Canadian Real Estate Association News
Erin Davis: Hello and welcome to REAL TIME, Canada’s podcast for and about REALTORS® brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m Erin Davis. So glad you could join us for this enlightening conversation for our 27th episode. Now I just want you to take a moment and give this some thought. While no country can be defined by a single architectural style, there’s always a prevailing image: the Moorish riads of Morocco, Dubai sky-high contemporary landscape, the renaissance aesthetic of Italy. When we think of Canada, what comes to mind?
On episode 27 of REAL TIME, we are joined by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect, Todd Saunders best known for his iconic design of the Fogo Island Inn and Studios in Newfoundland and Labrador. A Canadian architect with a global presence, Todd joins REAL TIME to share his unique perspective on Canadian architecture and his approach to evolving it. We’ll look at the influences that have shaped Canada’s built environment and how a base understanding of these influences can help REALTORS® add value. Todd, thank you so much for joining us.
I wonder if we can go back a little bit if you would tell us about your professional journey from Newfoundland and Labrador to Norway which is where we’re joining you today. How has your career unfolded?
Todd Saunders: The journey from Newfoundland and Norway was from – It started when I was about 15. I left Newfoundland. My dad worked with Air Canada, and we moved to Halifax in my last two years of high school there. Then I studied environmental planning at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Then I wanted to be a landscape architect and I went to Rhode Island School of Design and as an exchange student. I touched in architecture when I was there. Then I was working in Vienna, in Berlin for a while when I was 21, 22. Then I did my master’s degree at McGill University and I studied ecological architecture and town planning, Master’s green architecture.
The weird thing was it was for my Master’s thesis, I hitch-hiked from Paris to China unexpectedly. I got a bunch of scholarships to look at Northern ecological communities. One of the communities is actually in Norway and on my way there, I hitch-hiked through Bergen and I fell in love with the place and a year after I was finished my Master’s degree, I came back. I didn’t go to my graduation at McGill. I put my thesis in the mailbox at the airport and I was gone before school was finished. I was quite eager. Then in Norway, I started off, I was 25, 26 years old. No contacts, just learning the language.
Basically, I started working really hard and it was on the sidelines of architecture while I was building playgrounds for children and their parents at different schools. I did a wastewater treatment system with a bunch of architecture students. Then I actually got a teaching position at the Bergen architecture school and me and another guy teaching together started a company. We started building our own projects. There was a little cabin we built and bought the land and built it ourselves. That’s actually how we first started our first experience for real estate agents where we project got published in the local newspaper.
Then we got 15 or 16 calls, people wanted to buy it and we intended on keeping it, but we sold it after a couple of weeks. We owned it and did really well economically on it and then started winning competitions. It was a hard start because it took about three or four years before we got any really interesting projects. It was like my early 30s before we started getting stuff built.
Erin: It seems like Norway, did have some familiarity within you to Newfoundland. It’s almost like the title of the award-winning documentary Strange and Familiar. Did Norway feel at all like home because of course it is now? You’ve been there for almost 20 years meeting your wife around 1995 or ’96. Now there you are in Norway planted like John Lennon’s Norwegian would. How is it that Norway resonated with you in terms of maybe comparison or familiarity to Canada?
Todd: Visually it was the same but economically, Norway is one of the richest countries in the world. But at the same time, their country from farmers and fishermen, and I experienced that upwards richness, wealth when I came here. First, when I got here, it was still a lot like Newfoundland down to earth. The architecture was very low-key, very practical. The landscape was the same, the food was the same, it was basically salt, pepper, dill and fish and then root vegetables. The food was very similar. Culture, it’s a bit different though. Newfoundlanders are extremely sociable whereas Norwegian in the countryside are quite private.
The city I live in Bergen, they’re more like Newfoundlanders, very hospitable and talkative. I actually really like the city I live in Bergen. I feel very at home. That’s actually why I came here. I was actually supposed to live and work in Oslo, but it wasn’t that interesting or different compared to Newfoundland and Bergen was, but there’s a lot of similarities, but there are two different worlds if you start looking at it in detail. Architecturally, they’re very complimentary and that really helped my career.
Erin: You have said that you can’t plan your life, but that you’ve carried your Newfoundland roots everywhere and a few things that you learned there that stick with you. What have you brought from Newfoundland to your life in Norway? I don’t know if you’ve held any kitchen parties there in Bergen but what have you carried with you from Newfoundland as you’ve expanded your influences throughout the world? We’ll talk more about that coming up.
Todd: Newfoundland has a very good rap now. People are looking at it in a positive way. We have actually negative traits as well, but there’s an openness in Newfoundland and a hospitality and Newfoundlander would give you their shirt off their back. There’s an honesty and directness in Newfoundland. It was funny. You couldn’t lie in Newfoundland because it was your integrity is your currency. If you lied, it’s such a small place within half an hour, everyone knows you lying, and then you lost your integrity and you’re worthless.
That’s been brought with me, like hard work as well. Then growing up on these little small islands, you become very independent because nobody’s there to save you.
Somebody wrote a letter recommendation for me for a professorship one time and he described it as a, I was like a person they could drop in the middle of Siberia and then come back nine months later and then I’ve started my own business and doing really well. It was like, that’s a Newfoundlander. There’s a survival instinct. It’s a tough life down there.
It’s not leaning back and enjoying the flowers and orchids blowing in the air. It’s a tough climate and then there’s humour. That’s another thing is hard to come across in a podcast here but Newfoundlanders, that was the source of survival there, humour. I think that’s got me a long way over here. I hope that God, I haven’t lost that. I was like –
Erin: I’m sure you haven’t. When we return with Norway-based Gander Newfoundland-born Todd, we’ll talk about what he already knew long before the musical Come from Away.
Whether you’re listening in Goose Bay, North Bay, Hilliard’s Bay, or near the Bay of Fundy, you can tap into the knowledge of REALTORS® across the country and share your own lessons and insights by visiting REALTORS® Corner on CREA Cafe. It’s a hub of content created by REALTORS® for REALTORS®. Now back to Todd Saunders.
You left Newfoundland before 911 and of course, that was such a seminal time in Gander when the world’s attention turned to the hospitality of Newfoundlanders, which can’t have been a surprise to you. Now that is the touchstone that I’m sure people around the world if you say, I’m from Gander, Newfoundland, they go, “Oh right, Come from Away.” This has been something else that’s been added to your calling card inadvertently, hasn’t it?
Todd: Yes. That was quite unexpected, but it was not a surprise at all. I think the numbers were, it was 9,000 people landed and 7,000 people living in the place and everyone got a place to sleep, but that’s again hospitality and organizing things on the fly. That’s what Newfoundland is really good at because the weather changes 15 times a day and you got to adapt. I wouldn’t say malleable, but adaptable and optimistic and not really afraid of change. I think that’s what Newfoundland is there. It’s always there with them. I think that’s an asset to roll with the punches.
Erin: How much has that been integrated into your design philosophy, Todd? What is most important to you when approaching a project? You’ve already mentioned integrity is your currency? That is a great foundation onto which you can build. Let’s get into that a little bit, your design philosophy.
Todd: It’s becoming more and more about wants and needs trying make architecture that’s not overly – I wouldn’t say it’s very well-built, very well-crafted. What I like about Newfoundland architecture, it’s all handmade. You can feel it, wants and needs. I’m very, very focused on needs first. When those are covered in architecture and you can explore the wants, if there’s the economy there or then the need for it but we question it as well.
It’s like, “Do you really need that?” It ends up with really, really good discussions. Then another part of me is, I’m extremely curious person and that’s integrated into our process. We work with clients that are really eccentric and they got their economy in place. They’re stable, but they’re always teaching us something. We’re learning from them. They’re learning from us. It’s not all about attaining happiness in our architecture. It’s more about learning, I think, and growth.
