This April, one of Inman’s most popular recurring theme months returns: Back to Basics. All month, real estate professionals from across the country share what’s working for them, how they’ve evolved their systems and tools, and where they’re investing personally and professionally to drive growth in 2022. It’s always smart to go Back to Basics with Inman.
When the pandemic began, one of the biggest shifts for most people was moving from an office environment to working remotely. Ironically, whether it was because everyone missed being in the office or suddenly had a new appreciation for some of the absurdities of office life, The Office subsequently became the most-streamed show of 2020.
Whether you’ve ever watched it or not, you’re probably familiar with the premise of this popular sitcom: A group of people of all ages and backgrounds work together at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. There’s the ridiculous boss, Michael; the cute lovebirds, Jim and Pam; the overbearing assistant to the regional manager who also happens to be a beet farmer, Dwight Schrute; and an absurdist cast of characters in constant conflict with each other.
Part of the comedy of The Office comes from how unnecessary so much of the conflict is: generated by the boss’s inept attempts at building cohesion or by the pettiness of the employees themselves. Everyone could get along, you feel, if they would just do their jobs and leave each other alone.
Often we, too, end up in camps of us versus them in the office, dividing ourselves by age, gender or how professional we are compared to everyone else. Although funny from an outside perspective, it can make for a pretty miserable work environment, both for you and those you’re lined up against.
Have you ever felt like the odd one out, either in art school, on your cross-country team or in the warehouse? Have you ever felt unwelcome, uncomfortable or unbelievably frustrated with your manager (or with the assistant to the regional manager)? What did it do to your performance and to your self-confidence (poor Toby)? How did it affect your peace of mind and stop you from facing any challenges (that might be foolish enough to face you)?
There’s enough division and polarization in society; we don’t need it at the office as well. Although these groups may tend to look at each other with a wary eye, here are some ways they can work together more effectively so that everyone wins, along with some silly examples of conflict from the pandemic’s most-streamed show.
Old vs. young
Although the situations depicted in the show are extreme, they point up some of the frustrations that happen on both sides of the “us vs. them” in professional environments. Stanley is the “grumpy old man” of The Office, constantly frustrated with and dismissive of those who are younger than he is. Don’t be Stanley.
There’s a tendency in our culture to dismiss those in a different age group. Younger people are often underestimated by those who are older, even though they may have energy and skills older agents lack. Older people may be considered past their prime by younger agents, even though they’ve spent decades building their expertise and an enviable SOI.
Technology is another area that can be a bone of contention between older and younger agents. Older agents may think of technology as optional and may see their failure to upgrade their tech as a quirky personal choice. Younger agents may see technology as essential and feel frustrated when they have to constantly play Genius Bar for agents who refuse to learn basic tech skills.
Here’s how to get along better, no matter what your age or experience level:
- Don’t make age-based assumptions about your colleagues. A younger agent may have grown up around the real estate business and may be coming in with a lifetime of insights. An older agent may be changing careers and may be less experienced than the younger agent. Treat each other with respect, regardless of age.
- If you struggle with tech, look into a training class and find out what resources are available to help you get up to speed. Don’t count on more tech-savvy colleagues to be your built-in tech support. While it may take you longer to pick up on new platforms and processes, it’s still your responsibility to learn, not their responsibility to teach you.
- Similarly, don’t assume that just because someone is younger than you, they are underprepared or doing things wrong. They may have just as many leadership skills and good ideas as you, although they may dress, speak or behave differently. Respect your colleagues as colleagues and don’t try to tell them how to be.
Male vs. female
Michael and Dwight were always struggling with how to treat staffers who didn’t look like them. Here’s what happened when they tried to have a dialogue with the women in the office — and a great example of what not to do.
We’ve talked a lot in the last few weeks about some of the gender-based assumptions we make in the workplace. These can range from mansplaining basic real estate terms to an experienced woman agent to assumptions about what work-life balance means to men.
If you’re looking to keep the peace and ensure that all of your agents work better together, here are some ways:
- Prioritize conversations that focus on equality in the workplace. Make sure that everyone has the opportunity to take part in honest conversations that push the culture forward.
- Strive for a gender-balanced leadership team so that everyone has role models and mentors built in, as well as someone to go to if they need to report problems or harassment.
