Always Available. Leadership will need to be available for being in communication during off hours. We use WhatsApp for the team to post questions that either others on the team can answer or leadership steps in. And of course if there’s no answer there we are all available via text, phone, email, whatever it takes to be in communication off hours. If you’re going to replace live, in person connections, it’s critical to go the extra mile. Knowing that there’s someone who’s got your back whenever you need it is a necessity.
For our new real estate agents, the ones that have never done a deal before we have a productivity coach that meets with them privately. The more seasoned agents have fewer structured occasions but have as many opportunities to reach out and be in communication as any one. There’s never a time where someone has the experience of being on their own, which is really what you’re battling. When you’re battling the phenomenon of never being in person, you’re battling the experience of just being on your own.
We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Hendon.
Aaron Hendon is a best selling real estate author, educator, international speaker and the managing broker of Christine & Company at eXp Realty, a Five Star Real Estate Agent winning team for the past 8 years. He lives on a small island off the coast of Seattle with his brilliant wife, Kael, his two brilliant children, Leela (17) and Jonah (14) and his adoring, if not exactly brilliant, Golden Doodle, Rozy (plus two fairly indifferent cats and a lizard).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born and bred in NY. My dad was a successful child photographer having ditched his job as VP of Sales in a clothing company to start his own business when I was a kid. This left me with two things — one, was an interest in photography, and two was a deep seated experience that I could start a business for myself whenever I wanted — my dad really is my hero.
My interest in photography led me to my BFA from SUNY Purchase in 1987. Upon graduating I discovered my fine art degree made me eligible to work in the food service industry anyplace in the country, so I moved to NM and started waiting tables right out of art school.
After the baker in the restaurant quit, I took over baking duties (as art school apparently was useful for this as well). After winning blue ribbons in the NM State fair for my whole wheat challah and sour dough rye, I decided to follow the family plan and start my own business opening a bakery selling real NY bagels and fresh bread to New Mexicans.
After 9 years, I sold the business and went to work for the global training and development company, Landmark Worldwide. My career as a registration manager took me to Seattle where I started my family, changed careers several times, moved to a small island in the Puget Sound, and eventually made my way to real estate.
Christine Andreasen, an award winning Realtor, and I started a Christine & Company in 2013 and haven’t looked back. We currently have 15 agents (on track to double in the next 6 months) and are the hosts of soon to be released Abundant Life Podcast, empowering team leaders and boutique brokerage owners to grow their teams and live their best life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Not sure what could possibly happen that’s more “interesting” than doubling my business during a global pandemic, and I’m not sure I want to find out 😊
The story about I did this is really the point of the interview so the answer is really all below:
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. — African proverb
As we construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct our team nothing is more clear than how much time it takes to get things to work for a team — we’ve thought, more than once, it’s not worth it, we should pack it in, go solo.
But doing things together, using each other’s strengths to fill in for our own weaknesses, from masterminds to covering for each other when needed, nothing creates a bigger opportunity to win than putting those pieces together.
From the team we created at the bakery in the 90’s, to the global team I trained with Landmark, to building an award winning team of Realtors in Seattle, to my partnership with Christine (and the one I have with my wife) every win I have in my life worth anything was done with others.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am particularly grateful to my partner, Christine Andreasen.
In 2013, when I decided to get into real estate, I knew I would not fulfill my potential on my own — I knew I needed a mentor, a coach — and having known Christine for 15 years I knew her to be a “money magnet” someone who attracts money like nobody I’ve ever seen.
This is something I definitely did think of myself as — I’ve been more of a paycheck to paycheck kind of guy my whole life.
Knowing I wanted to hitch my wagon to that train, I approached her and asked to join her team. She said, “I don’t have a team” to which I replied, “you do now.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Each year for the last 8 years I’ve made more money than the year before and we’re on track for that expansion yet again.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?
One of the things that makes teams attractive is the whole world that comes with being with others: sharing wins, camaraderie, partnership, fun, all these things make it so that most people will do more to win as a team than they would to win on their own.
And since almost all our neuronal pathways, our entire collective human history, orient us to being together in person, it’s hard to distinguish any benefit of being on a team that doesn’t include being together in person. It’s the default context for teams — any team structure that includes not being physically together is almost certainly an exception, an anomaly and will always be compared to the “in person” experience.