Erin: It goes back to what you talked about, being the people from Newfoundland, they are flexible, malleable, the changing weather, the changing needs all the time. You come in with your skillset and then you get somebody who says, “Oh, I want a soft ice cream machine in the bedroom.” Something like that. You have to park your ego a little bit too, don’t you? In terms of saying, okay, I wouldn’t have done that, but it’s what you want. Right?
Todd: Yes. It goes both ways. Clients that come to us, they’re a bit like us. It is the beauty of actually now getting 52 years old and then podcast like this, and then we’ve done our third book now. People can read about our values and we’re attracting more and more people that want to help.
Erin: You’ve also been doing some philanthropy I understand, an information center in Maine for the woman who founded Burt’s Bees.
Todd: Yes. Roxanne Quimby contacted us a few years ago. That’s under construction and I was in the meeting yesterday about that. They built the foundation last year and I’ll be going over again this summer and then Roxanne’s son Lucas. I think they used $20 million on the building and about $100 million donated the money for the land. Now they found out about the work that we were doing on Fogo Island. We’re moving more and more in that direction because the clients have great motivations and so the developers. We work with some of them where we try to focus on quality, but at the end of the day, it’s about making money and it’s a business, that part. Whereas my personal interest is actually working with a philanthropist because they have the money, and their intention is just to make the best possible architecture. Then it’s usually for a good cause. Then it’s a great alignment of our values and their values. It’s a very interesting field and we just publishing an article now called Architecture and Philanthropy a Catalyst for Change. Fogo Island, for example, there is the Inn has created 70 small businesses on that little island. Wouldn’t that be fantastic if you made a building that could generate its own economy?
That’s what we’re trying to interest in now, not just being a drain on economy and a maintenance nightmare, it’s a building that actually gives back. We’re trying to move in that direction. There’s not many clients out there like the client at Fogo Island Inn, like Zita Cobb, and then Roxanne Quimby at the Katahdin National Park. They’re hard to find, but when you find them, it’s fantastic.
Erin: Let’s talk about coming home and how do you feel architecture impacts the way that we live, interact with or appreciate a place?
Todd: I think architecture when done with care and with love can create care and love. What saddens me now is there’s a lot of architecture that’s half-designed. It’s good enough. It’s a bit sad because these things last for hundreds of years and then the homes we create, there’s only actually even one of them ever been sold. People fall in love with these places. Then things the Fogo Island Inn, for example, I love that place. I was there, there was a woman I met on the roof. One time my two daughters were in one hot tub and her husband was in another hot tub. We started talking. She was a psychology professor, so we could be open really quickly.
Then I asked her why she was there and she goes, “Well, my husband’s going to die in six weeks, has a terminally ill disease and going to take euthanasia and he said, this is one of the places he wanted to visit before he died.
Erin: To talk, not only about the end of life but the beginning of life too, because in your experience you’ve had a handful of clients whose children have become architects. Just hanging around the Todd Saunders effect or what was that? How did that come to be?
Todd: I don’t know how that was. It just started happening. It was like you were with these families and these little 9, 10-year-old kids were often there at the office hanging out and then you meet them afterwards. Then they say, yes, my son’s an architect. Then my daughter became an architect, works in the city now and maybe living in these houses probably does affect them on some type of level. Then they probably see the love and care we put into these things.
Erin: Exactly. It was such a positive effect.
Todd: Yes. They probably see their family’s experience, enjoy, like making, creating something. It’s a big deal, starting from nothing and then creating something which you live and creating needs and layers of memories,
Erin: Todd Saunders, creator, and architect of the Fogo Island Inn and Studios in Newfoundland and Labrador talks about that gorgeous labour of love, shaping history and the future. When we come back, when we discuss labours of love, volunteering often comes to mind.
As a realtor, when you volunteer your time, make a donation or raise funds for your favourite cause, you are making a difference in your own community. Help amplify this great impact and maybe even inspire others to do the same by sharing your story online, using #realtorscare.
Designing the Fogo Island Inn, and we’ve referred to this throughout our chat today. I couldn’t wait to get to this, and I really do urge people to find the documentary Strange and Familiar, an award-winning film about your heart’s work. I won’t say your life’s work because you are a young man but designing the Fogo Island Inn was a milestone in your career, Todd. What was it to honour the island’s history while in some ways shaping a vision for new architecture in the area?
Todd: This is a place, it’s one of the poorest provinces in the country, always been, and there’s not many architects there. I have already practiced for about 10 years and I never thought I’d make a piece of architecture in Newfoundland, but because I travelled, I worked in six or seven different countries and traveling over 100 and its places India, Portugal, Costa Rica, South Africa, Japan, they have their own architecture, their own identity. I always kept checking back to Newfoundland. It was the more I was away, the more I appreciated the uniqueness and the individuality of Newfoundland. Then when I did get the call, it was yes, I think Zita chose me.
She interviewed 50 architects, but I think she said one time, it was because I had as much to lose as she did if it went wrong. She knew I would give it everything. I gave my heart and soul to that project. It’s a big part of me, but for better or worse, like I mentioned in the film, whatever we did or whatever we designed would be the future of that place forever. Luckily, and I knew in the bottom of my heart that this would go well. Luckily it’s created some amazing change and just people who’ve been there, David Letterman’s been there, Gwyneth Paltrow, the Prime Minister of Canada. That’s one part of it then, but there’s one very interesting people from all around the world. Like the producers of Come from Away, I walked them around through the four studios, we spent the whole day with them.
Erin: I love the one that you designed that is for writers. You just walk right in and there’s the desk overlooking the window. It’s like, “How could you not create in this space?”
Todd: Yes, there was the ex-CEO The National Gallery Canada. It’s actually called the Bridge Studio, but it was actually designed for a writing studio, but no one knew that. He walked into the door when he was there and he said, “I want to sit down and write a book here.” It’s made for that.
That’s getting back to the needs again. That one was the only studio made for a specific art type, which is writing. Then we just said, what do you need? It was a desk, a chair, a place to put your pencils, place a to lay your paper, a little seat by the fire, and that was it.
Erin: It’s just so wonderful. I hope that you’ve got one tricked out with acoustics. Somebody like me or you can sit down and do some broadcasting from there.
Todd: Yes, that’s right. I think all of them can be used for that actually; that was the one interesting thing is when I’m designing houses, they’re bespoke and tailor-made to the person. This is one of the first projects I did where everyone had to be a possible user. That was why the inn worked so well. We had a collaborative process where everybody’s opinion was equal because everybody could be a possible guest.
Erin: How do you get there?
Todd: Yes, you can fly Toronto to Gander, I think directly now. Then from New York, it’s New York–St. John’s Gander, and then drive out from there.
Erin: Oh, you drive. Okay.
Todd: There’s a private airplanes can land on the runway in Fogo, which is just a five-minute drive from the Inn. A lot of people do that.
Erin: We’re back in a moment with architect, son of Newfoundland and Labrador, and now resident of Norway, Todd Saunders, who will tell us why he’s glad there’s not a Canadian flavour if you will when it comes to our architecture.
Enjoying REAL TIME? Well, we hope so. Thank you. A reminder to subscribe wherever you love your podcasts for monthly episodes with guests who share ideas that we promise will resonate with you long after the closing theme has played. Don’t miss our next episode with TSN zone James Duthie, about the art of conversation.
Now back to Todd Saunders. Now, Todd, you’ve talked about all of the different countries in which you’ve worked. With this global perspective, what can you tell us about Canadian architecture? Is there a Canadian flavour?
Todd: I think there’s a Canadian attitude and thank God there isn’t a Canadian flavour and I’ll explain why I was the judge for the National Architecture Prize in Canada, which is called the Governor General’s Award. I’d been away for years, and they just asked me to join. I was in Ottawa and then presenting, I think they presented 100 projects that were being made in Canada. It reminded me a bit of Norway because Norway’s a very long country, very monotone culturally, like the people one language and 95% of the people are Lutheran; but in Canada, it’s also a large country, but very multicultural.
Norway there’s a lot of different architecture here and a lot of different personalities in the architecture, which I didn’t really prefer. I saw the same thing in Canada. I saw these young companies do spectacular work. It made me so happy to see the high quality. I wouldn’t say individuality, that’s not the right word, but uniqueness. It was very specific to place, like hyper-specific. That’s what I hope the style, we call it a style or a flavor of Canada, I think that would be the best thing Canada can do is just be very, very, very specific to where you’re working on. That’s what I tell these architecture students I work with.
I gave the lecture at Yale last fall when I was teaching there. I ended off by saying, everyone’s looking at these so-called ‘star’ architects. Then they’re working all around the world, but I said it’s one part of it, but the real joy I got out of the project was actually focusing on one place, like Fogo Island, and then really going deep. I encouraged them to find – you can do your projects all around the world, but maybe find one place you really, really love like community, and put a lot of effort in there. Use a lot of time, build up relationships and really go deep.
I think Voltaire talked about it. He said ‘cultivate your garden’. That’s what he meant. Use the time to get to know the garden where you…and then it’s your whole life you can put into there. You can take what you learn from these other projects, bring them back to that one place and then focus on being hyper-specific. Then trying to create an architecture that adds to a place and that people are proud of, and people love, and architecture gives instead of takes.
Erin: In that way, I think there’s a great tie-in and a familiarity with REALTORS® in that it is about connection and connection with community.
Todd: Yes, and I think that’s what and I see it swinging back like the younger generations architects just behind me are, they’ve varied values. I see it in my oldest daughter, it’s 15, they’re different. They’re buying all their clothes. Second hand on these apps online. There’s a new economy coming out of this. There’s a new value set of systems. I see hope actually that the city I lived in was actually, there was shops everywhere on the corners when I first moved here 20 years ago and now 7-Eleven, Starbucks owns every one of them. Then the city’s not allowing people advertise companies in the public spaces and there’s a resistance to it.
Now there’s a uniqueness in this city, and I think it’ll survive. I’ve seen St. John’s, Newfoundland as well. There’s a lot of peculiar, interesting little shops there. Copenhagen’s got that. I think the world craves this multifaceted diverse things. I think we went through a phase where a Starbucks and 7-Eleven were taken. I think that’s on its way out, hopefully. That’s where architects and REALTORS® can play a role.
Erin: I love that. We seem to be seeing the changes of you talk about your daughters buying clothes secondhand and that there’s this new economy. It’s like turning old industrial areas, seeing old factories, becoming homes, and seeing porches, making a comeback and outside spaces.
Todd: Yes. That’s like makes much more interesting. See, I think there’s one thing that the REALTORS® probably know and people are interested in interesting neighbourhoods. For example, Kitsilano in Vancouver and certain areas in Toronto and Montreal. I think people are buying into neighbourhoods now as much as they’re buying a specific piece of real estate because the neighbourhood is becoming their living room. You can actually build smaller, and your gym is the parks and stuff like that. I think the architects and planners can make better neighbourhoods than the, and with a good variation of architecture.
I think, yes, I definitely know that the statistics with the real estate agents here, there’s certain neighbourhoods that the houses sell quicker and stuff like that. There’s two or three areas in Bergen here. That’s young people in their 30s and 40s and they’re staying there. They’re buying places and not moving. They’re really enjoying the neighbourhoods.
Erin: Now you’re designing homes for people who are in their 70s and up and you get joy out of that?
Todd: I loved what, my best clients are over 70. I just love it because they’re like, it’s their last house and they’re like, they know how to make decisions. They’ve been living in other places. It’s actually hard to design for younger, like the 30-year-old couples, if they’re not well synced and know each other. It’s difficult to design for them but the ones over 50, 60 gets easier, 70 gets even easier. Then I’ve done one couple, they’re both in their 80s. They just turned 80 right now. That was fantastic. Such a joy to work with them. Yes.
Erin: You enjoy one-story houses. Tell us why this is such an insight into architecture that I hadn’t even considered.
Todd: Yes. It’s like a number of reasons that they’re easier to solve and they’re much more playful. Like a stair, for example, no one really knows that if you move a stair in a house, you might as well start all over again. You can move a few rooms around and stuff like that but as soon as you move a stair in a house design, then you really got to stick and move it, adjust it a little bit but once you move it more than so much, you might as well start off with a whole new house. Stairs actually take up a lot of square footage without even you knowing it. It creates hallway spaces but at the same time we do verticality in some of the houses, but I really started to enjoy the one-story houses.
Then with annexes where you have the core rooms in one part and then there’s an annex or a guest bedroom or a garage or a yoga studio or some other pod, which is connected by a roof and you create this like covered outside space between these two or three different elements. That’s where it gets fun. We’re starting to do more of that and stuff like this. You can work on Zoom and you don’t have to travel that much anymore.
Erin: As we speak to you, you’re sitting in your library in your home, and of course, it’s all about multifunction now, which is probably something that you always did embrace. You’ve spoken about it the parts of the house that are the gym or the home office or the guest room. Having houses where wellness is also integrated, like for meditation and getting well and allowing the light in.
Todd: It’s like a house, it’s a refuge in a way but I’m getting away from the single-family houses. We do them, but we’re working more on town planning stuff now. That’s where my love is because my undergrad is environmental town planning, and you can’t really get a commission doing a town plan when you move to Norway at 26 years old. Now at my age, we’re starting together. We’re doing a creative community outside of Atlanta, Georgia right now. We’re working on a second home community with live workspaces outside of Bergen right now. It’s like 47 different units that we could use, but we’re designing it in a way that looks like three different pieces.
It’s based on this old traditional grouping of farmhouses, that’s quite eccentric and unique to Norway. But I’m more interested in designing neighbourhoods. I would love to design a car-free neighbourhood somewhere in Canada, like the first off-the-grid car-free neighbourhood. That would be a dream and I think it’s possible. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of institutional barriers to these things, but fortunately some of the really eccentric architects are getting in. There are actually town planners in cities now, and there’s a lot more openness. I think we’re in for some really interesting types of projects coming up soon.
Erin: Well, what changes or trends, Todd, have you been seeing in Canadian architecture that inspire you today?
Todd: Because of COVID, I haven’t been home that much. Just generally in the world, there’s a strive towards uniqueness and interesting and different is I think that’s the key now. I think people are tired of waking up in a hotel in some city and there’s a five-second moment where you don’t know where you are.
Todd: I think that architecture has a role to play on that. Like why travel anymore if everything looks the same? I spent a week now in this town Barjac in France; it was fantastic. I was just down there working and observing people, little town squares, and history there and getting to know the waiter and the yoga teacher and stuff like that.
Erin: When we wrap up with Todd Saunders, how the givers are the greatest and why word of mouth is the best advertising here or anywhere else in the world.
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There’s a high degree of trust established between REALTORS® and their clients and I’m sure that’s the case for you too. I found it fascinating to learn that you have never paid for advertising.
Todd: Once, that was a couple of months ago, actually I was tricked into it.
