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Op/Ed

Working from home has changed what perks we value

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Sure, the little perks of a snazzy workplace with snacks and neon chairs are, but if we’re all working from home, who cares?

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Empty startup office with open floor plan, abandoned while working from home.

So at this point, people are starting to adjust to a new reality (nothing normal about it, so maybe standard is the better word here, and leaves it room to grow and encompass a type of normal) of working from home, learning the ins and outs of Zoom, being hired without ever meeting your future team face to face, and all the other changes and challenges that have been revealed, reviewed, and revised in a connected and digital world.

Which is all a fancy way of saying that certain things that were – at one time – considered incredibly important are sliding down the priority scale at a scary and fast rate. It makes sense that a parking spot and transportation stipends might make less sense if everyone is stuck at home. That could kill an entire bullet point on a company’s list of perks. I wonder how many beer taps have cobwebs on them right now?

You know what is trending? A lack of interest in trendy offices. Which should only make sense, I suppose – who really cares how high up the windows are downtown if we’re all stuck working from home anyway? After all, if no one is in the office to enjoy them, why does it matter who has rock climbing walls and ping pong tables?

As Josh Wand – founder and CEO of recruiting agency ForceBrands – states, “When the pandemic hit and everyone decentralized, what I heard from hundreds of my clients is that people don’t care about those perks. People want to feel connected. They want to feel valued. The little things become the big things. It’s not about the free lunch or the extra perks — it’s about growth opportunities, visibility and transparency.”

Instead of focusing on things like a well designed physical space as a draw for talent, it’s all about a company fostering a sense of belonging while working from home. This has always been a concern when it comes to retaining talent, but now there’s an added degree of difficulty in resolving this issue given the distance and virtual nature of teams scattered across towns, cities, states, and nations.

One way to look at this is to see how a company’s culture can be adopted and applied, as now – more than ever before while working from home – this is falling directly on every employee to build, apply, and celebrate. Instead of the physical constructs and perks that could have been seen as a way to define and measure the vibe, it’s entirely on the shoulders of the C-suite, executive teams, and employees themselves. I.e., work with cool people, then it’s still cool even when you can’t be around them. And that is huge.

Manuel Bordé is the global chief creative officer at Geometry, and offers this insight: “What makes an agency culture amazing is the talent the agency has. If you lose that talent, or fail to replace the outgoing talent with equally amazing ones, then the agency culture is gone.” In short: everyone has to pull together more than ever before.

Maybe there’s a way to preserve such relationships virtually, or maybe tried-and-true options such as one-on-one meetings can help mitigate and preserve the feeling of a cohesive team. Andrea Diquez, CEO of Saatchi NY, relies on nearly thirty of these a week to keep close with employees and “feel the pulse of the agency.” Certainly, there will be a push to take this kind of interaction and communication much more seriously in order to bolster connections while working from home.

This could be me sounding selfish, but I am definitely on board with companies that have realized at-home stipends are a huge draw, and I absolutely champion that route. Helping to cover costs for employees in their home offices is definitely helpful, if not outright necessary.

Taking this a step further – could money that was previously allocated to certain perks be redirected to workers? Instead of paying for soda delivery, take those funds and use them for different benefits – added healthcare options (mental health would be amazing), additional days off, or the occasional happy hour with delivered treats? You can keep the swag – I’ve used my company issued hoodie a LOT recently.

Years ago, I went to a coding bootcamp here in Austin called Makersquare (which became Hack Reactor, and ultimately part of Galvanize). We talked about startup culture a lot, and several of us had experience from prior jobs. I remember that one person gave a presentation about one of their previous ventures, and his slide show included a picture of a ping pong table, “so that you could tell we were a startup.”

Everyone laughed. It’s funny because it was true at the time. Who knows if it’ll stay true now? I guess we’ll find out once offices open back up (if they do, let’s all hope we can stay working from home).

Speaking personally, I’d already seen a decline of interest in office perks at some jobs I’ve worked at – surveys that specifically pointed out that there was lower emphasis on endless snacks and more on lower commutes. This makes me think that the pandemic is just accelerating a shift toward incentives that return time and energy to employees while also decreasing daily stress.

I’m all for that. I know that I definitely love that my commute is twenty feet of walking, and I’m usually in comfy house slippers when I do that. I’d take that over the once-every-three-months game of ping pong any day. I do miss my coworkers, and I look forward to seeing them, of course, but seeing the big picture makes me reevaluate.

In the end, this could represent another movement and evolution of the American workplace, especially in the tech world. It still remains to be seen if this will be a sea change, a transformation away from the hip cultures that Google and Facebook gave us to fuel our dreams of endless donuts and caffeine, and instead settling into something cozier and dependent on creating truly national (global?) teams that get by on the strength of their cooperation and desire to work separately yet together.

It’s like how I’ve got my best friend living in Japan – the few times we chat each year, it’s like no time has passed. That’s what we’re going to strive for in the new age.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

Op/Ed

5 ways consumer behavior has changed due to the pandemic

(EDITORIAL) The pandemic has changed the way a lot of people look at and act in the new world. These are the biggest 5 changes you should be aware of.