Being physically together allows for the kinds of subtle experiences that a remote team will never be able to replace — a smart comment walking past someone at the office, grabbing someone a cup of coffee, a surprise visit for lunch — all the tiny, little “human” moments that are the basis for forming long lasting relationships — the kinds of relationships that make a team win so much more satisfying than a solo win.
The magic of showing up to a place where we know we are going to be together with others, pulling for a common goal, whether it’s fulfilling the mission of a start up, serving three seatings at the restaurant we work at, producing X number of widgets, whatever it is — it’s a goal we are going to accomplish with others and that experience is difficult to replace.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?
One of the biggest challenges of remote teams is building that initial bond — the bond created by “a thousand touches”.
It’s one thing to keep relationships that had been established in person going as they shift to remote, it’s an entirely different thing to create from scratch, workable, long lasting bonds with people that have never met and yet are counted on to rely on each other.
Our lives start out in community — even if it’s just a parent, but more often there is a larger family — we are wired for community and we are wired to be together.
The biggest challenges are finding ways to satisfy our human need to be with others, to create, deepen and expand bonds. To foster and nurture each other as we strive to grow and fulfill our potentials.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Before I get into what the 5 things are I want you to know these are the 5 things that had me double my business last year — which is astounding when you consider it was not only a global pandemic but that I didn’t sell a house in the 2nd quarter at all — we were in lockdown for about a month and even after it took some time before everyone made the pivot to the new world.
I was already working remotely pre-pandemic, but it was the shock of EVERYONE on the team working remotely that had us shine a light on what practices worked, which ones didn’t, what we needed to do more of and which ones we needed to do less of, that is at the heart of the shift.
Here are the 5 things we did that allowed me, and the whole team, to EFFECTIVELY communicate — that is, allowed us to be in communication in a way that created the conditions for our effectiveness and a breakthrough level of performance.
1 . Regular, repetitive opportunities to launch the day
Setting a daily, early morning, scheduled occasion, five days a week of 30–60 min on video makes a difference .
Think about it. Without starting the day together we’d all be starting our day at whatever time we rolled out of bed and, more detrimentally, with whatever mindset we rolled out of bed with.
The idea of thoughtlessly rolling into my day makes me shudder — I tried it for 2 months and can tell you it’s bad news.
But to begin the day as a team, with a chance to share wins from yesterday, a chance to hear what other people are dealing with, a chance to contribute and be contributed to, the real opportunity to know that I am not really on my own — that despite the fact that I quite literally live on an island, I am not ON AN ISLAND cannot be overstated.
These meetings are not optional, they are rigorously managed for people being on time, phones off, fully present, and done 5 days a week. This not only brings order to what would otherwise be random start times, but it fosters and nurtures the elements of being part of something bigger than myself that is so critical to a team culture.
There are people on my team who I literally have never met in person. It’s been almost a full year and yet, despite never seeing these people in person there is little missing in each of our experiences of knowing who each other are — we are each seen, known, appreciated as part of a team.
What more do you want?
So it’s one number. Number one is repetitive, regular opportunities to be in communication.
2. Mindset Matters Most
Second is staying positive. Making sure that those occasions, and every occasion, is in fact designed to foster a positive mindset matters. I’m not talking about layering icing on mud and calling it a cake — I’’m talking creating an empowering future not some Pollyanna positive thinking nonsense.
Creating the opportunity to share wins, creating an environment and a culture of winning — really celebrating what’s working.
It’s not that you don’t address what’s not working. It’s just that you create a world in which people are winning.
Every morning on those morning huddles, we start with sharing wins. Every day someone on the team is inevitably sharing a win, and it becomes a culture in which you’re looking for what there is to celebrate.
Now this creates a world in which people want to be on that call, looking for something to share that they can share with the team.
This makes it not just “my” wins. If I just did them on my own they wouldn’t nearly be as important or fun as when they are something I can share with a group.
We all want to share our wins with a team. Keeping those wins present makes a difference.
3. Always Available
Leadership will need to be available for being in communication during off hours.
We use WhatsApp for the team to post questions that either others on the team can answer or leadership steps in. And of course if there’s no answer there we are all available via text, phone, email, whatever it takes to be in communication off hours.
If you’re going to replace live, in person connections, it’s critical to go the extra mile.
Knowing that there’s someone who’s got your back whenever you need it is a necessity.
For our new real estate agents, the ones that have never done a deal before we have a productivity coach that meets with them privately. The more seasoned agents have fewer structured occasions but have as many opportunities to reach out and be in communication as any one. There’s never a time where someone has the experience of being on their own, which is really what you’re battling.