Todd: It was an airline magazine –
Todd: – did a profile on Scandinavian I didn’t even know. I’ve never – I think 25 years that we ever paid for … I do a lot of interviews, and this is actually giving away information. My last book is called Share. Interview with 30 Nordic architects, that’s coming out this fall and it’s like 99 questions that I always wanted to ask other architects, because they were like starting my own company and what it was like. I did those 99 questions, and I asked these 30 architects, most of my friends, and asked them to answer three questions and it turned into these great interviews and I think giving information away and I think that’s more of –
People don’t understand it. It’s like you’re getting called by advertisers all the time and salespeople. They just want to take, it’s like, it’s the wrong way. If you want to get something, it’s the givers of the world that come furthest. Even though it’s in this hyper-economic society of selfies and stuff like that, everyone thinks it’s the takers that get the most but as the takers and then if you give without expectations, then you get a lot more in return. I think that’s why we never really, we’ve always been open to talk about our architecture. We create high-quality things. That’s another thing. If you do good stuff, people will want it. They want to pay for it and then they want to learn about it.
If you’re a person that has those qualities and you’re willing to give away and share, you gain a lot. It seems to work for us.
Erin: Oh, it sure does. Going back to what you said too, that integrity is your currency, which of course translates to REALTORS® so well, so let’s, as we begin to wrap this up here, Todd, what would you consider your key to successful client relationship management?
Todd: There’s a lot of layers to that. You mentioned the word trust. Trust is not a given. Like I have a lot of discussions about this. Trust is like layers of shared experiences. We use time with clients and the trust gets built up and we deliver. We’re reliable, it’s a big part of trust. We’re predictable. What we say, we do. I think that’s another tip for REALTORS® and then we never over-promise. Then we align our expectations very early along. Like I’m always asking questions. We very rarely draw to like the third or fourth meeting.
It’s a lot of asking questions and finding out things and when you understand another person, when you feel, you understand what they need and you focus on that, then it’s easier to make decisions. There’s too many architects coming to the board. I don’t know if real estate agents, but they come with a preconceived idea and they’re shoving it down in other people’s throats. It’s like they’re pushing their ideas and they’re not listening. Listening is a huge part of this and it’s ironic because I’m in a podcast and just talking but the listening and then asking good questions and then there’s curiosity. I think that’s why we do quite well.
Then I tell the people on the team that when you’re in conversations with people, it’s not about making the best design. It’s not about making the most money. It’s about building up relationships. If you build up a good relationship, that’s a fantastic thing. I was on an airplane a while ago. It was like 12 years after my dad had died and the pilot actually gave me a favour because my dad used to fix his plane and it’s like, it’s a relationship. That’s like my dad did something good for someone 20 years ago and then someone else still remembers. I think that’s a lot to do with anyone in business. Real estate, architects, selling books at a store. It’s like the personal connection you make with people it’s extremely valuable.
Erin: It is. It is. Todd, one final, final note here. What is one thing that you suggest to someone who is listening right now that they can do to become more attuned to the architecture around them?
Todd: Let’s say walk slower. Like the value of just taking a walk around your neighbourhood and that’s what probably saddens me the most about the way Canadian and North American cities are designed. They’re not experienced up close. When I take a walk, like walking around your neighbourhood. I was just in Mexico City. I missed my plane to Fogo and then I said, “Ah, hell with it. I was just going to stay in this neighbourhood called Condesa.” I walked like an hour in each direction. I could feel like, I know that was a beautiful walk, so walking and observing, being curious.
Erin: Taking a break. Todd, we can’t thank you enough for your time, your consideration, your immense talent and for everything that you’ve done to bring Canada to the fore, you’re an incredible ambassador for this country. Even as you work abroad and make your mark in all of the different communities in which you plan and you build. Thank you for that.
Todd: Thanks for those very kind words and thank you.
Erin: Once again, I can’t recommend highly enough that you search out and watch the documentary Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island and see and hear our guest Todd Saunders in and about that Inn. You really have to see it to appreciate Todd’s magic and his vision. It’s glorious.
Join us for episode 28 of REAL TIME, when a career television broadcaster talks about the art of conversation, the most important element in that vital part of your business and so much more TSN’s James Duthie will be our guest on REAL TIME, so don’t miss it.
REAL TIME is an Alphabet® Creative production brought to you by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association, Technical Producer, Rob Whitehead, and Real Family Productions and I’m Erin Davis. Thank you so much for joining us and we’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME.
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for and about REALTORS®. My name is Erin Davis, and I am so glad to be able to share this timely and valuable, and above all, interesting conversation with you today. REAL TIME is a presentation of the Canadian Real Estate Association. The podcast for and about Canadian REALTORS®, brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association, one of this country’s largest, single industry associations.
Now meet our guests, Dr. Raj Bhatla is Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Chief of Staff of the Royal Ottawa Healthcare Group. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his medical degree at McGill University. He joined the Royal, one of Canada’s foremost, mental healthcare teaching and research hospitals in 1992.
Ron Antalek is a second-generation REALTOR® with more than 30 years experience. He’s also a philanthropist, committed volunteer and mental health advocate in his community of Maple Ridge, British Columbia. In 2020, Ron was the recipient of the Canadian REALTORS Care® Award.
On this Episode 26, Dr. Bhatla and Ron join REAL TIME in support of mental health week 2022, in a demanding profession like real estate. Taking the time to talk about our mental health is essential to fostering a vibrant driving industry, both today and tomorrow. Aligning with this year’s theme of Empathy, we’ll explore various topics surrounding mental health, including awareness, de-stigmatization, and how to support one another through compassion and understanding.
Thank you both so much for joining us for such an important discussion today. We’re going to start with some quick introductions, and I know that I can’t possibly do both of you justice. Tell us about yourselves and why the topic of mental health is important to you. We’ll begin please with Dr. Bhatla.
Raj Bhatla: Oh, absolutely. Thanks for having us. Mental health is crucial importance to society in general, but for me personally. I’ve been working now in mental health as a psychiatrist for the past 30 years, working in a variety of settings, in the hospital, inpatient work, outpatient work, community work, and starting to see how much it impacts people’s lives, always has, but increasingly I think we’re aware of that. Personally, I’m aware of that even more as I’ve continued my practice for so long that it’s just a crucial importance to me.
Erin: You’ve been with the Royal since 1992?
Raj: Yes, I have. In 1992, I started the Royal and I’ve always been also interested from a mental health point of view in the cultural aspects of mental health. I was actually born in India and raised in Canada, a lot of time in the US, and it’s been really interesting to see how mental health and its perception and stigma has evolved in different cultures and societies, and it’s really, really nice to see how much it’s evolved in a positive direction in Canada and the US in particular, and around the world.
Erin: Yes. We will be delving into that, especially right here at home. Ron, its such a pleasure to have you with us today. Tell us a bit about yourself and why this mental health topic means so much to you.
Ron Antalek: Thank you, Erin. I was born and raised in Maple Ridge, BC. My father, when I was a child was working at Essondale, which is now the Riverview Hospital, as a psychiatric nurse, and my mom was a registered nurse working at St. Mary’s and then later to Ridge Meadows Hospital. As a young child, this was in our home. It was a passion of my mom and my dad. It influenced me, and growing up, I graduated from Simon Fraser University as a teacher. I went into the teaching profession. I found the academic portion very simple and engaging with children, but the mental health aspect was the part that I felt needed so much help. It just motivated me to this day to identify mental health as a passion to make a difference for me.
Erin: I find it fascinating that with your father, as a psych nurse at Essondale, that you got to see what it looked like from the inside, and you’ve likened it to a castle.
Ron: Well, as a child, I remember in the Montreal Olympics my excitement was going into the kitchen at Essondale to see the cooks because they had little plastic men that were put in the Kellogg’s cornflake boxes. Walking through, there was bars in the windows, there was patients in straight jackets. They used electric therapy. It was really more of a jail setting than it was a hospital.
Erin: It seems like this has informed you as you’ve moved forward, and we’re looking forward to hearing about that. Conversations about mental health, just like we are having right now, they seem to have become more common over the last few years. If you stop and look at it, you wonder why the heightened awareness. Dr. Bhatla, your take on this?
