Real Estate, Without Real Estate: Lessons Learned from a Remote-First Organization
Real Estate, Without Real Estate: Lessons Learned from a Remote-First Organization by Garret Weigel
Remote work is here to stay, whether we like it or not. While not every organization has the luxury of being remote-first, it’s essential to understand how best to empower your employees to be effective from wherever they may be working. Even before COVID, the number of people working from home was steadily rising. One of the many benefits of working in-person with coworkers that many took for granted is the simplicity in sharing ideas, communicating, and collaborating.
When you’re simply an icon on someone’s desktop, it’s challenging to build consensus and drive change. So how do you measure success and productivity when colleagues aren’t in the same space?
We chat with Steve Ledwith and Imran Kasam of eXp Realty on Make/Shift about the keys to success they’ve learned over the years in their remote-first culture. Check out the podcast episode below to hear from Steve and Imran directly about their experience thriving with a remote team:
Thriving Together, Worlds Apart
eXp Realty is a real estate company that owns practically no real estate. Steve Ledwith, VP of Engineering, and Imran Kasam, previously the team’s Software Architect and Engineering Manager, have built an engineering organization that exclusively works from home. Ledwith and Kasam have grown their engineering team to over 100 people scattered across the globe. eXp Realty employed fewer than 2,400 agents just three years ago – that has since increased to over 50,000 agents today. This exponential growth is made possible through their technology, enabling agents to operate from anywhere in the world. Without software to manage property transactions capable of supporting a remote workforce, Ledwith would need to establish physical offices for their agents. Because of this, he considers eXp Realty a technology company rather than a real estate company.
The Importance of Culture
As eXp Realty grew, Ledwith and Kasam were concerned about how best to keep in touch with their colleagues. From building a culture to maintaining communication channels, they had to hyper-focus on how they measure success. During a previous role in a traditional office environment, Ledwith explains that he “always made it a point to try to catch [his employees] doing something right.” This was straightforward when he could walk around the office.
Two keys to their success include building a culture that encourages teamwork and maintaining a strong command over how the IT team operates and hires. Ledwith and Kasam explain that creating a sense of connection is critical to creating a workspace that fosters collaboration. As Ledwith explains, it was necessary to “[emphasize] that need to communicate, to talk, so that [the eXp Realty team] can be successful while [they’re] all working remotely.” This includes adopting tools that create a virtual world for their employees to walk around in, and of course, leveraging messaging platforms whenever possible.
Measuring Success from Afar
Measuring productivity in a traditional office environment is often easier than with a remote workforce. Ledwith and Kasam wanted their employees to maintain flexibility and open communication that resembled physical proximity to coworkers but needed to ensure that they were maintaining a productive work environment. Ledwith and Kasam found their solution when, in their earlier days on the team, they assigned a task to a developer. For a couple weeks, the two heard little from the developer. After assigning the same task to another developer, they discovered a simple but effective way of measuring productivity – engagement. While both developers ran into problems and required help, the second developer proactively checked in with Ledwith and Kasam, rather than waiting until the project was due to flag issues. They found that this engagement is far more effective at measuring success than merely paying attention to output.
We measure productivity not by availability, but by delivery… we trust people will be adults and do their job
The Platform That Enables It All
In 2016, eXp Realty identified its Transaction Management System as a potential impediment to growth. The old system unreliably processed real estate transactions, leading to lost business. Their platform was crashing frequently because of the huge number of events that the system had to process. Each transaction, with hundreds being processed a day, would take minutes to complete. This would delay the agent’s work, causing them to wait until the platform could complete a seemingly simple activity. Previously built as a monolithic application, the Transaction Management System proved difficult to change for improved scalability as eXp’s needs grew exponentially. Ledwith explains, “the desire from the business was really to do more, faster, and without being constrained.”
Using low-code, eXp has rebuilt its entire platform that manages its most critical core processes, ensuring that their new platform enables unfettered growth. These applications cover three primary functions. Agent onboarding is managed with a Mendix application, allowing a fully remote agent workforce to be successfully onboarded and maintain productivity despite a lack of physical office space. Real estate listings and transactions are also managed with Mendix applications, ensuring a great user experience for their brokers. Each step of an individual listing, from preparatory steps through ‘Active Listings’ to the closing process, is managed using their new platform. This transformational concept makes the entire real estate purchase process digital, allowing their brokers to work from anywhere in the world. Additionally, agent compensation and eXp’s financial reporting as a public entity are managed with Mendix applications. The eXp Realty platform performs all the needed calculations, including the previous transaction history of an individual agent, the agent’s start date, and other attributes that are used in calculations. The platform is integrated with their accounting system, which is then used in their public financial reporting.
Power Couple: People and Technology
Low-code was the only solution with collaboration features that a fully remote team can effectively develop applications mission-critical to their business. With their employees signing in from all around the world, their application requires robust scalability. Ledwith and Kasam can focus on building solutions for their agents rather than worrying about tedious, repeatable operations to scale their solution.
The Mendix platform has enabled Ledwith and Kasam to not only build software faster but to approach their projects iteratively. They can experiment on concepts like architecture, see them live, and run them through a battery of tests to refine their approach. By embracing agile methodology and empowering their people, Ledwith and Kasam have fostered a culture that drives growth.
The most important thing is to trust your people, allow them to fail, be that safety net and make sure that we’re learning from everything that we do and that we’re constantly growing
Ledwith and Kasam were fortunate to have a remote-first organization before stay-at-home orders because of COVID. Ledwith explains that one of the most significant impacts to business from the pandemic is the “willingness to embrace the change and the possibility” that this obstacle presents. Leaders will need to turn this obstacle into their path forward, using it as an opportunity to promote creativity and take risks.