While it was once common for REALTORS® and brokers to divide their time between office space and field work, times have changed. Now, agents and brokers spend more time working from their laptops or tablets, and less time occupying those pricey office suites.
As a broker, switching to a virtual office space and working from home (or at a listing, or in a coffee shop), may seem like a cheaper way to manage the business, but is it practical?
If you are currently leasing office space for your team, switching to a virtual space could save you money. But the real advantage to going virtual and working in the cloud is that you and your team can always be connected.
“Being able to be very dynamic and having everything at your fingertips—always—is the biggest advantage,” said David Newcombe, designated broker for Habitat Urban in Arizona.
While most offices exist in a 9 to 5 world, having your office with you wherever you go makes it easier to work around your clients’ schedules, or to set your own schedule.
If you do decide to go virtual, you will “have to work harder on broker communication,” Newcombe says. Without the water cooler around, you will need to set up times to talk with your agents and your office staff, send regular memos to keep everyone in the loop, and find more inventive ways to train new hires.
Virtual offices may also create some inconveniences on the client side. “The client needs more than just a Starbucks to meet in,” Newcombe said.
That doesn’t mean you will risk losing clients. You just need to find another way to meet and finalize deals.
“Think forward as to what affiliates might work with you to provide conference rooms for occasional special client meetings,” Newcombe said.
Finding the Right Equipment
If do decide to switch to a virtual office, having the right technology in place is key to a successful transition. Newcombe recommends starting with the right customer relationship management software.
“Don’t always go for the obvious old tried and tested solutions,” he said. “There are many great new products on the market that you can customize to fit your brokerage like a glove.”
Once you have a CRM system in place, a handful of productive tools will keep your business running smoothly. At the very basic level you will need an email client, online-based cloud storage, compliance and filing software, and word processing software. Newcombe recommends looking into:
- Google Apps to manage things like email and appointments.
- Google Drive to store, create and edit shared documents.
- Dropbox to store shared documents.
- Evernote Premium to store documents and links.
- LoopNet for compliance and brokerage files.
- A virtual whiteboard like Asana.
Making the Transition
With the right planning, transitioning to a virtual office could be completely painless. Start by setting regular meetings with a time and place for all of your office administrators, marketing specialists, Web designers and REALTORS®. Having regular meetings will help smooth the transition.
Before you lose the office entirely, Newcombe says to “make sure your REALTORS® are as tech savvy as they can be and used to working without paper.” Also, offer training on any software you will be using and provide agents and staff with a list of equipment they will need to buy.