Raj: Interesting. It’s a fascinating phenomena and a very welcome one. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s happened. However, it does appear that it’s being taken on more in the public and by corporations and the sense that you can’t do well in terms of your wellbeing by solely focusing on your physical health. We’ve seen an evolution. I know the Ottawa situation better than most, but where sports celebrities, in Ottawa’s case, Daniel Alfredsson, one of our outstanding captains, took up the cause and then other high profile individuals, we had Margaret Trudeau, who came forth and talked about her journey when it comes to mental health.
Then we’re also starting to see things like mental health-related research taking the fore. People are starting to understand the impact that mental health has on our overall wellbeing. All of those things put together as well as more media awareness in terms of how to report on it better and educating the public, have all contributed to a real understanding of its importance, and of course the pandemic has really added to that as well.
Erin: How so?
Raj: The pandemic, I think, has done a few things. We’ve been fascinated by the incredible ability to carry on the functioning of society through just incredible technology, the Zoom platforms, other video platforms, telephone usage, and healthcare in general has been able to carry on as multiple functions of society have been based on our technology. However, the other thing that the pandemic has revealed is that people really need people. We are social creatures, and if we’ve ever forgotten that, the pandemic has brought that back to the fore. The loneliness that some populations have felt, and all of us have felt a little bit disconnected, not having that personal face-to-face contact, including just physical contact, the handshakes, the hugs, all of that being so crucial.
Erin: You mentioned the technological advances, and certainly we are living proof of that even us and how we speak. Has that also helped to break down barriers like people who might not have gone into the hospital or gone into your office to sit and have a face-to-face with you, Dr. Bhatla, who actually feel more at home, more comfortable wrapped in their own blanket with a cat on their lap or a puppy at their feet and having a real heart-to-heart with you. Has that helped you in any way?
Raj: I think it has helped, especially when it comes to some populations that are more challenged to reach out for help. Because traditionally, in many aspects of mental health, we have people coming to us in a variety of settings in the community, in hospitals, doctors’ offices, other types of settings. However, with the technology, we can actually reach out into people’s homes. You can connect with a service provider, a professional, through video links of various platforms. It’s allowed access to groups that may not have had it before, especially if you live more remotely in Canada. We’re a vast country, so many of our population that would have to drive or spend a lot of time traveling to see someone, can now get some of that service right in the home. That part has been very welcome, I would say.
Erin: Service and home, of course, a perfect descriptor of you, Ron and part of what you do. You’ve mentioned that we likely wouldn’t even be having this discussion that we’re having with you and Dr. Bhatla, even 10 years ago. How have you personally seen the stigmas surrounding mental health evolve, Ron?
Ron: Well, I celebrate the amazing improvements that I see a couple measuring sticks. I’ve been on the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation for 13 years. My son’s graduating this year, grade 12 in high school — so even in that decade, significant difference in the school system, the university’s real estate, even in the CFL, the NHL. I celebrate Carey Price coming back to playing between the posts and April. It’s amazing to see player assistance program in the NHL. There’s just so many amazing improvements that I think are helping our children, helping our communities, and the embarrassment, the stigma of mental health in my opinion, is well behind us, but it sure wasn’t 10 years ago.
Erin: You’ve cited an example of a psychiatry unit that would not even have a name put on it because people were like, “That’s not something I want to be.” Particularly associated with and yet there’s been a change, very positive change in that example.
Ron: Yes. One of my biggest inspirations is the psychiatrist Dr. Biju Matthew practice in our community. Amazing gentleman and at the time, trying to essentially get Fraser Health to support the idea of a psychiatry unit at Ridge Meadows Hospital, led into success, amazing people around me like the ED, Laura Butler and my board. We ended up creating this psychiatry unit, however, naming, when they talked about it, my support financially was anonymous.
What motivated me to come out was if it was maternity or oncology, the donor community seemed to be very comfortable to do naming opportunities. That we use as a celebration of that, but it also is an inspiration tool to other donors. When the stigma of mental health and putting in name to the psychiatry unit, was something where most donors were not comfortable with, that motivated me to put the Antalek Family Psychiatry Unit name to it. Thank God, because in hindsight, it’s inspired many, many donors, and I celebrate what difference that made.
Erin: You’re also seeing differences in real estate boards everywhere. You’ve mentioned that and you’re celebrating that as well. Can you talk a little bit about that, Ron?
Ron: Oh, there’s many changes. Well, look at CREA. Today’s conversation, this is all inspired by CREA, and kudos to them. They’re amazing. They give the support to us nationally, which as REALTORS® we need, but even on the smaller levels of individual boards, provincial associations, we’re seeing in all aspects of the real estate industry. I celebrate it because it is making a difference. It’s helping REALTORS®. It’s, in my opinion, saving lives.
Erin: Coming up, a rise in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and addiction.
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Now, back to our mental health week episode, focusing on Empathy. What are some of the most common mental health challenges that you are seeing in your day-to-day practice, Dr. Bhatla?
Raj: I see a variety of different types of challenges. My personal work tends to be with the operational stress injury clinic. I see a lot of veterans suffering from PTSD as well as depression. That’s my personal work. What we’re seeing across the board, however, is a real growth in challenges related to depression and anxiety in particular. We’re seeing a lot more people reaching out with symptoms of anxiety and frank diagnoses of anxiety illnesses, as well as depression. Then the other thing that is becoming more and more common, and we’re seeing that in things like LCBO data and opiate overuse and opiate deaths, frankly, is the substance use challenges.
If I had to pinpoint the ones that are even more of a challenge through the pandemic and hopefully not growing, but right now a big challenge are the anxiety-type symptoms and diagnoses depression, and then substance use. Those are the key areas where I think the public and individuals are struggling.
Erin: A particular part of the public that certainly my eyes were open to this in conversation with you being one, some groups are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression and they tend to be women. Can we talk about that a little bit?
Raj: Absolutely. We do know that from a population point of view, women are more prone to diagnoses of anxiety illnesses and diagnoses of depression. A troubling trend right now though is anxiety and depression for younger individuals. We are seeing in our emergency rooms, we do have a children’s hospital in Ottawa, and the numbers there have grown substantially, and a lot of them end up being young women in particular, but also young men.
I think that’s being fueled by some of the pandemic issues, also fueled by the challenges that social media poses. When you see posts in social media, you tend to see the nicer parts and the parts of people that they want to display publicly. You don’t always hear as much about the struggles and challenges. When you compare yourself to perhaps your friends, colleagues, and others, your life may not seem quite as good as others, and sometimes it’s a bit of a mirage. I think social media hasn’t helped in that regard, especially for the younger generation.
Erin: It’s very much a mirage, and it’s not just the filters, but it’s the metaphoric filters too, because you have a plain day, you have a bad day. How often are you going to post about it on Instagram? Yet when you have that extraordinary experience whether it’s on a beach or in a mall, or you’re in love, or you’ve got the perfect eyeliner, that’s the stuff you put out there and that’s the impossible metric that many are measuring themselves to. It’s just not real.
Raj: Absolutely. Great point. That’s what we see.
Erin: You’ve used a word that I love, symptomatology, and you’ve seen common themes, like for example, the pandemic and people’s response to it, and that people are struggling in mood and anxiety. Let’s talk about how we spend, they say a third of our lives, which theoretically and ideally should, be sleeping. Can we talk about sleep and the importance of it? We’re wide-awake to listen to this, doctor.
Raj: Thanks. Sleep, absolutely crucial. When it comes to symptoms, perhaps not a diagnosis, think about your sleep. We spend a lot of time sleeping. We have various stages of sleep that restore and refresh us to deal with the next day, to consolidate memories, and to maintain our mental and physical health. When we get into sleep challenges, we end up having other symptoms.
