Remote work and mental health: Real-world advice from the best in real estate

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You could argue that being a Realtor was always a remote role.

Meeting clients, hosting open houses and of course, showing houses… real estate agents spend their days out on the road.

At Follow Up Boss, we're all about remote work. Both as a remote company and as a company that serves an industry of people who spend most of their time outside the office.

But it's not all rainbows and Starbucks lattes.

Recently, Buffer surveyed over 2,500 US workers and revealed some pretty shocking problems with remote work.

At the top of the list, remote workers struggle most with unplugging after work, communication challenges and straight up loneliness.

These statistics point to one fact:

Remote work is not perfect.

But does that mean we should go back to our cubicles and call it a day? No way!

We think remote work and excellent mental health can (and should!) go hand-in-hand. But if that's what you really want for your team, you'll need to set up some rock-solid standards and systems in order to make it work.

In this article, we'll dig deeper into the mental health of remote workers and share insider tips from some of the real estate industry's most successful team leaders.

Source: State of Remote Work 2019

Table of contents

  1. Problems with Remote Work: The data and the dark side 
  2. Case Study 1: Running a remote team in a major franchise
  3. Case Study 2: Putting team happiness first in a remote private brokerage
  4. Case Study 3: Staying productive as a remote solo-agent

Problems with Remote Work: The data and the dark side 

There are two sides to every coin, even in the world of remote work.

From workforce equality, environmental sustainability and economic development, remote work solves many global problems. But it also opens doors to others.

Let's take a closer look at two of the most common challenges of remote work.

Remote workers take on heavier workloads

The flexibility that comes from remote work is unparalleled. 

Remote work not only allows Realtors to show homes, meet with clients and learn the ins-and-outs of their local market, it also gives them the ability to juggle intensive workweeks without losing out on important personal time.

But this flexibility can be a problem in disguise, because it comes with a higher operational workload. Both remote workers and remote team leaders now have to execute tasks like time tracking, task management, etc. on top of their typical workload.

As Buffer's engineer Hamish McPherson says in his recent Claritask interview, "it sometimes feels hard to move quickly as a remote team, especially when you’re globally distributed across multiple timezones. We’ve had a few small team-only get togethers and just being all in the same room for a week has been immensely helpful".

So it’s no surprise that over 20% of some 4,000 telecommuting employees reported problems managing their workflow.

Source: Robert Half’s Telecommuting survey 

Can't unplug, can't unwind.

Remote workers have a big problem unplugging.

It's hard enough to manage your own schedule and workload in a 9-to-5 setting, not to mention the added pressures and work tasks that come with managing yourself. 

The result is poorly defined boundaries between a remote worker's personal and professional lives.

To add insult to injury, while most office workers can comfortably coast on by, a remote worker's success is often measured by results.

Remote workers can be easily tempted (or pressured) to overwork to inflate their output. This leads to a vicious cycle of bad habits (cough, cough: working from bed) that can ultimately lead to poor work-life balance and high stress, or even mental illness.

Luckily, there are specific systems and processes that can help keep remote work healthy and effective. And what better industry to learn from than the highly-remote, highly-stressful world of real estate.

Want more on the real deal with remote work? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Remote Work According to Stats, Studies and What Works in Real Estate.

Case Study 1: Running a remote team in a major franchise

The hustle and bustle of the real estate industry is very real, and no one knows this better than Debra Beagle, who worked as a residential Realtor for several years before becoming a team leader.

Today, Debra helps run Ashton Real Estate Group (the #1 RE/Max team in the industry). 

We had the opportunity to interview Debra and she shared a sneak peek into her unique management style.

Strategy 1: Use meetups to build a unifying work culture

Team meetups are a great way to bring people together and help distributed teams maintain the facetime required to keep the team spirit intact.

Ashton Group hosts regular meetups where each of their team members come together in person to do something unique.

The team gets together at least once per month to do something unique (e.g., lake day, trolley day, etc.), connect with their local community and catch up on each other's personal and professional lives. 

Ashton’s top golf and mortgages day (via Gary’s Instagram)

Strategy 2: Set clear boundaries and schedule accordingly

Work-life balance is a big issue for pretty much all of us these days. 

Debra knows because she’s been there. 

Over the years, scheduling and time blocking for both her professional and personal tasks helped her maintain high productivity, without burning out. And she's big on boundaries.

"I scheduled everything. I dedicated the time blocked for my kids to truly being there with my kids. I was also very conscious of the phone because I was on the phone a lot. So when I was with the kids I would actually turn the ringer off," says Debra.

Debra also created a schedule where she limited open houses to three per month and only on Sundays from 1 to 3pm.

The fourth weekend of every month was exclusively for family, and like everything else, her family time went right into her schedule.

Encourage your team to use their schedules to create clear boundaries between their work and personal lives and prevent one from bleeding over into the other. Time blocking is a great way to boost productivity, eliminate distraction and prevent bad habits like multitasking.

Strategy 3: Create a remote-friendly workplace

Although most of Debra's agents work from home, she regularly supports her team with intensive training and development programs, as well as quarterly check-in sessions to help keep agents inspired and accountable.

She’s also shifted from traditional cubicles to a unique cafe-style office that allows agents to come and go as they please. 

“Since making the move, we’ve noticed that more and more team members coming into the office—and those who come in are much more productive, especially millennials," she says.

Offer your agents a high degree of flexibility, but follow that up by proactively checking in and empowering them to stay focused on the stuff that matters.

Case Study 2: Putting team happiness first in a remote private brokerage

Grant and Kelly Clayton are the husband and wife team behind 1% Lists.

Grant Clayton is the leader behind on of Louisiana's fastest-growing real estate teams.

