The Future of Virtual Meeting Software
Mark Duclos, SIOR, the president of Sentry Commercial in Hartford, Conn., served an unusual term as SIOR Global’s president: It spanned 2020 and 2021, years that saw multiple waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even though Duclos was forced to replace travel and in-person meetings with Zoom and other virtual platforms, he has no regrets about the timing. On the contrary, he believes he met more people in his two years as president than any other president in the history of SIOR. He could join virtual cocktail parties with SIORs in Europe or “drop into” a chapter event in Los Angeles, no flights required. “How cool is that?” he asks.
Duclos had rarely used virtual meeting software before the onset of the pandemic, and neither had several of his fellow SIORs. Vanessa Herzog, SIOR, partner at Lee & Associates in Seattle, recalls that when her office was shut down, her staff suggested that she learn how to use Microsoft Teams for virtual meetings. At the time, she didn’t think she needed yet another technology tool. Today she looks back and admits, “I really did need that piece of technology.”BENEFITS
At first, many brokers used virtual meeting software as a temporary fix during lockdowns and restrictions. For example, Mark Van Ark, SIOR, director of KW Commercial in Centennial, Colo., notes that the software enabled him to continue his brokerage and consulting practice “without missing a beat.”
But the temporary fix gained admirers, who expect it to become a permanent fixture of business. “When it comes to communicating with clients and being able to go over documents or proposals with them, Zoom is a wonderful way to do it,” says David Liebman, SIOR, managing broker at Merit Partners, LLC, in Northbrook, Ill. He believes that gains in efficiency balance out or even outweigh the losses in social interaction. Laurie Tylenda, SIOR, associate broker at CBRE-Albany, N.Y., reports that video calls have enabled her “to put a name to a face for clients who are across the country.”
Herzog appreciates the time-savings that virtual meeting software offers. Members of her local SIOR chapter used to devote entire days to traveling along the heavily trafficked I-5 corridor to a luncheon meeting, attending the meeting, and traveling back. Attendance spiked dramatically when the meetings became virtual, which Herzog describes as “a great resolution” to the chapter’s geographic challenges—a resolution that will likely continue, at least in some capacity, post-pandemic.
Herzog also praises the screen-share option, which enables her to pull up assessors’ maps, property surveys, and building drawings. “We can actually have a productive meeting with me sharing the screen and going through whatever materials I might cover with them in person,” she says. For Landon Williams, SIOR, senior vice president – capital markets at Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Advisors in Memphis, Tenn., screen-sharing capabilities make virtual meetings preferable to phone calls, although his first choice is in-person meetings. “There’s nothing better than connecting face-to-face in the same room,” he states.
As Williams indicates, in-person meetings are still “in.” “I know a lot of people who have had enough of this Zoom,” says Liebman. “They’re dying to get back to the in-person meeting.” Del Markward, SIOR, president of Markward Group in Allentown, Pa. and past SIOR president, warns that “video is great as a supplement, but not as a full-time substitution.”
"Video is great as a supplement, but not as a full-time substitution."
One drawback is the difficulty in interpreting nuances of body language, gestures, and facial expressions, which are less visible onscreen than face-to-face. Another is the tendency for participants to multitask. Zoom/Teams attendance is like measuring ticket sales for pro sports events; more about a number than actual participation or showing up, observes Michael Downey, SIOR, principal of Avison Young in Pittsburgh. “We are all guilty of getting on a virtual meeting, putting mute on, turning the camera off, and working on a completely different task.”
And then there is “Zoom fatigue.” Researchers at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab find that Zoom and other popular video chat platforms “have design flaws that exhaust the human mind and body.” Williams attributes Zoom fatigue to “the simple basic human desire to want interaction with other humans where there is the social dance of statements, responses, emotions, and focus.”
Many brokers have developed techniques to cope with Zoom fatigue. One method is simple—to schedule breaks between meetings. Herzog recommends sending out an agenda for meetings, which helps keep participants focused. Several brokers emphasize the importance of being fully present (no multitasking), prepared, and professionally dressed—pajamas are not OK! The more engaged participants are, the more productive the meetings. Unstructured, excessively long meetings in which participants are unprepared or inattentive fuel perceptions that the meetings are a waste of time, and this perception contributes to Zoom fatigue.WHAT'S NEXT
Despite these drawbacks, virtual meeting software is likely to stick around post-pandemic. According to Van Ark, the software “has become the new normal in client communication.” Liebman predicts that virtual meetings are “here to stay in one way, shape, or form for a while.”
Duclos hopes that brokers will continue to gravitate to technological innovation in the future. Tylenda, for one, needs no encouragement. “I’m always looking for new technologies and I’m sure I’ll be adding more,” she says. She eagerly attends webinars hosted by SIOR’s technology committee, from which she’s learned “great tricks of the trade.”
In Williams’ opinion, virtual tours are no replacement for an in-person tour, but they are nonetheless useful for piquing the interest of a buyer or tenant. Markward and Duclos see drones as beneficial for the real estate business. Downey likes his AI assistant, along with “anything that can help me stay more productive, focused and efficient.” Liebman plans to try out video messaging, where a video recording replaces a voicemail.
Yet even the strongest advocates of technology do not suggest that it will replace in-person interactions, which are essential to success in brokerage. As Markward remarks: “Commercial and industrial businesses are still very hands-on businesses with personal relationships imperative, but there is room for technology upgrades over time, which help add to the base business model.”
Michael Downey, SIOR
Mark Duclos, SIOR
Vanessa Herzog, SIOR
David Liebman, SIOR
Del Markward, SIOR
Laurie Tylenda, SIOR
Mark Van Ark, SIOR
Landon Williams, SIOR