I don’t know how many people in the audience have had periods in their lives where they’re sleeping particularly poorly, but the next day you have challenges with your energy level, people tend to be more irritable. They don’t concentrate as well. Their mood can be down.
All of those things, which are common symptoms of other mental health diagnoses, all can be contributed to by difficulty with sleep, and that’s becoming an increased challenge. Pandemic again, hasn’t helped because a lot of us aren’t getting the general exercise we need, getting out as much as we need, and aren’t getting ourselves set up for a good night sleep. It’s been quite the challenge.
Erin: Ron, we’re going to talk about this a little bit more in the minutes to come, but you are of course in a chosen field where working 24/7 seemingly is often perceived as a badge of honor, and of course sleep is one of the prices that someone pays for that, isn’t it?
Ron: Absolutely. There is adverse effect on personal life as a result of that, with marriage, with children. Unfortunately, the job that a REALTOR® has is a challenge, it definitely does. I concur with the top three that I see in the industry is depression, anxiety, and substance use, are probably three of the mental health challenges that impact many REALTORS®, and a lot of that is a result of the job, the hours of work, and some REALTORS® essentially, like you said, it’s 24/7, and unfortunately that has its adverse effects.
Erin: Ron, how do you think we can support our friends or loved ones if they’re struggling?
Ron: Well, number one, I think is that we can educate ourselves. If we’re aware of the resources that are out there, the crisis lines, also to depend on the age of the friend, the loved one, whoever that could be. Foundry, for example, is mental health support in our age group of 12 to 24. Here, we’re locally blessed with a Foundry Ridge Meadows and we have a Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation with an adult psychiatry unit. I think if we all are aware of where the support can come from, that’s how we can help.
I’ve had so many instances just of my passion in the community and one client called me. They have a daughter, they took her to which we have an amazing children’s hospital. That is the center for all of BC, amazing children’s hospitals, just like Ottawa. The daughter was doing self-harm. There was a huge concern for suicide. She was too old for children’s, and they go, “Who do we even call?” They phoned me, on the line I got Dr. Matthew’s, I link the two of them up, and to this day with Foundry’s support and other people involved, they’ve made a difference and helped her. I think if we, as a community are aware of what supports are there, that we can help direct and help people better.
Erin: Being aware Dr. Bhatla, how do we recognize, or how can we learn to recognize the signs of mental illness either in ourselves or in others?
Raj: A great question. I always like to stress that the signs can be pretty ubiquitous and quite unique to individuals. I try not to get into broad, broad categories, but the things I tell people is, basically if you have a change in either behavior or the way you’re feeling from how you usually are, that can be something that you should really be paying attention to. Some of the big things are things like, we’ve already talked about, sleep. A change your sleep pattern that’s consistent is potentially quite troubling and may be a precursor to more serious concerns. Changes in sleep, changes in appetite, changes in mood that are pretty consistent. Mood is a funny thing. It’s not just feeling depressed, changes in mood, like irritability, can be also a sign of something more serious.
It’s that change in behavior, change in moods and feelings and emotions that are persistent, is particularly important. Interestingly, it’s often not the individual who recognizes it first, but people around them. Their loved ones, they’re at work or family or people that know them well. I always tell people, if you’re concerned about someone and you see a change in them, always reach out and ask, “Everything okay? Anything I can do?” As long as it comes from a place of compassion and curiosity, it’s often really well received, and someone will either talk about how they’re feeling or recognize that something’s changed and even monitor themselves a bit more carefully, because it’s crucial to catch things early.
Erin: I think as Ron has pointed out too, in the example of the young woman who was having suicidal thoughts. It’s also knowing what your abilities and limits are, but also knowing who to contact, right Ron? Knowing somebody in your contact list, or doing a little bit of legwork so that when someone says to you, “Yes, you know what? I am having a problem.” Then you are able to take the next step and send them to the right person.
Ron: Absolutely, Erin. I totally agree with that and I think, again, I know my limits. Dr. Bhatla is educated in the medical field. I am not, I do not try to practice that, but I am highly, highly educated as to what resources are there to support even REALTORS®. I’ve made it in our office and everything else — I’m always willing to be empathetic. I also believe that I have tools and amazing people that when people are in need, they can direct them to the right source of support.
Erin: Fantastic. Coming up: Helping the helpers, from relevant stories in the media to stats, trends, and so much more.
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Speaking of which, back to Ron Antalek, a second-generation BC REALTOR® and a medical health advocate in his community of Maple Ridge, and Dr. Raj Bhatla, Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Chief of Staff of the Royal Ottawa Healthcare Group. Dr. Bhatla, let’s talk specifically about mental health in the workplace. Does one type of profession tend to be more vulnerable than others?
Raj: I always like to start out by pointing out that no profession and no one individual or group is immune from mental health illness. It does apply to everyone. Although in my experience there, there’s a certain group that tends to either not recognize it in themselves and tends to be a bit more vulnerable. I refer to that group as, the helping professions. That can be the more obvious ones like individuals in healthcare, physicians, nurses, et cetera.
However, also in the professions that are there to help others and serve others. I speak a lot to the lawyers’ groups, and they have clients and they’re there to help, support, and often help people in difficult times. That’s why you go to a lawyer. I would put REALTORS® in the same category. They’re there to help their clients. As Ron pointed out, they’re often there at all sorts of hours, seven days a week. They’re there for their clients and they’re there to help, and often for decisions and challenges that are the most important decisions of their lives.
Realtors are also very much a helping profession. When you see yourself as a profession and an individual who is there to help others, you often forget sometimes to take care of yourself and keep an eye on your own limits and your own challenges that may start to arise when it comes to mental health. It’s those helping professions that seem to be challenged maybe a bit more than others.
Erin: I can almost envision people listening to this and nodding their heads in a sense. Ron, I know that you can elaborate on this a little bit about the REALTORS®, and not only their work schedules but the expectations and the fluctuations. Could we talk about that a little bit?
Ron: Yes. As previously discussed, the challenges to a REALTOR® ‘s career and the impact that has on their mental health, on their family, stems often to the instability of markets, income. The challenge of the industry is commission-based. It has those effects, and hence sometimes the first trigger of mental health weakness comes in the anxiety sector. That seems to just compound issues that can affect sleep. That compounds into a depression that comes to follow with substance use. I think really the conversation and speaking and talking about it and having the strength to do so, whether you’re a Carey Price or a REALTOR®, is to open up to people around you, talk about it. Some basic things that I believe REALTORS® are doing differently today is, we see them taking time off.
Decades ago, I’ve been a REALTOR® for 33 years, and the concept of team was unheard of. We never, ever heard of REALTORS® on teams, when on earth was that? Hockey teams but not REALTOR® teams. The difference that I see is the industry is changing and evolving in a way that’s fostering better mental health. One basic difference is that, even if REALTORS® are pairing up and they find somebody else in their office at a similar volume and et cetera.
Even if they don’t exchange compensation, if they just exchange time and they trade off two days a week to each other and they have two days off, or they have their workday end at 5:00, instead of midnight. These are the changes that I think we need to do to be proactive and to ensure we do have good mental health, and taking time off eating well, exercising, being there for your families and your significant other, it’s just important. That is one huge difference that I celebrate today. I hope moving forward, we just keep getting better and better as an industry.
Erin: Oh, every sign points to ‘yes’ and it’s interesting. Dr. Bhatla, you have compared REALTORS® to therapists. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? Because I certainly understand that as having had wonderful REALTORS® through the years who have just the highs and the lows and the anticipation and the disappointment. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Raj: Oh, absolutely. I think Ron will be able to speak very articulately about it because he is a REALTOR®. I actually remember personally, when we bought our first house, just the anxiety about, “Jeez, that’s a fair amount of money. That is a real commitment. Is this something we should be doing now? Should we wait a little bit? Are we quite ready?” Sometimes I remember in our case, we had a growing family. We had other expenses, the financial side as well. All of those things start to really weigh on you, and you need to lean at times on your REALTOR®. I know we did on, “Jeez, is this the right decision?” You’re going, “Boy, is that really their call?” You should know if it’s the right decision.
