SINGAPORE—With the circuit breaker period well under way in Singapore, many companies have been turning to novel ways to continue operations. For ERA, a real estate company in Singapore, technology is playing a vital role in keeping business going. ERA Division Director Sophia Ng spoke with The Independent Singapore (TISG) about overcoming work challenges, utilising new digital tools, and connecting effectively with clients from a distance.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its infectious spread around the world, Singapore’s strict circuit breaker measures have been put in place to sever the transmission chain of infections in the city-nation. People have been urged to stay home and only leave their houses for essential goods and services. The circuit breaker period is set to end on June 1.
This poses problems for businesses like ERA, who have had to adjust their strategies and find ways to continue providing real estate services to customers. Their services range from property management and valuation to residential and commercial leasing and purchasing.
In a conversation with TISG, ERA Singapore Division Director Sophia Ng relayed that work has changed drastically. While technology has always been a crucial part of the business, they have had to “forgo any physical human interactions and be 100 per cent digital”—from virtual “gallery tours” to document signing.
When the circuit breaker was announced, Ng, who is 28 years old, was in agreement with the stringent measures, saying she believed it was “necessary for the wellbeing of the people in our country” and citing that ERA already had plans in place to take business fully online.
“ERA was well prepared to take our training and work online even way before the Circuit Breaker was announced,” Ng noted.
While that may be the case, Ng initially had concerns that some members of her team would struggle to adapt to going digital. However, ERA has also launched different online training sessions to help realtors familiarise themselves with new tech tools and how to better connect with clients virtually.
“With such training, I can say that we are all embracing technology better now and we are fortunate to be able to sharpen our axes through all the training, too!” Ng shared.
All face-to-face interactions have been replaced by online solutions. Agent training is conducted on video conferencing service Zoom, team and client communication has shifted to messaging app WhatsApp, and deals are closed digitally through the company’s own platform ERA Pro.
Ng told TISG that ERA has made serious efforts to “ensure business continuity” with the announcement of several digital initiatives. Project 360 is a site that collates a list of properties’ virtual tours. ERA Pro is an app “equipped with cutting edge technologies” such as Drone Interactive, 3D Floor Plan Model, and Advanced Google Map functions, which all aid in smoother virtual property transactions with clients.
Adjustments are being made on all sides, but Ng said that some clients are still “uncomfortable” with discussing their property purchases online.
This makes my role a little harder as I love face-to-face interaction and with just audio, our conversations lack the warmth a human interaction can bring,” Ng said, adding that some clients don’t like turning on their cameras during calls.
Luckily, using ERA’s new digital tools, Ng has still managed to secure a new launch unit for her clients.
Besides safeguarding the business, Ng said that ERA is also taking care of its people, with a resilience package like the OneERAxSGUnited COVID-19 Response Plan, which was “rolled out to ensure the wellbeing of us agents and our families”.
Realtors and clients alike are looking for various ways to cope with the circuit breaker measures.
“I still stay in touch with them [clients] and actively reach out to them whenever they need help with different technology platforms,” Ng said. She added that many of her colleagues have “benefitted tremendously during this circuit breaker to enrich themselves with the various courses conducted every day, courses which help to hone their skills to value add to their clients”.
Ng shared that going 100 per cent digital has definitely changed the way they work at ERA, with training, seminars, and meetings all done online. In fact, one to two days of ERA’s training programme was reduced to only two to three hours of online training!
The convenience of staying digital even after the pandemic would saves a lot of “traveling time, venue cost, and the potential of unlimited scalability such as hosting a webinar without worrying about the logistical issues and cost for a large audience”, Ng remarked, when asked if any aspects of her work will have changed permanently moving forward.
If the circuit breaker is extended beyond June 1, Ng and her colleagues at ERA are ready for it and will continue working fully online.
“As an organization, ERA is well equipped with newsrooms, digital training, technological tools, and is always taking immediate actions to any crisis,” said Ng, adding, “This provides endless opportunities and platforms for us realtors to continue serving our clients digitally!”
When asked if she had any professional words of advice to the public during the circuit breaker period, Ng responded with this:
“Stay calm, stay home, and stay positive,” Ng emphasised.
“To stay up to date with the market, one can always attend the ERA consumer seminars to learn how to leverage on the research done by ERA. We need to learn how to embrace a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. There will always be opportunities to profit from the real estate in the current market–you just need to learn how to spot it. You can contact me online for a non-obligatory consultation!” she enthused.
Ng shared that she was extremely appreciative of everyone’s cooperation and the fact that people “are doing their part to fight this pandemic while staying #SGUnited!” /TISG