Over the past 10 years, remote work has become more common in many professions. But thanks to the coronavirus, people who otherwise might never have left the comforts of a traditional office environment have been suddenly thrust into remote life.
Adjustments needed to be made quickly at REALTOR® associations. Staff, volunteer leaders, and members developed a strong solidarity, and technology and communication skills became indispensable. As comedian and author Sara Benincasa quipped, “Strap in. You’re about to get to know yourself a LOT better.”
In my 25 years as an association executive, I have witnessed the association model evolve in many ways. Paper files have gradually shifted online to a cloud-based environment, and physical visits by members have declined. Meetings tend to take place virtually, and live networking events were among the few in-person gatherings that were thriving before COVID-19.
Since the pandemic started, more members (53%) read our communications, up from 27% previously. There are a few challenges with issuing lock boxes and key cards, and some members still like to pay their invoices and fees in person. Proctoring exams isn’t easy, either, but we’ve provided online proctoring via webinars.
Although some small boards were operating remotely prepandemic, others struggled to put a plan in place quickly. The current stay-at-home environment now has some small board AEs thinking, “Why can’t I operate like this all the time?”
“Throughout all of the change related to the pandemic, both in office procedures and our personal lives, I have found that the ability to attend and offer virtual meetings, trainings, and seminars to be the one thing I would not change,” says Gail Pyszka, e-PRO, CEO of the Illini Valley Association of REALTORS® in Peru, Ill. “A perfect example of this was the recent National Association of REALTORS® Legislative Meetings. Attendance was the highest it has ever been!”
“I was also able to attend NAR Legislative Meetings, which [wasn’t] possible in the past due to budgetary constraints,” adds Peggy Missel, RCE, e-PRO, C2EX, CEO of the Midwest City-Del City-Moore Association of REALTORS® in Midwest City, Okla. “The updates and information provided by NAR helped me answer questions and direct members to the right resources to help their businesses.”
Local at a Distance
Local associations are also adapting to virtual meetings, events, and seminars. New platforms use password-protected meetings, secure waiting rooms, and screen sharing to ensure security and allow associations to stay connected with their members in ways that weren’t possible prior to COVID-19. “New members are becoming involved and participating,” Pyszka says. “This type of technology is the future, and we need to be part of it. I hope to continue to see virtual technology as a means of offering events that will benefit all members.”
Remote work offers benefits to AEs and members alike. “The biggest positive for me was that I could schedule blocks of time for focused work on large projects,” Missel says. “Secondly, it provided a great opportunity to show the value members receive for their NAR dues. Approximately 20% of our members started C2EX, with 5% attaining certification between mid-March and the end of April, [and] several completed their e-PRO certification.”
Members are using Right Tools, Right Now, and connecting virtually has engaged some who don’t usually attend association meetings and events, Missel adds. “It was, however, difficult for some members to make the transition to virtual,” she says. “The difficulties were primarily centered on the perceived lack of personal connection. The virtual format is cumbersome to manage when trying to engage people who are new and in their first association experience.”
I believe that changes made during the pandemic will continue evolving for the betterment of association executives, staff, volunteer leaders, and members. We will be implementing policy changes to conduct business and all meetings virtually; we’ll also offer more educational sessions online.
Members and leaders seem to appreciate being able to do business safely from their homes, and it may save them time and money. As we work to reduce health risks, the “new normal” offers unexpected blessings. We’re learning so much that can help improve the association and the services it provides to members.