When you’re battling the phenomenon of never being in person, you’re battling the experience of just being on your own.
4. Promises Create the Future
The purpose of promising isn’t to predict what’s going to happen it’s to create the future.
Creating the opportunity to make promises and then complete on those promises creates a timeline for people that keeps everyone on a path toward a larger future together.
Every day everyone on the team makes five promises of actions we’re going to take that will forward our businesses and then, at the end of day, we complete on those on our WhatsApp thread.
All this not only builds a culture of accountability and teamwork that’s independent of whether or not we’re physically together in the same place or not; that becomes far less important than the fact that we have each other listening to our promises for what we are building.
Promises don’t predict the future promises, create the future,
5. Creating a Clearing for Communication.
We, as human beings, are organized to do it on our own.
You know this if you’ve ever raised a young child. At around 3 years old, they become, “I do myself!” — don’t count on getting into the car quickly as they are going to insist to do it themselves — this evolves later in life into the inevitable answer to every inquiry into one’s well being with “I’m fine”.
The default clearing for people does not call for being in authentic, open communication.
Under the best of circumstances this is a culture killer, in the middle of a pandemic, when people are sequestered away from others, both magnifies the stress and eliminates most opportunities to be in communication that could alleviate that stress.
You must consciously create a clearing, and the opportunities, for people to be in communication, especially because they’re going to spend most of their time on their own.
They need to know that there’s a place where they can communicate what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and what they need in a way that it’s going to be heard without being judged, assessed or evaluated.
You’ve got to make a concerted effort for people to know that there’s an opportunity for them to be heard.
Either in the occasions you’ve got scheduled or anytime they need it.
Most importantly you have to authentically be committed to hearing what people are dealing with, hearing what people are thinking, feeling what they need.
Precisely because you’re going to miss those subtle opportunities to just chat at a water cooler — we need to create those occasions, those opportunities.
Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?
The communication challenges that we have faced almost entirely have been to stay in enough communication to keep leave the team with the experience of actually being connected.
We’re all independent contractors so everyone’s got their own equipment-everyone’s got their own phones, computers, Internet.
The issues that come up are really around the domain of training people that it’s not only okay for them to be in communication, but the necessity it is for them to be in communication — that communication is their access to power.
Mostly what we run into is that people aren’t wired to be in communication. And if they’re in the same physical space, it’s easier to get a read on when they’re disempowered.
When they’re not being productive, when they’re upset, it’s harder to get a read when they’re remote. When they’re on their own and separated from the team, it does present the challenge.
At the beginning of the pandemic we only had the one occasion to be together every day and we needed to get the read on them that one occasion. That was really insufficient — pandemic or not — once a day is just not enough especially for new agents.
We wound up instituting individual coaching and 3–4 hour group zoom calls for their outbound phoning (lead generation).
In addition, we spent a good amount of our communication getting people enrolled in the opportunity to be in communication so if they found themselves disempowered they would generate being in communication with someone rather than just live with it.
This CANNOT be overstated — people are not going to just communicate on their own, and certainly not in any way that makes a real difference — they need to be trained, and enrolled in what it looks like to be in communication in a way that leaves them with power — and remotely its far easier for people to just talk to themselves and nothing good ever comes from our talking to ourselves.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
I don’t think I am alone in saying that Zoom has made an enormous difference in our ability to be in communication. I don’t know why it took off the way Google Meet never took off.
We were using Google Meet for a while, before the pandemic even, but as soon as Zoom became sort of the standard we made the leap and that’s all we use. I don’t think it is inherently or radically different than any other video meeting software but it does work for every one so we use that.
We use WhatsApp regularly to create and keep our promises in existence.
These are the two things that we rely on most, although we do use a service called BombBomb as a video messaging app.
BombBomb allows you shoot videos on your phone or on your computer, they host them, and you can send clients or team members video. I do all my pricing evaluations and my updates for the market through that service.
Over the course of the last year those are the tools we have come to rely on to keep our team, and our clients, engaged and related to us and each other.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
Between Zoom and WhatsApp and the phone — I don’t know that I need anything else. I don’t have a need that’s not being met by what we’ve patched together between these services.
We tried Marco Polo for a while but I’m not going to go sit through whole bunch of video messages. I don’t even want to listen to my voice mail, much less sit through someone’s video rambling. I can’t do it 😁 so I don’t have it.
