Knowledge workers are spending an average of 10 hours a week in virtual meetings. This is a whopping five times increase than before the pandemic and accounts for a quarter of the typical week. This is according to a report from Polly.ai, The State of Virtual Meetings in 2021, and is just one of the ways we work and collaborate has changed, perhaps forever.
Steven Jaffe founded Propdocs to create a better way for the commercial real estate industry to create, collaborate, negotiate and sign deals, and in this Q&A we dive deeper into his views on collaboration before, during and beyond the pandemic.
Q: What’s changed in how you collaborate?
SJ: As a company, not much. We’re a tech company and have always tapped into all the technology we can get our hands on to maximize efficiency and help us perform the best we can at anything we do. We’ve also always been almost 100% remote, although we do have an office, technically. We’ve been refining how we use digital collaboration tools for years. Specifically, we are heavy Slack users for automated actions as well as team collaboration.
What has changed though is how we collaborate with each other. Even though we’ve been working remotely for many years, we’ve become more comfortable with flexible schedules. The traditional 9 to 5 became a thing of the past and, for better or for worse, there is more overlap between business and personal life.
On the client-side though, things have changed. I cannot imagine that pre-Covid we would have had video meetings with clients while they were on the road. But brokers need to be out and about and, even during the pandemic, have little time to sit behind a computer. Many brokers have picked up their phone and joined a video chat while in transit to learn more about how we can help them. It’s not great for demos, to be sure, but is certainly an opportunity for a first connection.
Then again, the other day we were doing a demo via videochat with a prospective client who was in their office, and they pulled their boss in to join the conversation. These sorts of fortuitous connections are possible again as people move back into their offices, for some of the time anyway.
Q: Perhaps a starter question, but why does it matter that we collaborate well, especially remotely?
SJ: In my opinion, if we collaborate well, we’ll save time, have fewer miscommunications, better business outcomes and less personal stress. It’s far too easy to ‘take work home with you’ when you work at home! Ultimately, we’ll have stronger businesses and relationships (personal and professional).
Q: How important is the technology you use?
SJ: I’m a firm believer that there are so many amazing tools out there, it really doesn’t matter too much what you use. What is far more important is how you configure and implement the technology to ensure that it is consistently used.
Look at the CRE industry, which continues to do well despite using clunky, old software solutions. The solutions are out-of-date and not ideal for the job, but they are used consistently. Imagine the results though if you consistently used modern, purpose-built, user-friendly tools!
Q: What are your tips for good remote collaboration?
SJ: Be aware of the medium you are using to communicate and adapt accordingly. When using text channels be conscious of your tone, and don’t make too many assumptions. Something might sound great in your head, but the person on the other side of the screen could interpret it entirely the wrong way.
On the other hand, with voice or video channels, know when to listen and when to talk. This one is close to home for me, because I get pretty excited about what we do with real estate tech and can talk about it a lot! I’m currently working on improving my tolerance for extended silences on calls, to give everyone time to digest what we are talking about and to respond thoughtfully.
It also depends on your communication style, so the best thing is to start with knowing yourself and going from there.
Another consideration is making sure you are using the right tool for the job. In my team, if a Slack conversation starts becoming a brainstorm, we move over to a video or voice call where we can get the speed of the conversation, the back and forth, and the dynamic thought process needed for good ideas. Another one we watch out for is when the comments on documents start becoming long and lively conversations, with multiple decisions and action points which should be captured elsewhere.
Q: What do you think we can take from the pandemic into the future to collaborate better?
SJ: We should make business more personal. We are all human beings and some (most?) of us don’t just work to live, we really enjoy what we do and work is a significant part of our lives. Just because it’s business it doesn’t mean it has to be impersonal. Let’s treat each other like human beings and strive to arrive at mutually beneficial outcomes.
Video chats have made a personal connection possible, even remotely. Physically seeing into someone’s life via their webcam (before the fancy background blurs started) helps lighten up calls and makes conversations more down to earth and human, and far less stressful. I’d like to see this continue.
Q: What’s next?
SJ: Virtual collaboration is here to stay. Even without Covid, businesses and operational efficiencies evolve. Perhaps it won’t be that long before we are meeting and collaborating in the metaverse!