- Pay attention to the way you conduct meetings. Do the men talk over the women on your team? Do the women tend to hold back their opinions, deferring to the men? Does there appear to be a power imbalance in either direction? Drive the conversation in such a way that everyone gets a say-so and has a voice.
Newbie vs. veteran
Michael’s not a regular boss, he’s a cool boss — or at least he wants to be. Here’s how he welcomed newbies transferring in from another Dunder Mifflin office. It’s a cringeworthy lesson in how not to treat those who are just joining your office.
Just as with older and younger agents, you may find your brokerage divided between newer agents and industry veterans. Some veteran agents may see newer ones as intruding on an already overcrowded real estate agent landscape. Some newer agents may be excited to launch their careers but feel disregarded and dismissed by more experienced agents.
Here’s how to ensure that these groups work together to make the team, the brokerage and the industry as a whole more effective:
- Create ways for newer agents to work with veteran agents through a formal mentorship program in your organization. Newbies will feel more confident when they have an experienced agent to check over paperwork and answer questions. Veteran agents can benefit from the energy and interest a newer agent offers.
- If you are a new agent, don’t hang back and assume that veteran agents won’t want to talk with you, but don’t assume that they want to take you on as their pet project, either. Ask a veteran agent to lunch and get to know them. You’ll pick up plenty of good insights without acting entitled to their time and expertise.
- If you are a veteran agent, try to remember what it was like when you first started in the business. What did you want and need from veteran agents in your office — and what were you unable to get? Be for a newer agent the mentor that you once needed and help to develop their skills and talents.
Agents vs. staff
One of the big tensions at Dunder Mifflin was between the sales force and their support staff. Here, the IT guy comes in to say goodbye and finds out just how little his time in the office has meant to those he supports. Make sure your IT guy, admin and other staffers never feel like Nick.
In some offices, there is a perception that the agents are the most important people and everything else revolves around them. After all, the agents are the ones bringing in the big bucks that keep the team or brokerage running. Support staff may be disregarded or expected to work outlandish hours in order to be a “team player,” while unable to enjoy the financial rewards that successful agents are pulling down.
Here’s how to make sure that everyone feels valued in your office:
- Make sure that you show your appreciation to the support staff you work with and that when the business does well, they do well also. Ensure that you are paying them a salary that’s commensurate with their experience and expertise, and that you also tell them regularly that you appreciate them.
- Make sure agents understand that the support staff is a key element in their success. No one does anything alone, and the admin, tech expert, marketing manager or client concierge may be just as much a part of that transaction closing as the individual agent.
- Facilitate communication between agents and staff members, ensuring that everyone feels like part of the team. Whatever you do for your agents — celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and major life events — you should do for the staff as well.
- In addition, don’t spend your whole budget on upgrades for the agents and leave the staff using outdated tech or materials. Make sure everyone has the tools they need to succeed in their role.
Full time vs. dual career
When Pam decided to branch out and chase her dreams by going to art school, she put her job at the office on the back burner. She then ended up being left out and disregarded by her colleagues — with the exception of Michael. Here’s how to be supportive of a dual-career agent so that they can flourish in both of their roles.
There are many agents who believe that a part-time agent “doesn’t count” or isn’t as good as a full-time agent. There are many reasons that someone might be unable to jump into a real estate agent role full time, from family responsibilities to a lack of financial resources. Bootstrapping a real estate career isn’t easy, and all agents deserve respect and consideration.
Here’s how to ensure that everyone feels valued, no matter how many transactions they do each year:
- Make sure that your team or brokerage’s culture emphasizes respect and professional consideration for everyone, not just the highest performing full-time agents. Keep the lines of communication open so that everyone is able to reach out for help when needed, and try to schedule team meetings at times that work for as many of your agents as possible.
- Spend time with your part-time agents helping them to develop a game plan for going full time, if that’s their goal, or to optimize their part-time work if not. Help them figure out how to make the leap to full time financially, logistically, and to get over the psychological hurdles involved.
- If you’re a full-time agent, be kind to part-time agents in your organization. You don’t know what challenges they may have or what their dreams and goals may be. Judging them is not just rude and inappropriate, it’s unprofessional.
- If you’re a dual-career agent, take your real estate career just as seriously as you do your other career. Work to develop your competence and grow your business so that you can be a productive and valuable part of your team or brokerage.
What it really comes down to, in the end, is mutual respect and a little bit of patience. It’s really not that hard. Just take a tip from Dwight: