Written by Richard Walton, Founder at Deeply Social and AVirtual
Commercial business is competitive by nature. It’s what drives companies to achieve more and expand further. For entrepreneurs, it’s addictive, vital and all part of the fun. Then there’s the dangerous flip side: the stress.
The Harvard Review published an article titled The Darwinian Workplace a few years back on the merits of simulated competition in the workplace to weed out the weak, and identify the high-performing workforce. The article states: “Underperforming workers often have the skills to do better and simply lack motivation” and urges organisations to try the “winners-take-all approach” as a solution. Whilst it can be an effective model for sales industries in particular, what’s ignored is the increased anxiety that’s provoked as a result and the often very detrimental effects to productivity.
The perfect example is the real estate industry. Constantly ranked as one of the most stressful jobs globally, the property business is built on competition. The whole structure of the working environment is hinged on targets and uncertainty, and is only getting worse. As the UK property market struggles and staff numbers are downsized, the workload doubles for the remaining employees, forcing them to work longer hours, and hit even higher targets to make their salaries.
Technology, of course, is partly to blame for the hectic speed we work at too. Social media is constant, audiences are international and demanding. Whilst you’re sleeping, your competition has sold three houses, stresses the Darwinian model of business, actively encouraging permanent professional angst as proof of commitment. It’s impossible to run at such a high level of stress for a sustained amount of time though and instead of improving your work scores, all those extra hours you stayed up are actually making you less productive. According to a study by Vitality Health, published in the Financial Times last year: “researchers found that employees who slept for six hours or less a night were significantly less productive than those who slept for seven or eight”, whilst surprisingly, “smoking and alcohol consumption seem to make no difference at all.”
Further evidence from a recent research report by Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW) revealed that high stress and lack of physical activity are causing industries to lose up to 27 days of productive time per employee each year. For a company of 13 people, that’s a whole year of productivity lost. A whole year. Consider the financial implications: London Loves Business reported that the productivity loss is costing the UK £57bn a year on average, “with 73% of employees nationally suffering from at least one dimension of work-related stress.” And that’s not even considering the impact that over-working has on your personal life, which, if you want to get ahead in the real estate business, is inevitably going to have to be non-existent.
So we’ve established stress is bad for our health, our careers and pretty much everything else. So what do we do about it? Firstly, we should be taking control of technology by using it to make our lives run more smoothly, rather than letting it slowly consume us. There are endless apps and programmes that are designed specifically to help busy property professionals save time and be more productive with their working hours. Evernote, for example, is an all-encompassing, pocket bible of an app that allows you to take notes, make to-do lists, photograph properties and save webpages to your account which is then synced to your multiple devices for access anywhere in the world. Whilst Doodle makes scheduling enjoyable, by creating polls that allow participants to choose their preferred calendar slot.
Outsourcing is another option. The world is full of freelancers who are available instantly to help you out with the tasks you can’t handle or that you’d just rather not do. Graphic design is one of the big ones. So often companies underrate the importance of time spent on the design (particularly important if you’re in the business of sales), and churn out shoddy-looking, unprofessional presentations full of pixelated imagery and unreadable pie charts. If you’re trying to sell a house, for example, it’s essential that you have a slick, stylish brochure to properly showcase the property. Outsource to a graphic designer and the work gets down in half the time and looks 100 times better. Social media, is another one. It plays a huge role in building relationships with potential buyers and creating the public persona of a real estate agent, but done badly it’s disastrous.
Better still, sign up to a virtual personal assistant who can do all of the above and more for you. The role of the assistant has developed significantly over the years and has finally started to shake off its underrated reputation. Whilst a PA used to be primarily a secretary whose job was to type up letters and take messages, assistants are now highly skilled professionals (often coming from hired powered business roles themselves) who not only support, but dramatically improve the lives of their bosses and contribute to the company as a whole.
For real estate agents, an assistant is the golden key to success. A PA allows you to be proactive, get out of the office and interact face-to-face with potential customers, whilst they run the show behind the scenes, processing new listings, sending follow up emails to past clients or prospects, tracking of listings, writing up reports, researching and keeping an eye on the competition.
Understandably hiring a PA to work beside you in an office, where you’re hired to work for someone else, might seem like somewhat of an indulgence and an unnecessary expense, but bringing in an assistant who works virtually solves the embarrassment and budget issues, whilst still granting you all the benefits. What’s more it saves you the hassle of managing an employee. When we ask our clients at AVirtual what the biggest benefit of hiring a virtual PA is compared to hiring in-house, the most common answer is the guaranteed professionalism and quality control. Busy people don’t have time to keep tabs on their staff let alone deal with the stress of potential sickness, maternity, emotional problems, the pressure of pay rises and all the other baggage that comes with employing. Yes, it sounds brutal, but it’s a headache and none of us are in need of any more of those.
The best part of all, taking on a virtual PA is a fast, easy and inexpensive solution to reducing stress levels and boosting your performance at work. They make you look good without you having to work long hours, risk your health and assassinate the competition.