I can’t imagine that that is unique to me. That’s got to be a conversation that you’re having with your REALTOR®, and as Ron points out and there are market fluctuations, what if it goes up? What if it goes down? Is this the right time to buy? A lot of life decisions. You might even be thinking about your aging parents, are they going to move in with you? Are you getting to the stage you might need a bungalow instead of a two-story house? So many factors going into such an important decision. Having a REALTOR® who is a bit of a therapist, a little tongue in cheek, but I think is pretty important.
Erin: Ron, what do you think of that?
Ron: Oh, I concur with everything that Dr. Bhatla said. I love the theme this year, we’re saying Empathy. That’s where I see some of the best REALTORS® are empathetic, and I watch how they care and they go beyond the focus of selling that house. If you care about people, they talk about the frontline workers, it’s been talked about our physicians and our nurses, and these are the people caring. In job positions like teachers and REALTORS®, you are in that position of caring.
If you really do care, and you’re effective in your job and you’re empathetic, you’ll go beyond the scope of just selling a house to somebody, because it is one of the biggest things that people do. It is often the most valuable asset that they own, and there’s many emotions involved from changing schools, to losing friends, to come into a new community, to being in a new province, or a new country and wondering, “Oh my God, where do I start?” I think a REALTOR® really is a champion for mental health if they’re effective and caring for people. It’s sometimes way beyond selling a house.
Erin: Having the conversation, Ron, how important is that to striving or getting closer to a healthy work-life balance? Especially among the real estate boards, managers, leaders, everybody in your community?
Ron: I’ve seen a change locally here, as a real estate board, we would have our medallion gala and we’d have a table of the top five agents. Now the board is different. We do things differently; we honor people differently. We try to do a little better with people. We focus now rather than being money-based and commission-based, is that there is a focus very much on caring for people, working better with agents, and have just a better holistic industry. I really celebrate the direction we’re going as an industry, and I think it’s really more of a model of care-based action on REALTORS® and I love that.
Erin: We all do. When we return, what is burnout, and if there is one, what’s the prescription? REALTOR.ca is Canada’s most popular and trusted real estate platform developed and operated by CREA. REALTOR.ca helps REALTORS® and your listings achieve greater exposure while providing an easy, more accessible experience for property buyers, sellers, and renters.
Now back to Dr. Raj Bhatla, and 2020 REALTORS Care Award winner, Ron Antalek on REAL TIME. Dr. Bhatla, what advice would you give professionals, in general, to help them manage work-related stress or anxiety to avoid what we now know as burnout? Okay, so how do you define burnout and how do we deal?
Raj: Burnout is a fascinating topic. I’ll give you some thoughts on that and also some thoughts on how you maintain your good mental health in the workplace. In terms of burnout, it’s a fascinating word. We’ve alluded already to the badge of honor that people have in some industries. Ron’s talked a little bit how it’s changing in terms of REALTORS® and working in teams. In general, a lot of our professions see that burnout and working really hard, long hours, as a badge of honor. When they talk about burnouts, they talk about it in a way that, “Wow, I’m burnt out because I work so hard.”
I think the challenge with that is, A, its not terribly good for your mental health in general, and B, the definition of burnout is pretty vague. The symptoms that go along with burnout are really similar to the symptoms that are pretty important when it comes to actual mental health diagnoses.
When you think burnout, you’re thinking about, okay, I don’t get enough sleep. I may rush through meals. I answer emails and phones at all hours. My mood is down. I’m burnt out because I suffer from pretty common term in the helping professions, compassion fatigue. So I’m not able to listen to my clients quite as well. I’m a little short with them. I am not as empathetic. That starts to get into the picture.
Instead of seeking help because it’s just burnout, I emphasize the just burnout piece of this, you don’t need help. It’s something that you just do because it’s important and you wear it as a badge of honor. I always tell people, careful, if you think you might be burning out, you might also be suffering from early signs of a mental illness, be it anxiety illness that needs some treatment, depression that needs some treatment, or potentially substance use, which actually just creeps up on you. You start using just a bit more of your substance of choice, for most people that’s alcohol, and you start using more and more. You have to recognize the importance of burnout, and how it might be actually mental illness.
Now, when it comes more to the workplace, getting organizations to actually better understand and enact policies that are helpful for the employees, things such as limits on emails after hours, availability after hours, making sure there’s a culture of taking your lunch breaks and connecting with others, having more face-to-face as opposed to too many just email exchanges, those types of things can be really important. Although companies tend to know that, they don’t tend to always act in that way. Those actions can make a big difference to the health of the employees.
Erin: Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Ron, I’m sure that this relates to your experiences where you figure, “Well, if I don’t take that call, or answer that text at whatever time o’clock at night, somebody else is going to get that.” Or, “This client is really, really anxious about losing their 10th bid on a house. What am I going to do?” You’re between a rock and a hard place. Do you go back to that idea of a team and somebody else to spell you off, and to have the vulnerability to say, “I need help, I need space, I need time”?
Ron: Absolutely, Erin. I think really, in simplistic terms, if it isn’t a team, is to identify a REALTOR® that is similar to you, and just do a trade-off. It wouldn’t cost you any money to trade off, but you would give yourself that timeout, you would take a break. You will be a more effective REALTOR® in the long run and you will not not service your clients. Your clients when they call you in that sense of urgency, somebody will be there because they deserve that and they need that, and we as a profession can provide that. It’s just, how do we deliver that service? I think that we are able to do it in a way that improves our mental health, makes us happier, and doesn’t let down our clients.
Erin: Speaking of delivering services to the community in this case, Ron, how can REALTORS® use your position to support mental health initiatives right there in your own home communities?
Ron: That I think is available to us everywhere. I celebrate the Antalek Family Psychiatry Unit, and I talk about it because that evolution, it has inspired people across Canada. The only thing I want to elaborate on is, it wasn’t me that did that. I was surrounded by amazing people. The differences on our board, even at the time was Dr. Biju Matthew, had inspired me greatly. We had ED, Laura Butler that would make it happen, and I had a board of directors that had a similar vision.
I celebrate surrounding yourself by influential, amazing people. It makes us stronger. You might have a passion, but it isn’t me. It’s me being blessed to be surrounded by these people. These opportunities are in every community. If you follow your passion, volunteer, participate in aboard. The biggest thing for me is it’s made my life so complete and so happy.
I’ve been on the hospital foundation for 13 years. I’ve been the Chair for 10 years. The biggest challenge we’ve had to do is due to strategic plans, reach out to our donor community and ensure that me being there that long is what the donor community supports, and is it the board that supports that? I celebrate it.
I think for other agents that even to start off is they could reach out. Whether you’re in Ottawa, you’re in Victoria, you’re in Halifax. You can reach out to your local hospital. You can go to that hospital foundation and you can say, “You know what? I want to support making a difference in our community. I want to do a third-party event. I want the proceeds to go to mental health in our community.”
Those third-party initiatives can be donor-driven and you can direct where it is. It’s just like me. My passion was mental health, but without others around me, with Dr. Matthew Chao, with Dr. Britt Bright, these things can’t happen, you need to surround yourself around amazing people and your contribution as small as you think it’s going to be, it can make a major difference.
Erin: It absolutely can. Volunteer Week in Canada this year the theme was Empathy, which of course is our theme today. Dr. Bhatla, tell us what volunteering does for the individual, for your own mental health?
