Top Employer Concerns During the COVID-19 Crisis
What are Adelaide's property employers saying about the Coronavirus and how are they managing their workforce and business? In these challenging and unprecedented times, businesses are having to think fast and navigate constantly changing issues around employment, team management, resources, government support and finance. In this interview series, we hear from leaders in Adelaide’s property industry about the impact of Coronavirus on their business and how they’re coping.
Featured in this article is Gary J Smith Manager – Rental Department Deanne Goodwin, Harris Real Estate People and Culture Manager Tahnee Curzon, and The Form 1 Company Director, Chris Gill.
What is the biggest impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on your business?
I think the biggest impact on our business has been felt in our property management department. The role of our property managers has changed so much in the past month. Our normal property management tasks still exist but they’ve taken a back seat to the financial aspects of property management. There's been a lot of confusion and disruption and we spend much of our time finding solutions as well as providing emotional support to tenants and property owners. Sales have also been impacted with people reluctant to sell and buy right now. It's always a concern in business when there is so much uncertainty.
Mental Health is probably the largest impact, particularly within the sales team. Our property consultants are very much ‘people’ people and they thrive on the busy energy in the office, as well as finding job satisfaction in dealing with people face to face and a constant change of environment. Being cooped up at home most of the time and limited face to face interaction with our large team, they are finding it hard to stay motivated.
Our volume of Form 1 preparation files for April 2020 are down 40% in comparison to April 2019, which is in keeping with sales agencies' numbers and my expectations. I have kept monthly Form 1 preparation figures for the last seven years and Form 1 preparation usually mirrors the number of properties released to the market. It seems sales market volume is also down 40%, so the trend continues.
Have you had to reduce the size of your team or let staff go as a result of the current situation?
We haven’t had to make any changes so far. Our aim is to do everything we can to retain all members of our team because they’re incredibly important to us. In fact, we just employed a property manager to cover someone on maternity leave, who’s proving to be highly valuable.
No. Our strategy was very much that our people are our greatest asset and we didn’t want to lose that. Instead, we took the approach of reducing hours and getting staff to take annual leave rather than cutting numbers. We will need our whole team on board when this crisis is over, and we highly value the talent we currently have.
Form 1 preparation is seasonal, so I have always had a mix of casual and full-time staff. I’m very pleased to say that all my full-time staff been retained. Unfortunately, there is no requirement for the same number of casual staff in the current market.
Are you and your team working in the office or from home? How is that going, and did you have adequate systems and procedures in place to make this a smooth transition initially?
I’m incredibly proud to say that we reacted very quickly to the COVID-19 crisis and were able to change our workplace structure overnight. It was imperative that we protect the company, our clients and our team. As a result, we have a mixture of people in the office and at home. We were lucky that we had excellent systems and procedures in place before the pandemic. Adjusting to the new structure in the first week was hard, especially for those working from home but they’ve all settled in and its working well now.
Being a very high-tech driven company, we already had the technology and systems in place to allow our staff to work remotely, including our reception team. At this stage, staff are allowed to work from the office if they prefer, but our guidance is for them to work at home. 3 of our 4 offices are still open and the majority of staff are working remotely.
At present, we have a mixture of people at home and in the office. Some tasks are just easier to do in the office than from home. We have always been set up to work remotely which was an advantage when restrictions were first introduced, so the transition was fairly seamless. I have found complying with the COVID-19 rules to be easy to manage from all locations.
Are there any positives or opportunities that have come out of this situation for your business or team?
This situation has really tested our flexibility and has confirmed how important it is to have cloud-based programs in place and to stay up to date with technology. We may even keep some of the new initiatives we put in place once we return to normal. Amongst this uncertainty, I've been impressed to see how our team has stepped up, embraced change and we’ve seen some real leadership skills emerge.
Our team is communicating better than ever before, and I also think staff have been really impressed with how Harris as an organisation has handled this situation. Our considered and measured approach, and the leadership from Phil has really shown how much of a professional business this is and our staff can also appreciate how much we really do value each and every one of them.
The importance of an accurate Form 1 has never been more apparent than in the current market where buyers are not plentiful. Fortunately, we have a good reputation for knowledge and Form 1 accuracy delivered in a timely manner, so we may see an increase in market share over the coming months.
What do you think will be the longer-term impacts on your business and your industry going forward?
At this early stage it’s hard to depict what the long-term impacts on the industry might be, particularly not knowing how long the current situation will continue. When the current legislation surrounding tenancies expires in October, we believe our rental department will be dealing with some very difficult situations that have emerged as a result of the temporary laws.
Many landlords will consider selling or may be forced to sell if they have experienced financial hardship themselves, and with fewer investors buying into the market, potentially there could be a rental shortage going into 2021.
As a company, we have become stronger, learned new skills and adapted to new ways of doing business. Our ability to embrace change and provide leadership has helped strengthen our brand, instilled confidence in our team and we believe we will thrive in the future.
Obviously there will be a financial impact that we will need to recover from, and waiting for the market to gain confidence once the pandemic passes will take time, however, we believe because of how strongly we have handled this situation and the resilience we have shown as an organisation, our clients will have even more confidence in us as a professional services company and we expect this to help us grow the business even further. For our staff, we believe in retaining our staff instead of cutting numbers we hope to gain even further engagement with the company and hopefully, longer-term see a lower turnover rate of team members.
I can’t see any long-term impact. We are heading into the winter months which traditionally has reduced real estate volumes. If all goes to plan, there should be no impediment to a vibrant spring and summer real estate market, so any decrease in numbers during this COVID-19 period will likely be made up by the end of the year. I expect similar Form 1 preparation numbers for 2020 that we did in 2019, just that the peaks and troughs may be different from usual trends.