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5 cards showing what people think is most important due to the pandemic.

COVID is still affecting businesses in multiple ways, all dependent on the industry. One thing that affects every business, regardless of industry, is customer behavior. It’s no surprise that customers are changing their behavior to meet the challenges of the pandemic. Near the start of the pandemic, Google released a playbook of information regarding behavior that may help your business. Use this information to help you shift your marketing efforts going forward.

  1. Consumers are using multiple devices more than ever before.
    With kids home trying to do school, parents who are working from, and people who are still searching for their next job opportunity, content is being consumed at record rates. According to Google, Americans are watching 12 hours of media content each day.
  2. Increases in search for critical information.
    Online grocery shopping and cooking videos are top searches these days while more Americans are staying home. Telemedicine is another hot search topic. People are looking for ways to stay to themselves and be protected.
  3. Consumers want to stay connected online.
    Google announced that in April 2020, Google Meet hosted over 3 billion minutes of video meetings. YouTube has seen an increase in “with me” videos. People are filming themselves going about their day to connect with their friends and family. Virtual events have changed how people meet up.
  4. Routines are changing to be “internet-first.”
    Telecommuting is a top search these days as consumers try to find ways to work from home. People are looking for exercise options that can be managed at home. Consumers are using the internet to find options that keep them socially-distanced but connected to their routine.
  5. Self-care is taking a higher priority.
    Meditation videos are being consumed at a higher percentage than before. People are looking for books, games, and puzzles to stay occupied at home.

Consider your business against consumer behavior: COVID restrictions may be easing, but consumer behavior will forever be changed. Your business can use this information to change your marketing to meet consumers at their point of need.

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Op/Ed

Redoing your home office for the new year? Get rid of these 5 things

(EDITORIAL) Since many of us are working entirely from home now, we are probably getting annoyed at our home office, so let’s take a crack at minimalism!

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Home office set up with monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

The pandemic has changed human behaviors. As more people stay home, they’re seeing (and having to deal with) the clutter in their homes. Many people are turning to minimalism to reduce clutter and find more joy in their own space, including their home office. There are many ways to define minimalism. Some people define it as the number of items you own. Others think of it as only owning items that you actually need.

I prefer to think of minimalism as the intentionality of possessions. I have a couple of dishes that are not practical, nor do I use them very often. But they belonged to my grandma, and out of sentimentality, I keep them. Most minimalists probably wouldn’t.

They say a messy desk is a sign of creativity. Unfortunately, that same messy desk limits productivity. Harvard Business Review reports that cluttered spaces have negative effects on us. Keep your messy desk, but get rid of the clutter. Take a minimalistic approach to your home office. Here are 5 things to clean up:

  1. Old technology – When was the last time you printed something for work? Most of us don’t print much anymore. Get rid of the old printers, computer parts, and other pieces of hardware that are collecting dust.
  2. Papers and documents – Go digital, or just save the documents that absolutely matter. Of course, this may vary by industry, but take a hard look at the paper you’ve saved over the past month or so. Then ask yourself whether you will really ever look at it again.
  3. Filing cabinets – If you’re not saving paper, you don’t need filing cabinets.
  4. Trade magazines and journals – Go digital, and keep your magazines on your Kindle, or pass down the print versions to colleagues who may be interested.
  5. Anything unrelated to work – Ok, save the picture of your family and coffee mug, but clean off your desk of things that aren’t required for work. It’s easy for home and work to get mixed up when you’re working and living in one place. Keep it separate for your own peace of mind and better workflow. If space is tight and you’re sharing a dining room table with work, get a laundry basket or box. At the start of the workday, remove home items and put them in the box. Transfer work items to another box at the end of the day.

This might seem like a little more work, but all these practices will give you some boundaries.

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Op/Ed

Decades in the making, real estate’s innovation propels industry through pandemic, into the future

(EDITORIAL) Our minds are plagued with uncertainty as the pandemic reshapes all sectors, but this unique insight helps us to see the clear path forward.

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Bob Goldberg, CEO at The National Association of Realtors

In unprecedented times, people reflexively become gripped with fear and trepidation, but industry leaders can assess the bigger picture and not only take stock, but forecast what emergence will look like. The following guest column from Bob Goldberg, CEO of the National Association of Realtors® does just that – he takes stock of today’s realities and offers unique insights into changing the status quo.


Commercial real estate, an industry many feared would suffer broad, lasting distress as a result of the pandemic, fared better in 2021 than just about anyone expected.

The multifamily market, in fact, had a historic year, as the National Association of Realtors®’ Commercial Market Insights Report pointed out last month. Vacancy rates hit 35-year lows and median asking rent grew at a record pace amid a recovery in household formation.

Meanwhile, demand for U.S. industrial space continues to significantly outpace supply, and NAR economists expect the demand for commercial real estate to strengthen throughout 2022.

Given where we were less than two years ago, it’s natural for us to ask, how did this happen?

How, when offices were left vacant, urban cores were abandoned, and even more existing business activity turned online, has commercial real estate survived, or, in some cases, thrived?

The reality is that real estate – both commercial and residential – has been evolving alongside a changing market for decades.

Innovations which had been years in the making were perfectly positioned and perfectly timed when the pandemic began. New, cutting-edge technologies allowed families to relocate, transactions to close, and commerce to continue even as much of the nation ground to a halt in early 2020.

Indeed, without the broader market activity that has been catalyzed by our industry – with home sales hitting 15-year highs and demand for multifamily and industrial real estate booming – this period of relative economic prosperity would have been more distant, more elusive. 

As is the case for most things in life, hard work and sacrifice are to thank. But we can also credit a principal that is perpetually in focus at NAR – innovation.

Renowned economist Theodore Levitt once said that creativity is thinking up new things, while innovation is doing new things.

It’s been American real estate’s collective, remarkable ability to continue doing new things that has made this revival possible, a phenomenon which has benefitted consumers everywhere along the way.

Through our tech growth program, REACH, and our association’s investment arm, Second Century Ventures (SCV), NAR has been on the cutting edge of innovation in real estate technology for more than a decade.

Some of the more than two dozen companies from the REACH portfolio which were instrumental in the industry overcoming lockdowns and social distancing measures include BoxBrownie.com and Immoviewer, which specialize in 3D 360 tours and floor plan renders; UbiPark, a contact-free smart parking solution; and Loop&Tie, a bespoke gifting platform that helps real estate professionals engage with clients and employees from afar.

Overall, SCV has allowed Realtors® to seed some 160 technology companies that engage in everything from digital title and escrow transfers to virtual staging tools and automated marketing campaigns. E-signature services provider DocuSign and remote notarization platform Notarize are a few of the most recognizable entities, but a host of others have imagined the revolutionary resources which will soon be commonplace in our industry.

Residential markets reaching 15-year highs in the midst of a pandemic without tools like these is simply unimaginable.

In the commercial sector, too, these innovations have proven invaluable. Some of the 30 new technology companies supported by REACH Commercial which have been leading the charge these past two years include Lulafit, Pear Chef, and Cove. Indeed, just months after the pandemic broke, Cove launched new software platforms to help tenants and building owners return to work safely once stay-at-home orders were lifted.

As Bisnow highlighted at the time, these innovative new resources were created to help companies track the occupancy of their spaces, set cleaning schedules and conduct health checks, while their employees could reserve desks, stagger arrival times, and form elevator queues.

Looking ahead, we must retain the aptitude for progress that propelled real estate through COVID in order for our industry to thrive through the seemingly endless string of market transformations.
 
One of the true bright spots in an otherwise tragic circumstance is that this pandemic has made people more aware of the places and spaces we occupy. How all of us live and work in these spaces has changed forever. Naturally, this new mindset has generated a renewed focus on sustainability.

Real estate’s motivation to engage is obvious.

The First Street Foundation, which developed the Flood Factor tool employed on realtor.com® and elsewhere to provide flood risk assessments for hundreds of millions of properties, engaged on a recent study which estimated structural damage from U.S. flooding will exceed $13 billion in 2022.

More severe flooding events and property damage are the most widely known consequence of climate change, but its impacts do not stop there.

CoreLogic’s 2020 Wildfire Risk Report reported more than 1.9 million homes – with an associated reconstruction cost of almost $650 billion – were at elevated risk of wildfire damage. The regions most at risk, perhaps unsurprisingly, are metro areas in California. 

NAR offers grant resources to state and local Realtor® associations in effort to make communities more resilient, encouraging new and unique strategies that foster sustainability and combat the potentially damaging impacts of climate change. In Oregon, for example, the Rogue Valley Association of Realtors® – a region devastated by wildfires in recent years – used a Consumer Advocacy grant from NAR to coordinate a two-day training and certification program for home inspectors conducted by the National Fire Protection Association.

Henry Ford is claimed to have noted that if he had asked his first customers what they wanted, “they would have said faster horses,” rather than the automobile. Whether Ford said this or not is today the subject of some digital disagreement. But that’s irrelevant.

Truth is, we often don’t know what we need until we’re faced with a moment of distress or distraction or despair. A once-in-a century global pandemic, for example.

No one knows the future, and very few know what they will want at any, undetermined point in it. All we know for certain is that the future will be different than today.

And if we’re not changing the status quo, we might just find that we’ve become it.


Bob Goldberg is CEO of the National Association of Realtors®. Since assuming the role in August of 2017, Bob has overseen transformations that have positioned NAR as real estate’s leading figure in the fight for diversity and inclusion; the industry’s primary driver of technological innovation; and as an association lauded for a genuine, unwavering commitment to its members. As part of the responsibility NAR has to more than 1.5 million REALTORS® worldwide, Goldberg has overseen the formation of a number of initiatives which have influenced the market and proven immensely valuable to NAR’s general membership.

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