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
It’s funny about that kind of VR and virtual worlds.
I think full on VR is far down the consumer adoption pipeline — my kid’s got an Oculus but I think it’s a while still until adults find the utility and adopt it on any meaningful level. Maybe I’m wrong and it happens more quickly but I think we are more than a few years form VR being adopted in a significant way.
What I think is interesting is that eXp, my brokerage, has invested in a virtual campus, Virabella is the software, and it allows us to go online, create an avatar that walks around a virtual campus, and take classes use the help desk, even block out virtual meeting rooms and the like.
In my view it’s really fundamentally a gamification of a help desk.
I mean, on one hand, it feels a little bit like a waste of time. I am a very type A personality and while some people use the “fun features” like party boats and discos, I don’t at all understand the utility of such a thing.
So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
We do our listing appointments now virtually when we can. We can have them show us around their house with FaceTime, and present our listing presentation virtually.
I’ve also sold houses to people virtually. I’ve had people that live in California and I’ve done Zoom or FaceTime walk throughs with them to make sure they got what they needed.
We do 360° virtual walkthroughs that people can use headsets and get a real walkthrough (although almost no one does). Mostly we do live video walk throughs.
We do prerecorded video where I do all my pricing consultations and any kind of market update that I have I do by video and send to them. And that becomes really useful for them because they can watch it in their own time, they can re-watch it.
The adoption of virtual and video walk throughs for real estate has definitely become a real thing and people love it. Once twice a week I’m doing a virtual video walk through the property for someone when they can’t get out of the house and they can’t get there.
It’s been pretty remarkable.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?
I don’t know that video feedback is any less effective or any inherently more harsh if you’re doing it one on one.
One on one is always important, never give correction in a group.
You can be as sensitive on video as in person but more to the point is doing it early, doing it often.
The thing that’s missed in virtual or remote circumstances is that you don’t have the consistent sort of feedback loop consistent, the subtle feedback loop, that you do when you’re working in person.
The opportunity to give micro corrections is missed, and if you only talk to people once a week, or longer periods of time, the feedback is invariably going to come out harsher.
But you can’t give feedback in anything less than a video, even phone calls won’t cut it — we’re too visual in how we communicate. Don’t even think about correcting on text or email.
If you do it often enough and in small enough chunks, live video conferencing is every bit as effective as doing it in person.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
The experience of camaraderie being connected in that way virtually is way trickier.
We’ve done zoom happy hours where everyone gets a drink, and we all sit around and talk but you lose the opportunity to go off one on one with someone — when you’re in a 15 person zoom happy hour, you can’t have side conversations, only one person at a time.
So while we’ve done that and been effective at it, it is not nearly the same thing and I don’t think you can get it to be the same thing.
I think you need to set the expectation that it’s not going to be the same thing as actually being together.
Part is you’ve got to be responsible that you’re using the modality of zoom for work and I don’t think anyone today is thinking “I can’t wait to get another zoom call”` so even if it’s designed to be fun and engaging and you can have a drink or two it’s still not going to be the same thing people look forward to, the way they might look forward to get together.
It’s just something that you’ve got to set the expectation (or you personally need the expectation) that it’s not going to be a substitute for real life in person events, and it never will be.
And if you pretend it’s supposed to be, I think that’s really where the problem comes in.
You got to really know that it’s just not going to be the same thing, and there’s no substitute for actually being together.
There’s just not and there’s not going to be.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think it would be cultural humility and an authentic curiosity. Those are two things that could make an enormous difference in what we as human beings are dealing with right now.
Creating a perspective, a view that each of us are unique in our viewpoint, that we don’t know what it’s like for other people, that we have no idea what it’s like for other people. And we will in fact never know really what it’s like to be them.
I will never know what it’s like to grow up as a woman.
I will never know what it’s like to live life as a black man.
I will never know what it’s like to live as an indigenous person.
I just will never know that and to think that my experience of life is at all like someone else’s experience of life, or that the way I see things has something to do with the way other people see things, is just arrogance.
So coming to life from a perspective of cultural humility, that we don’t know what it’s like, and then being authentically interested in discovering what has that person’s view be that person’s view — what’s it like for them? How did they get to be that way? How did they get to see things the way they see things?
I think that make an enormous, enormous difference.
And if I can encourage people to do something, I would encourage people to be authentically curious as to another person’s point of view.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.