The Virtual Office Model (Part 2)

It’s Not the Building — It’s the Power!

In my last installment, I discussed how our industry is changing dramatically.  I discussed how over the last few years telework has become mainstream, and is now amounting to nearly a quarter of our work force.  I cited how working remotely is increasing in popularity as technology is developed and costs associated with commuting increase.  Five years ago nobody would have even considered a virtual office, and yet at the current rate of growth, in a few short years virtual offices will no longer be the exception, but rather, the rule. So what do I mean when I talk about a real estate “virtual office”?

Office – of·fice [aw-fis] “ noun. A room, set of rooms, or building where the business of a commercial or industrial organization or of a professional person is conducted: the main office of an insurance company; a doctor’s office.

Virtual Office – vir·tu·al·of·fice [vur-choo-uhl·aw-fis] “ adjective, noun.  A business location that is simulated by telecommunications and computer connectivity.

First let me tell you what I don’t mean– When I start explaining our business model to other brokers or agents, they invariably think that I am talking about not having any office space.  In fact, at one time many of our competitors here in Fayetteville, North Carolina told their agents that we didn’t even have an office.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  We have a huge office.  In fact, our 8,000 square foot office is the largest brokerage office in our market.  We have desks, chairs, conference tables, computers, file cabinets, mail boxes, waste paper baskets, copiers, and all the “normal” trappings of a typical real estate office.

So what do I mean that we are a “virtual office”? I mean the assemblance of technologies that allow agents to receive the benefits of an office (communication, instruction, supervision, and money) in a web environment as opposed to a brick-and-mortar physical location.  Our agents are able to conduct business just as well in the field or at home as they can in our office building.  Today’s real estate virtual office is more about technology empowerment than about not going to a traditional office building.  Let me repeat that:  Today’s real estate virtual office is more about technology empowerment than about not going to a traditional office building.

I’m not talking about the absence of a brick and mortar physical location.  Instead, what I’m talking about is the power of the office — the communication, the instruction, the supervision, and the money — all being conducted virtually.  That allows our agents to function precisely the same way in any environment.  They can log in at home, or from the local coffee shop.  If they are on vacation, they can log in at the hotel business center and conduct business as if they were at our physical office.  There is simply no difference.

When a client or another agent calls our office, they don’t have to relay the message to a receptionist, who then tries to track down an agent.  Rather, the call is seamlessly routed electronically to the appropriate agent, or to a “hunt group” of agents, or simultaneously to a series of numbers for the same agent.  If the phone system needs to be reprogrammed, we can log in from anywhere and make the needed changes.

When a customer calls an agent’s listing from a yard sign, our technology automatically captures the caller’s phone number (even if they have caller ID blocked) and forwards the caller’s phone number to the listing agent by text message and email while playing a pre-recorded message to the customer detailing the property.  If the customer wants to ask additional questions about the house they simply push zero and the system automatically transfers the call to the agent.  And yes, if that system needs to be reprogrammed or changed in any way, it can all be done from anywhere.

Ok, Matt (you’re probably thinking), that’s nice.  You have a few expensive technology gadgets.  Actually, the truth is we have very few and their cost is minimal, but more on that later in this series.  I’m actually just scratching the surface.  Now is when it really starts to get powerful.  Imagine being the managing broker of our “virtual office” and having 75 agents under your supervision.

We have a technology platform that allows you to oversee every single history note that every one of your agents makes in his real estate contact manager.  It allows you to schedule an appointment for any agent.  It allows you both to make notes in the same customer file.  It allows you to see at a glance, every note in every file, by every agent, while preventing the other agents from seeing each other’s customers or notes, and it allows you to maintain a permanent record of all the notes, comments, and correspondence.

It gets better!  You would be able to refer a customer to an agent with the click of a mouse, have that customer’s information pop into your agent’s contact manager, complete with his entire history, then monitor your agent’s correspondence and prospecting activity with that referred client.  You could make notes to your agent as you supervise him, you could correspond with the customer while preserving a record in the customer file, and you could even pull that customer with the entire history and give it to another agent should there ever be a problem.  Oh, and all of that could be done from anywhere, on any computer, any time of the day or night.

Have I piqued your interest?  I thought so.  Stay tuned and we will discuss exactly how you could assemble the same basic technology platform to accomplish this type of virtual office environment.  And we’ll talk about how you can do it on a budget — great systems don’t have to be expensive.  Finally, we’ll discuss how you could even take the model to the extreme and actually run a complete real estate company without the expensive overhead of a traditional office.  You won’t want to miss a single installment so stay tuned.

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