Keller Augusta Partners

At-Home Work Poses Retention Challenges

At-Home Work Poses Retention Challenges

Apr 19, 2022

“Candidates are prioritizing flexibility when weighing a new opportunity, and employers are responding with creating a hybrid schedule in an effort to retain talent,” said Kate Keller.

Real estate firms are facing a workforce conundrum: They have to offer work from-home options to recruit staff, but that same benefit makes it harder to retain personnel.

Two years into the work-from-home trend brought about by the pandemic, most real estate firms now recognize it’s not just a passing fad. “A year or two ago, it felt temporary,” said Lisa Flicker, a managing partner at search firm Rhodes Associates. But now, “it’s what workers are doing, period, because the world has changed.”

Amid the tightest hiring market search pros can remember, offering a hybrid work option to attract new talent and keep existing staffers in place is a necessity. Without it, firms such as property investors and developers aren’t competitive. But there’s a catch.

Workers at home, even a few days a week, are more accessible to recruiters. Meanwhile, newer hires feel less connected to their respective employers. The upshot: Working from home makes staffers easier to poach, particularly those in junior and midlevel roles. This has left companies looking at creative ways to build culture and promote loyalty when workers aren’t physically together. They are asking, “How do we engage our people and help them feel like a cohesive group?” Flicker said.

What was once not a pressing concern has come sharply into focus for real estate companies while illustrating how they are adapting to pandemic-era trends that have affected the broader workforce. “That is the new bullet point on every single supervisor’s job responsibility list — connectivity with the workforce,” said Kent Elliott, a principal at RETS Associates.

For larger companies, tactics include breaking staffers into smaller groups that are able to connect more regularly via online channels. Those can include social activities — for example, creating Slack channels for Peloton workouts or for comparing scores on games like Wordle. “It is incumbent upon firms to not forget the value of face-to-face interaction,” Elliott said. “That connectivity around the water cooler … staffers don’t have that now.”

There’s a particular focus on reaching out to junior hires who are missing out on the opportunity to learn alongside more experienced staffers. “Some of the smaller shops … are paying more attention and checking in with associates to make … them feel more included in the company,” said Chris Papa, managing partner at Jackson Lucas. “The best way to keep your employees is to show them a path of growth.”

To that end, more firms also are offering various coaching and mentoring programs to staffers. Helping high-potential employees get the next level of training keeps them vested in the company and gives them a goal, Rhodes’ Flicker said.

While compensation remains key to retention, it’s not the only thing that will keep people in their seats. Companies recently have been asking recruiters about their competitors’ benefits and work-from-home policies in addition to salary information, said Steven Littman, president and managing partner at Rhodes. “They realize that if they are not current, they will lose people,” he said.

The ability to continue working from home — at least part of the time — is the most in-demand perk. “People are rethinking life and work balances,” said Kate Keller, founder and principal of executive-search firm Keller Augusta. “Candidates are prioritizing flexibility when weighing a new opportunity, and employers are responding with creating a hybrid schedule in an effort to retain talent.”

And that means firms have to adjust. “You have to adapt to survive,” Elliott of RETS Associates said. “If firms aren’t willing to adapt to … have the work-from-home option, I question whether they will be able to retain employees. And I question whether they will be able to attract the caliber of talent that they want.”