Managers Tune Into Their Off-Site Teams.
It's 10 a.m. Do you know where your brokers are?
Many commercial real estate company owners have embraced the virtual-office concept to lower operating costs, which presents a management challenge: keeping track of brokers and sales associates. The same is true for managers responsible for brokers in satellite offices, since it is impossible to be in every location all the time.
“In today's technological world, we are seeing more satellite offices, and this trend will continue,” says Ken Murawski, managing director of Cincinnati operations for the Miller-Valentine Group.
Although managing off-site brokers can seem as difficult as “trying to herd cats,” as one St. Louis-based sales associate quips, those who succeed rely on a combination of technology and good communication skills to maintain a consistent level of service among employees. Sharing information is essential, and it is the manager's responsibility to facilitate the process.
Talk to Me
Managers stress communication as key to keeping off-site brokers on track. Many managers rely heavily on e-mail because it can be accessed from almost anywhere.
“E-mail is truly an effective way of keeping people up to speed,” Murawski says. “Brokers feel like I am sitting right down the hall.”
“It is an absolute requirement for brokers to check e-mail in the morning and evening,” says David C. Mayo, CCIM, president of Vector Realty Advisors in Louisville, Ky. Vector's six brokers are constantly on the road, which Mayo believes gives them an edge over their competitors. “They are able to see and learn about new markets and gain great familiarity with many marketplaces by physically being there,” he says.
Since he uses it so often, G. Rick Robinson, CCIM, of Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estates, is cognizant of e-mail etiquette. “Brevity is important. Get to the crux of the issue,” when letting brokers know what is going on and ask them to do the same, he suggests. Kamehameha Schools is a trust based in Honolulu that funds a statewide educational system. In his role as senior asset manager in the Kailua Kona office, Robinson works with outside brokers who manage the company's commercial real estate assets, which include resort, retail, and industrial properties.
Conference calls and voice mail are effective management tools as well. Mayo conference calls his brokers every Monday morning to discuss business and to share resources in certain marketplaces.
Regularly scheduled meetings should be used in tandem with phone and e-mail communication. Face-to-face, brokers can share information about transactions and brainstorm for problem-solving ideas, as well as strengthen relationships with one another and the manager.
John Homsher, CCIM, a principal at Podolsky Northstar Realty Partners in Riverwoods, Ill., manages eight independent contractor brokers and three property managers who work in the field about 50 percent of the time. He holds sales meetings every three weeks that all employees are expected to attend. At the beginning of the year he distributes a schedule of the meetings, so attendees can work their appointments around them. In addition to discussing current activities and solving brokers' problems, Homsher invites landlords, educational speakers, and other special guests to make presentations during the meetings.
At Property One in New Orleans, brokers attend sales/networking meetings every other Monday at the company's headquarters, says Quentin D. Dastugue, CCIM, who, as chief executive officer of the company, manages 16 brokers in six offices across Louisiana and Texas. He also schedules mandatory quarterly luncheons where brokers network, compare deals and market information, and present their listings. Afterward, a training session that qualifies for continuing education credit is held. The meetings are “very, very productive,” due to their casual atmosphere, Dastugue says.
Managers also suggest visiting brokers or satellite offices as frequently as possible. During his monthly visits, Dastugue sits down with the brokers, tours the market, and calls on clients, he says. Robinson frequently tours his company's properties, so he meets with the brokers regularly.
The main goal of all this communication is “understanding where [the brokers] are in deals and earnings and judging if they will be successful, because if they are successful, ultimately the company will be successful,” Homsher says.
Managers measure off-site brokers' progress in a variety of ways. At the start of every fiscal year, Homsher meets with all brokers individually to identify their goals for the year. He then sits down with them each subsequent quarter to evaluate their progress and modify their goals, if necessary.
Every Friday, the administrative support person in each Property One office e-mails an updated activity report to the brokerage coordinator in New Orleans. “On each Monday, I review the reports and talk to each broker in the outer offices to discuss their activities, how we can help move the deals, and make suggestions on new business development,” Dastugue says.
It also is helpful to have an individual in each satellite office that can assume a leadership role, a “quasi broker/manager,” Murawski says. This individual can monitor the other brokers' activities and act as a stand-in if the manager isn't available.
Choose Brokers Carefully
Building a team of sales associates who work well with little direct supervision is helpful to managing off-site teams effectively.
“If brokers have to be hounded, they aren't going to make it,” Dastugue says. When screening potential new brokers, he looks for traits such as confidence and the ability to overcome rejection.
Brokers who work independently “don't need someone riding their tail,” Murawski says. Prior to his current position, he oversaw CB Richard Ellis' office in Dayton, Ohio, while he was based in Cincinnati. He seeks self-starters who are proven in the industry and rarely hires an inexperienced broker without a strong mentor.
It's smart to hire experienced individuals and “be assured that they can operate independently, are disciplined, and use time efficiently,” Mayo advises.
Self-motivation is another important trait. Off-site sales associates “don't have the boss looking over their shoulder; it takes a unique type of person to succeed [in that environment],” Homsher says.
Also imperative is “finding someone who will let you know what is going on without capitalizing all of your time,” Robinson says. When contracting with brokers, he looks for aggressive people who can facilitate deals.
Stop Problems Before They Start
Despite a manager's efforts to build a team of independent workers, problems still may occur. Since off-site brokers cannot be monitored every minute, managers especially must be proactive to deter potential setbacks, such as failing to meet sales goals or close deals.
“Sometimes a broker can drift and fall behind in production,” Dastugue says. “It's up to the manager to make sure they stay focused and do the daily things necessary to stay in business.”
A manager “can't be complacent,” Homsher agrees. If brokers fall behind projections, the manager must be active in overseeing them and stay in constant communication, he advises.
Many times off-site brokers may feel isolated, so managers “must go out of their way to make sure there is deep communication and that brokers feel part of the overall team,” Murawski says. Managers should make themselves available to their brokers to ensure they are getting the proper attention and support.
Cut Them Some Slack
However, even with a manager's diligence, communication sometimes lags. The nature of the commercial real estate industry requires brokers to be in the field, constantly looking for new business opportunities, which oftentimes takes precedence over checking into the office.
Most importantly, “Remember that these are adults and don't need to be lectured to,” Dastugue says. “It's a different situation than salaried employees; you need to give them some breathing room.”