And get this. The three-agent fully remote team at 1% Lists is on track to do $100 million in transactions this year.

Here are a few strategies Grant has personally used to skyrocket the performance of his rockstar remote team.

Strategy 1: Simplify workflow with step-by-step marketing plans

The best part of being a Realtor is that you are your own boss.

The worst part of being a Realtor is that you are your own boss.

"I always tell my team, the hardest part is that you are your own boss, you can do whatever you want. The challenge is to manage your free time because nobody's going to tell you to go to work in the morning," Grant laughs.

Grant arms his agents with super-accessible, step-by-step marketing plans to protect them from overwhelm and keep them moving straight ahead on the path to success.

"I created step-by-step marketing plans based on where you are in your business. I just wanted to make it extremely easy and extremely approachable for everyone. And I didn't want to have a step in there that just completely freaked somebody out,” he says.

By breaking down a complex topic like marketing into a simple action guide, Grant helps his team focus on the tasks that really move the needle.

Strategy 2: Remove rejection from the sales process

Apart from simplifying workflow, Grant’s a master of organic lead gen. 

Rather than forcing his team to make hundreds of random cold calls each day, he arms them with a super-transparent, low-pressure script for connecting with warm leads like FSBOs, expired or withdrawn leads, and website leads.

“We just say look we know you tried to sell your house we know it didn't work out for you. If you're interested, we can help you price your house more aggressively, save you money and offer better service and social media marketing,” says Grant. His team uses text messaging to keep the conversation easy.

It's amazing how much more motivated your team will feel when they're not facing non-stop rejection.

Bonus Tips: How to bond with co-workers in a remote team

  • Host weekly or monthly digital coffee breaks on Slack or video chat
  • Host in-person meetups quarterly or annually
  • Schedule extra time to chat about personal stuff on your next call or video conference
  • Take time to ask questions about their families, weekend plans, etc.
  • Follow each other on social media
  • Don't be afraid to check in with each other to see how things are going
  • Keep texts and messages friendly and conversational
  • Use emoji to help put the right tone to your messages

Case Study 3: Staying productive as a remote solo-agent

Brandon Grass is a top remote Realtor who spends a majority of his time working from a home office in his basement (most of the time in his PJ's).

In a recent interview, Brandon shared his insights on working remote and how he's managed to get a whopping 80 listing appointments in six months, all from the comfort of his own home.

Strategy 1: Systemize tasks and track your progress

According to a super-comprehensive study on top-performing execs, the #1 thing that separates the best from the rest is the ability to deliver reliably—a.k.a. consistency.

But consistency in a typical real estate scenario involves a whole lot of juggling.

Brandon imports all his leads (over 15,000) straight into his real estate CRM. From there,  he’s able to track his follow up and lead engagement and make smarter work decisions like prioritizing which leads to work on first each day.

In Follow Up Boss, Brandon can systematize his entire workflow and track his daily progress all in the same place rather than opening himself up to the distraction that comes from having to shuffle back and forth between his mobile, inboxes, multiple systems, etc.

Strategy 2: Stay committed

One of the biggest benefits of working remotely is flexibility, but without discipline, this can quickly turn into a serious disadvantage.

In addition to having a dedicated workspace and a smart lead tracking tool, Brandon uses a tangible visual aid to help him stay motivated to hit his targets (such as making his first 5,000 calls).

To give you a better idea, here’s a picture of Brandon’s whiteboard.


Brandon's 'Sell Or Be Sold' whiteboard

“There are times where I locked myself downstairs. I'll come up for lunch or 'air' and then come back down. Lisa and the kids get home at about 5:00 pm and I've been calling all day. And those are the best days because it's not just about the sacrifice I did for that day, but it's about the future—what's going to happen because I did that all day. I think that's the biggest thing,” says Brandon.

For Brandon, the ability to first focus fully on work and then focus fully on family is everything.

And without the typical office interruptions affecting his workflow, he is absolutely killing it at work, and in life.

Strategy 3: Reach out to team members, friends and mentors

Brandon's only just shifted to a (mostly) remote RE/MAX team, but he's already noticed a significant difference in morale.

Interestingly, his current brokerage has fewer meetings than the last. But each meeting almost always ends up in a special support session where every agent helps each other.

"Every second Wednesday two or three of the top agents in our office will go through and be like, 'Here's what I do to cold call, here's what I do on a listing appointment, here's how I do my listing presentation, here's how I do a sales walkthrough, here's what I do on a new construction new build.' So you're learning from all that," he says.

Monthly team meetings are a great way to keep Realtors motivated and reduce the high burnout rates common to the industry. 

With a little help from his friends, Brandon is on track to close his 18th transaction this year (versus the average 3.5 in his market).

Bonus Tip: How to stay motivated when working remotely

  • Track your progress each and every day
  • Use visual aids like a whiteboard or inspirational poster
  • Come up for air from time to time by working from a coffee house, co-working space or spending a few minutes with family
  • If it helps, dress like you're at the office
  • Reach out to a peer, mentor or industry pro for help when you need it

Remote work is great, but not perfect.

At Follow Up Boss, we regularly host check-in meetings to keep up with our remote team members  on both a professional and personal level. 

"As much as we love remote work we also appreciate people getting to know each other and become friends," says our co-founder and CTO, Tom Markov.

And we love the performance, flexibility and genuine diversity of thought that comes from running a remote team. But like any business where humans are involved, it can get tricky sometimes.

Real estate is no exception. 

Take these insider tips and use them to help your people combat the isolation and anxiety inherent in a remote work setup. Because if there's any hope of building a healthier, more effective and emotionally resilient team, you'll find it in the culture you create.

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