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How to Lead Your Team Through COVID-19

Joshua Stowers
Joshua Stowers

Homes.com has found great success with its new #WorkFromHomes program that prioritizes supporting its employees who are now working remotely.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, many businesses have pivoted to better serve their customers or help front-line workers. But how many have also pivoted to better support their employees? 

Homes.com, a leading provider of online real estate marketing and media services, is one example of a business that has stepped up its efforts to support employees who are now working from home, helping them maintain their productivity and morale. 

Within days of moving to remote operations, David Mele, president of Homes.com, implemented daily communication from company leadership to team members and led the company in launching an internal website and advocacy plan called #WorkFromHomes. This new initiative was designed to support employees' mental and emotional health and recognize their achievements. 

Leading by putting people first

As president of Homes.com since 2014, Mele oversees the company's business strategy and day-to-day operations, with a heavy focus on innovating a smarter home-search experience. 

"During the last six years, I've focused on reimagining the home-search process by putting the consumer first, leading to the recent launch of the new Homes.com," Mele said. "Additionally, I've focused on expanding the Homes.com data footprint with direct feeds from more than 600 MLSs, which helps offer a higher quality of listing data for consumers to search." 

This focus has driven higher-quality leads and best-in-class digital products and services to the real estate industry. The company also prides itself on being a people-first organization. One of its core values is supporting humanity, because people are the "why" of everything it does. When you have a people-first mentality in your business, you can create a healthy work environment and provide top-notch support for customers. 

"I'm a firm believer that the root of a person's work should always be how it serves or benefits others over self," Mele said. "My goals are, above all else, to create a healthy work environment for our teams, one in which they feel empowered to explore new and innovative ideas without fear of failure." 

Focusing on the well-being of employees

Even before the state of Virginia issued its shelter-in-place directive in mid-March, Homes.com's leadership team began discussing how the pandemic might affect its workforce of more than 400 employees. 

"As news of the coronavirus pandemic grew more ominous, we discussed the potential need to shift to remote operations," Mele said. "Less than 15% of our employees work remotely full time, which means that, while our teams may have the equipment to do so, this would be a new transition for a majority of our workforce." 

Once the company made the transition to working from home, Mele knew that his team needed more sincere, transparent communication. 

"There was very little information on how long our work-from-home period would last, and understandably, our teams were a bit anxious and nervous," he told business.com. "So, we focused on communication to help ease those concerns and highlight our commitment to their well-being." 

Providing employees with work-from-home resources

Homes.com launched an internal website with work-from-home resources to boost morale, promote company unity and maintain productivity. These resources include online training sessions, tips on effective work-at-home habits, work-appropriate humor, and practical advice to keep minds, bodies and spirits healthy. 

Mele revealed the internal resources Homes.com provides its employees through the #WorkFromHomes initiative: 

  • The #WorkFromHomes daily dose: com sends employees work-from-home tips, productivity guidance, company news and even parenting advice. It has both internal and external contributors, who maintain a calendar to ensure the daily dose covers certain topics.

  • The "show us your workspace" tour: The company invites its employees to share their home workspaces. Employees enjoy seeing where their colleagues work, whether it's a cool desk in the bedroom or a large workstation in the basement. This tour is designed to build camaraderie and share ideas for how team members can revamp their own spaces to be more conducive to full-time remote work.

  • Sleep webinars: com teamed up with Anthem Health Plans of Virginia, a local sector of Blue Cross Blue Shield, to offer interactive webinars focused on sleep routines. These give advice to employees on how to rest more peacefully during these unprecedented times.

  • Virtual parties and happy hours: With video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet, team members can set up virtual happy hours or birthday celebrations to build camaraderie with their colleagues. Homes.com's IT department even hosts video chat games – team members can join the channel of their choice and jump into the game, with in-channel instructions provided by the game host.

  • Mental health sessions: com has licensed professionals speak on mental wellness topics, such as stress, anxiety and restlessness while working from home. Its goal is to provide tips for dealing with emotions that employees can use now and in the future.

  • Daily orange alerts: These daily emails contain celebratory and congratulatory notes recognizing the achievements of team members. The company aims to spread the love across various departments for the good work its employees are doing.

  • Parent panels: Nearly half of Homes.com's employees have children, which means they are facing new challenges and juggling multiple roles while working from home. To help, the company provided a channel for employees to learn from other parents, ask questions and, most importantly, know they're not alone.

  • Spirit Week: Spirit Week is inspired by Homes.com's annual Customer Service Week, during which employees compete in fun competitions to win prizes and reflect on how crucial customer service is to their company. Piggybacking off this event, #WorkFromHomes presents a full week of lighthearted activities. Each day of the week has a specific theme that encourages team members to demonstrate their company spirit. 

Getting employee feedback

After nearly four weeks of remote work, Homes.com surveyed its employees. The survey pinpointed the additional resources that employees needed and gave Mele insight into his employees' overall perception of the #WorkFromHomes project. The response was extremely positive, and this feedback from his team members was rewarding for Mele. 

"We learned that nearly 90% of employees rate the current #WorkFromHomes efforts a 4 or higher (on a scale of 1-5)," Mele said. "Team members find our remote-work resources helpful, with 74% of them wanting us to continue providing them; 60% have enjoyed hearing the good news we share about the company, showing that we are on the right track." 

A few of the program's offerings did not have as much participation as the company had hoped for, but employee feedback provided instruction on what to do differently. 

"For most of our special corporate events, we drive awareness and hype in the week or so prior through email or social media announcements," Mele said. "The remote events that didn't perform as well did not have that same communication, so it's definitely a lesson learned as we move forward." 

Building a safe 'home' at work for employees

During this initiative, Mele saw how talented, driven and resourceful his team leaders were. 

"No one batted an eye; from the get-go, every leader committed to doing whatever it took to equip their teams and make sure everyone was OK," he said. "They showed me that our greatest strength isn't found in our sales numbers, total site visitors or revenue increases – it lies in our irrefutable belief that others are more important than self, and that it's our duty, privilege and honor to look out for each other." 

As Homes.com is an online portal for residential real estate, the best metaphor for the company's resourceful online haven that gives remote employees a sense of security is "home." 

"Homes have separate rooms, each with its own purpose, but under the same protective covering," Mele said. "Homes also have common, more open areas, with space for everyone to gather and experience life together – both the highs and lows of it." 

While Homes.com's efforts have been successful thus far, Mele knows the company will likely face more challenges in the future. 

"On the business side, of course we're concerned with how the real estate market will continue to respond to the pandemic," he said. "Decreased activity from home buyers and sellers is a lofty hurdle to overcome." 

Although these challenging times raise countless concerns, Mele says it's best to focus on what matters most – people. 

"On the human side, I just want my team to be healthy, happy and encouraged. So, I do sometimes wonder if we're doing enough things or the right things to best help everyone thrive in this new normal." 

Homes.com is taking it day by day, reinforcing to team members the appreciation for their hard work and how meaningful it is. While it makes plans for its future work environment, Homes.com will continue building on its solid foundation of putting its people first.

Joshua Stowers
Joshua Stowers,
business.com Writer
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Joshua is a staff writer based in New York City. He is a former entrepreneur who started a fashion and art, print and digital publication called Elusive Magazine, serving as the features editor for several issues. Previously, he worked in product development for DirectTV and for a content agency that wrote for Verizon and Google. He is a New Jersey native in love with the city lights and skyscrapers.