Tell us about your organisation
Avison Young is the world’s fastest-growing commercial real estate services firm. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Avison Young is a collaborative, global firm owned and operated by its Principals. The company comprises approximately 5,000 real estate professionals in 108 offices in 14 countries. The firm’s experts provide value-added, client-centric investment sales, leasing, advisory, management and financing services to clients across the office, retail, industrial, multi-family and hospitality sectors.
What challenges were you trying to address?
Like many other organisations, our workforce has been adapting to working from home and reduced face to face interaction during these unprecedented times. A key priority of mine has been to keep people motivated, connected and informed. We’re all in this together and learning together. I hope that by sharing some of the approaches we have taken at Avison Young, it might help others navigate their way through these new challenges.
What goals or outcomes did Avison Young want to achieve?
Our end goal is to ensure that all members of staff have received the level of support that they need and that our business continues to provide a high level of service to our clients. It is crucial that the support we provide to our people is tailored to each individual’s situation, whether that be working from home and balancing childcare, living alone, reduced income or adjusting to furlough leave. Therefore we have been carefully monitoring how our staff are feeling and responding to the situation, to ensure that everyone receives a level of care, while maintaining our business and our ethos of working as a team.
What was your solution?
I’m pleased to say that, like many companies, we already have a range of resources available to our workforce through our employee assistance programme, including mental health first aid volunteers and confidential counselling. In recent weeks we’ve really ramped up these services and have provided additional support via other means, including a global mental health seminar for all 5,000 staff. We have made professional advice and helpful tips on managing stress and anxiety available 24/7 via a dedicated mental health hub on our intranet.
It’s also important to remember that some people don’t feel comfortable openly discussing how they are affected, especially in a group setting, so we recognised the need for inclusion on a different level. We have opened lines of communication between managers and staff through more light touch interaction via social activities to ensure that a level of communication is available to all.
How did you roll out your approach?
We’ve taken a ‘human first’ approach to all of our communications which have been as supportive, transparent, open and honest as you would hope for in the current climate. We’ve worked hard to develop a virtual community and allow as many bite-sized touch points as we can - I don’t think over-communication is possible.
We’ve created multiple opportunities to update the business on key developments and explain why we have taken some decisions and actions via all-company “Town Hall” meetings, emails and video calls. We also provided our staff with the ability to ask direct questions and get immediate answers through open Q&A sessions.
Our UK President has committed to weekly all-staff videos, which are used to share company updates and to ensure that staff feel connected to Avison Young’s leadership.
On the social side, we’re encouraging staff to build positive connections both in and out of work too. Many of our teams have kept up a positive spirit and momentum through arranging virtual Friday drinks or online quizzes. And our amazing yoga and pilates classes have now been moved online.
We appreciate that everyone is doing their best, with vastly differing pressures and needs. Our aim is to always support and guide rather than direct or pressure and to listen as much as we talk.
“As we look ahead to an unfamiliar ‘new normal’ what we can be certain of is that methods of communication have adapted to a new status quo. Will we still crave as many face to face meetings and group gatherings or will the world of virtual communication remain at large? Whatever the outcome we still have a responsibility to continue to serve and advise our clients in the best possible way. To succeed we will continue to make sure our staff are fully supported now, and along the new path back to normality, whatever that may look like.” - Rosalind Goode
What have the results been?
After the first week of remote working, we surveyed all UK staff on a variety of areas to find out if we were getting it right. We were so pleased to hear that a very high percentage of people were happy with the communications and guidance they were receiving, but some of the comments informed us that we needed to dial up and down in certain areas.
For example, 98% said they were receiving adequate information and guidance around how Avison Young is responding to Covid-19 and what it's doing to ensure business continuity.
98% of staff said they have the platforms in place to allow them to connect with colleagues sufficiently and 97% said they felt they were able to maintain their client relationships in the current remote working environment.
We shared a range of apps and online tools that can help support mental and physical wellbeing while working from home - two thirds found these helpful. We have been working hard to troubleshoot with the remaining third to ensure everyone is getting what they need. This included checking if anyone has encountered any technical difficulties and helping source other useful materials where applicable.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
It may seem almost impossible to plan ahead in these unprecedented times; our aim has been to keep our employees informed on next steps and what is expected from all of us. Ambiguity can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety, so it is vital to stay in touch, be transparent and honest, even if this means sharing difficult news.
About the author:
Ros Goode is responsible for the management of Avison Young’s London business, and its position within national and international real estate communities. Ros is focused on driving Avison Young’s diverse, inclusive and collaborative approach and champions the Emerging Leaders programme that develops next generation talent. Ros built her career in real estate restructuring, supporting borrowers, lenders and stakeholders in delivering solutions in often sensitive, challenging and complex real estate situations.