The future of work has changed forever with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It abruptly forced many companies to implement work from home policies, pivot to contactless technologies and adopt new ways of working.
On the real estate front, it has led to an unprecedented shift from city living to rural living, fundamentally changed the landscape of commercial real estate and has accelerated the digital transformation of real estate agencies around the world.
This begs the question—in a post-pandemic world, what will the real estate agency of the future look like?
The rise of flexible working arrangements
Prior to the pandemic, less than a third of Australian workers were regularly working from home. However, after Australia’s first wave of COVID-19 peaked, 46% of Australian workers were predominantly working from home. Amongst these workers were principals, real estate agents, property managers and other real estate employees.
Naturally, this sparked a number of online discussions, studies and polls around the effectiveness of remote work and workplace flexibility:
- Harvard Business Review found that knowledge workers were more productive while working from home, as they were able to spend less time in large meetings and more time interacting with customers and external partners.
- A recent University of Sydney Business School survey revealed that Australians want to work from home two days per week in a post-pandemic world, with 75% of respondents believing that employers will support this new model of work.
- Stanford University Professor Nicholas Bloom fears that extended periods of remote work could lead to a decline in productivity, increased feelings of isolation and a slump in innovation.
- Respondents to this poll with over 7,500 votes showed a preference for an 80/20 split between working from home and in the office i.e. four days working from home and one day in the office.
While there are advantages and disadvantages to remote work, one thing has become increasingly apparent—companies will need to roll out more flexible working arrangements to account for employee preferences.
For example, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told his employees that they can “continue working from home forever”, but the office doors are always open for them. Similarly, US real estate company Zillow Group is offering employees the “flexibility to work from home as an ongoing option, at least part-time, allowing them the ability to work where they are most productive.”
Therefore, the real estate agency of the future must have a greater culture of flexibility to empower and energise employees. This partially remote workforce will become the norm in a post-pandemic world and will serve to increase productivity, job satisfaction and work-life balance.
Increased demand for coworking spaces
According to a report published by property fund managers QIC Global Real Estate, approximately half of Australian CBD workers will work from home two days per week post-COVID, resulting in an estimated 5% fall in net demand for office space.
“The demand for office space will be impacted from the accelerated trend towards work from home or more flexible working arrangements. While companies are expected to retain ‘flagship’ central/CBD locations, formalised flexible working arrangements are likely to become more commonplace,” the report said.
Companies and individuals are already undertaking assessments to reduce their existing office footprint and are considering coworking spaces as an alternative to traditional long-term office leases:
- According to Coworking Insights, demand is rising for low-risk, scalable flexible workspaces in Sydney.
- Hub Australia CEO and Founder Brad Krauskopf said that “flexible workspaces will be at the heart of how future businesses operate with an increase in demand imminent.”
As such, in the wake of the pandemic, established real estate agencies are predicted to retain their flagship offices. However, it is likely that they will consider downsizing and incorporating flexible workspaces into their business strategies to reduce overhead costs and better utilise space.
Additionally, new real estate agencies and property management businesses that do not want to commit to long-term leases will likely opt for coworking or shared office spaces to allow for greater flexibility, scalability and networking opportunities.
Real estate offices gone paperless
The concept of a paperless office is nothing new. In fact, the first documented prediction that offices would go paperless was in a 1975 Business Week article. Yet, the real estate industry—which is well-known for its resistance to change—has been slow to transition to digital recordkeeping, cloud storage, electronic agreements and online portals.
It was only in recent years that there has been a notable shift from paper and server-based technology to cloud-based technology. This shift has been further accelerated by the pandemic as cities went into lockdown and demand for secure, remote access to data and documents increased with the number of real estate employees working remotely.
As more and more real estate agencies reap the benefits of going paperless, the old ways of working will become a distant memory. Thus, the real estate agency of the future will be largely paperless, not only for environmental reasons, but also for improved accessibility, collaboration, security and cost efficiency.
Virtual and contactless real estate technology
In a similar vein, the pandemic served as a catalyst for PropTech innovation and adoption in 2020. It led to a surge in interest in virtual and contactless real estate technology as agencies sought different ways to interact with customers, conduct inspections, sign leases and close deals while mitigating the risk of community transmission.
Examples of such technologies include Unattended Showings for virtual tours, InspectMe for tenant inspections, Zoom and Microsoft Teams for online meetings, Openn Negotiation for remote auctions, PropertyMe for property management, FLK It Over for digital leases and much more.
Consequently, real estate agencies that were previously resistant to change were either thrust into the new millennium with streamlined workflows, automation and virtual reality or suffered for their lack of versatility and agility. There’s no doubt that these technologies are here to stay for the foreseeable future, with more features and enhancements on the horizon.
If the industry has learned anything from the past year, it’s that change can happen very rapidly and those that constantly adapt and innovate will not only survive, but will also thrive as the real estate agencies of the future.
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