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GETTING FACE-TO-FACE IN A POST-COVID WORLD

Published 14 May 2021

working from home2 webThe UK’s largest building society, Nationwide, has made headlines by announcing that it is to allow 13,000 of its office staff to choose where they work.

The lender is to close three offices in Swindon, with staff there being given the choice of moving to the firm’s nearby HQ, operating out of its High Street branches, working from home – or a blend of all three.  Nationwide says that its ‘work anywhere’ plan will allow employees more control of their lives.

Is this another nail in the coffin of office culture, a genius move designed to increase their workforce’s flexibility, or a gimmick aimed more at saving money and making headlines than giving their customers the best service?

At the height of the pandemic, for the safety of our clients and staff, we at Arnolds Keys took the decision to create ‘in’ and ‘out’ teams to reduce the risk of virus transmission for the safety of our customers and colleagues. The ‘out’ teams worked exclusively away from the office, and indeed were not allowed to cross the threshold at all. It is a policy which worked well, and which has helped to keep us a 100% Covid-free business so far.

As the vaccination programme proceeds apace, and with infection levels dropping rapidly, now our teams are able to blend back together. It’s unlikely things will return to exactly how they were though, as the pandemic has taught us a lot about how we work, and how our customers like to work with us.

Because our business is a mixture of office-based duties and being out on the road visiting properties, a blend of home and office based working may well be the future. But don’t for one minute think that spells the end for face-to-face interaction – quite the opposite.

It is true that for the most part clients just want us to be accessible, and that usually means via telephone, email and social media - none of which specifically requires their estate agent to be anchored to a desk. But even more so, clients want us to be responsive, and able to act quickly when opportunities - like viewings or market appraisals - arise, and not be tethered to a desk and an office phone.

In lockdown we invested heavily in technology to enable our teams to work in any location; laptop-based telephony and Zoom/Teams for face-to-face meetings mean that we have become even more flexible, enabling us to make things happen and react to situations faster. Which is what our job is all about.

As we tentatively start to transition into post-pandemic life, the historic market towns and the fine city of Norwich where our offices are based are gradually reawakening, with people feeling once again feeling more confident to cross the thresholds of offices and shops.

Driven by customer preference, most estate agencies which started up in recent years entirely online have adapted their business model to incorporate traditional aspects of estate agency such as personal visits and accompanied viewings – even opening offices.

However, as much as we have all embraced technology this last year, nothing quite replaces meeting in person. It may be some time before the Covid ‘fist bump’ gives way to the much more congenial handshake, but in the world of property transactions, we will never replace the need to meet, and transact face-to-face.

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Jan Hytch

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Arnolds Keys Blog

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