrington Network Consultants gave us a great quote during our interview for this article:

“Lack of Communication causes frustrations. Frustrations create uncomfortable situations and conversations. Uncomfortable and unresolved conversations destroy trust in relations”

I doubt anyone can disagree that communication and trust are critical to creating and nurturing a successful business. We are all in uncharted waters as we try to  navigate how to survive in this environment and keep our business moving forward. In what has been called the best commencement speech ever delivered, Denzel Washington spoke to the graduating class of University of Pennsylvania in 2011 in which he continually spoke about “falling forward” and learning from our past experiences. Although there are numerous business factors and decisions to future proof your business for similar scenarios, they all start with the health and well being of your team.

What Are Psychological Effects of Working Remotely?

This was a resounding theme in the 2019 State of Remote Work created by the fully-remote social media startup Buffer – 49% of remote workers claimed that their greatest challenge was related to mental health. To be more specific, 22% said they were unable to unplug from work, 19% suffer from loneliness, and 8% struggle with motivation. If you’re not proactive about communicating, your team will start to feel disconnected from the rest of the world and may potentially feel trapped in a bubble of isolation. 

Below is the advice from the 2019 survey to avoid depression, procrastination, and isolation in a long term, forced remote working scenario:

  • Book all your appointments early in the morning
  • Get outside at lunchtime and connect with friends and family
  • Fill your calendar with local networking and social events, virtually in today’s environment 
  • Turn your home office into a space you love
  • Adopt or foster a dog and take it for walk or run

Selecting The Right Remote Internal Communication Tool 

Our recent experience is that most individuals working remotely are utilizing the lowest range level of internet speed from their providers. Many are having connectivity issues trying to deal with basic files and workflows. One of the first steps an organization might need to consider is supplementing key executives and administrative support team members with home internet benefits, ensuring they can operate efficiently and without significant bottlenecks.

As Mark Warrington-Read alluded to, without effective communication tools you’re dead in the water. Selecting the right communications and remote tools and the right features of the platform chosen is one of the first steps in setting up an effective remote workforce. Some of the more frequently used internal and external communication tools are Slack, Teams, UNITE, and remote connect tools are LogMeIn and Splashtop. Each has various levels of service with additional upgrades and can support even the largest brokerage businesses.

Video Communication Is Critical 

Everyone wants normalcy in times of uncertainty. Video communication can go a long way to making your team feel as normal as possible. Our family even had a virtual happy hour over the weekend, and our daily standups typically via Slack are now through Zoom. Some of the best in class video conferencing platforms are UNITE provided through WNC+Intermedia, Zoom, WebX provided by Cisco, GoToMeeting, Skype and Google Hangouts. 

Financial WorkFlows & Processes

How are the current workflows and processes for critical functions of your business currently handled? When it comes to Accounts Payable & Payroll, does your company have an alternate payment method to sending checks such as internally created wire transfers, ACH payments for payments to agents and employees, or credit cards for vendor payments and required employee purchases?

Are you currently able to process accounts receivable using remote portable scanners provided by your bank or phone applications allowing deposits? Fraud Prevention unfortunately increases during times of crisis – scammers are more likely to strike. Continuing to educate your employees and utilizing the fraud protection services offered by your bank can help prevent potential losses. 

Use caution with email communication and be aware that if you receive a request to initiate or change payment instructions, perform callbacks using a public number and not the number in the email, or click Links that may be unsafe, they may be scams. Also consider performing daily account reconciliation if you have a significant volume of daily transactions.

Is Your Business Capable of Processing Commissions & Payments to Agents?

Are KPIs to Help Keep Your Pulse on Your Business Available During a Crisis?

Having accessible systems during a time of crisis is, of course, the first step for dealing with situations we find ourselves in today. Having access to your company’s critical information through the cloud or remotely will become standard operating procedure. If your systems are still desktop based you are likely unable to process invoices, commission payments, or vendor bills without someone in your back office being exposed to undue risk to perform these functions.

Once you make the necessary move into the cloud, determining whether to work with an off the shelf software solution for your back office processes vs building a customized solution is an important question. Dealpath created a worthwhile whitepaper on the subject which provides the pros and cons of both approaches.

Over the past several years several CRE-centric back office solutions have entered the marketplace. Based on your brokerage’s desired level of accounting detail and desired reporting capabilities, managing principals, CFO’s and controllers have several options to consider:

CRE focused platforms available for consideration are:

  • CommissionTrac
  • Delius
  • Realcore
  • Buildout
  • Astro Applications

Each of these applications have their unique features and levels of automation, so principals should decide what is critical to their back office as each platform is analyzed.

File Storage, Sharing & Security –  Provided By Your Software Applications

As daunting as it may be to move your brokerages critical financial information to the cloud, the major platforms such as Google, Microsoft and QuickBooks provide the highest levels of security and redundancy natively within their platforms. Utilizing Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, and QuickBooks Online will typically provide even the largest brokerages adequate protection. 

A brokerages local network consultant can also add additional levels of security and administrative access if desired. Here is a link to Solutions Review providing some of the basic 7 Best Practices an organization can follow to secure and allow access.
Warrington Network Consultants is also available to provide guidance and recommendations should you have questions or concerns about your security and access permissions regarding current IT architecture and data.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak and these unprecedented times, any customer that commits to a one year contract CommissionTrac between April 2020 and end June 2020, we will defer the first three months of our service and spread the three month abatement over the remaining nine months of the contract.

To find out how you can use CommissionTrac to gain clarity and insight on your brokerage’s total performance and also understand companies like TenantBase, affiliates of CBRE, Colliers International, Cushman Wakefield, SVN, NAI and Lee & Associates have chosen CommissionTrac, please request a demo today by visiting our website at www.commissiontrac.com

Authors: Daniel Levison – Chairman CRE Holdings (Atlanta Investment Properties, CommissionTrac, Sharedspace) and Turner Levison, CEO, CommissionTrac

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