Raj: First off, I just loved Ron’s comment. Thanks, Ron, for that, so well put.
Ron: Thank you, Dr. Bhatla.
Raj: I think you used the words: it’s helped make your life so complete and so happy. It just speaks to how much it can affect the individual. I have a lot of patients who come seeking to feel better, to improve their feelings of self-worth, their self-esteem, sometimes they just don’t have that type of meaning that they need in their lives, which is just so important for everyone. One of the best ways to provide that meaning in your own life and to help your own happiness and your own sense of self-worth is actually the volunteering, as Ron described.
It doesn’t have to be volunteering for mental health per se. Pick your passion. What is it that really floats your boat, if I may use that term? Volunteer to food bank, homeless shelter, read to seniors, help out with kids, if that’s your passion, mental health, of course, if that’s part of your passion, that would be fantastic as well. Reach out. Volunteer. It’s not just to help others. It does tremendous amounts to help the individual. Help yourself.
Erin: Absolutely. It was Gandhi who said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Raj: Beautifully put.
Erin: More wise words. When we come back and wrap up, including an optimistic outlook on where we’re going in our mental health journey, how doing good is good for you, and it feels good too.
Realtors know that by volunteering and raising funds, you play really truly meaningful roles right across the country, in the community where you work and live. Check out REALTORSCare.ca and share your own story.
Until the Antalek Family Psychiatry Unit was established, Ron, your community was lacking in mental health services. You think overall that mental health support, in general, is becoming more widely available.
Ron: Absolutely. Thank you for bringing that up, Erin, because it’s changed so much for the better. Before 2009, before we had a psychiatry unit, 30% of the emergency was for mental health. It put stresses on our emergency, on the healthcare workers, the nurses, the doctors, overflow into hallways, often was a result of that. Locally here now, and since 2009, our community, which is a suburb of Vancouver, was underserviced greatly, but we had such a significant need. It is amazing a decade later to celebrate on a today like our conversation as to how much service we have in our community with Foundry Ridge Meadows and the Antalek Family Psychiatry Unit. Kudos and thank you to all those amazing people that made it happen.
Erin: Absolutely. Congratulations to you. Dr. Bhatla, for those who wish to seek help and don’t have immediate access to a place like the Antalek Family Psychiatry Unit, where’s a good place to start if maybe they can’t afford a therapist, what do you recommend?
Raj: There are a lot of good resources now and certainly much better than we were 10, 20 years ago. There really has been a bit of a sea change, although there’s still ways to go. I would say some of the types of things that are more available now, things like crisis lines in all communities in Canada, I believe, there are crisis lines and you’re not far away from help in that area. There are always things like emergency rooms for real crisis emergencies. However, you also have places to go prior to things becoming too urgent or emergent.
The primary care provider community is increasingly well versed in mental health diagnoses and symptoms. Your nurse practitioner, your family physician is excellent for those types of things.
We have more resources online. We have things like cognitive behavioral therapy. We have apps for that. There’s a specific app for cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. That’s well regarded. You have the online availability.
In most communities, there are growing resources. Ron talks about it in his community, and I think that community is not completely unique. There are other situations in Canada where services are improving.
Provincial governments are stepping up to the plate. In Ontario, we have more access now to free structured psychotherapy. That’s relatively new in Ontario. I think that’s a trend that’s growing throughout the country.
You have other types of supports that are there that people sometimes forget in terms of your wellness, even things like your smart watch, if you are able to get one of those, Apple, Fitbit, et cetera, a lot more available than there used to be. We’re trending in the right direction.
Erin: Gosh, I hope so. Well, as we wrap up this conversation with gratitude and of course so much empathy, which is the theme today; I wonder if I could ask each of you to pinpoint one thing that you would suggest people do to prioritize their mental health. Ron, we’ll start with you.
Ron: Oh, Erin, limit to me to one. How about one sentence? How about exercise, sleep well, eat well, drink water, take a break, ask for help, and give a hug. Is that okay?
Erin: Absolutely. I’ve got lots of room on this t-shirt. Don’t you worry. Don’t you worry. Okay. Dr. Bhatla, please.
Raj: Oh, thanks, Erin. I noticed Ron cheated a little bit, but he used one sentence but gave us multiple things. Well played, Ron.
Erin: Yes, but he used semicolons. It’s okay.
Erin: It’s okay. We’ll give him a break.
Raj: Absolutely. I’m going to maybe focus on your comment that, pick one thing. I’m not too concerned what you pick as an individual, but I would say it’s a lovely idea to pick one thing because we tend, in general, to pick too many things. The old New Year’s resolution, let’s lose weight, live better, eat better, be more work-life balance, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t know too many people who succeeded all of those things.
I would say, whatever is right for you, pick something that will make a difference, and pick only one thing if you can. Really try to stick to that. The big three are pick from sleep, exercise, or diet if those things are a challenge. But other than that, you can pick something else. If it’s more meditation, taking a lunch break, make sure it’s something that’s achievable. It doesn’t have to be massive, but a small change can make a big difference. Pick the thing that matters most to you, and stick to that.
Erin: Thank you. What a great, great prescription, and I think one that we can all take. I’m glad we didn’t have to pick just one guest, because you were both amazing. We are so grateful to you both for joining us here today.
Ron: Thank you, Erin, and also thank you, Dr. Bhatla for what you do every day. It’s people like you that are making a difference in our community, and we’re very grateful for what you do. Thank you.
Raj: Well, thank you, Ron. It’s been an absolute pleasure, Erin. Thanks so much for hosting us. Much appreciated.
Erin: My pleasure. Thank you, gentlemen. As always, we are grateful to you for joining us for this 26th episode of REAL TIME from the Canadian Real Estate Association. We know your time is precious, and we thank you for spending some of it with us.
Be sure to hit that subscribe button and don’t miss an episode of REAL TIME, a production of Real Family and Rob Whitehead and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis, and we’ll talk to you here next time on REAL TIME.
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for and about REALTORS® presented by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m Erin Davis and I’m delighted to be your host for these informative, enlightening and often groundbreaking discussions about everything going on in your world now, how far we’ve come, and equally importantly, what’s around the corner. Let’s dig in. REALTOR.ca is Canada’s most popular and trusted real estate platform developed and operated by CREA.
REALTOR.ca helps REALTORS® and their listings achieve greater exposure while providing an easier, more accessible experience for property buyers, sellers, and renters. It’s more than that. On this episode of REAL TIME, we’re going to explore the evolution of listing sites and how REALTOR.ca has staked its claim as a leading platform beyond listings. We’ll look at the future of Canada’s real estate landscape, new innovations on the horizon, and how REALTOR.ca will continue to add value to best serve REALTORS® and their clients. We are so pleased today to have with us two people who know REALTOR.ca inside out. Let’s welcome them here on REAL TIME.
Patrick Pichette: Hi, Erin. Patrick Pichette, Vice President, REALTOR.ca. I’m the Vice President at CREA who is responsible for our technology offering which obviously includes our flagship product REALTOR.ca. This month is my 10th year anniversary with this wonderful organization.
Erin: Wow. The changes you’ve seen, and we’ll be talking about those for sure. Andrew, sir, hi.
Andrew Jackson: Hey, nice to meet you. Thanks for having us, Erin. I’m Andrew Jackson, I’m the Head of Business Development at CREA. I myself joined about three years ago, and I primarily focus on developing partnerships and commercialization strategies.
Erin: Now, before we get too far into our conversation today, can we clarify the difference between an MLS system and REALTOR.ca? Patrick, you can lead us off into this.
Patrick: That’s a great place to start, Erin. It’s a question that comes up a lot even within our membership. Let’s take a second talk about what is an MLS system. Without getting too technical, an MLS system is a cooperative selling system that is operated by a local real estate board or association. The Ottawa Real Estate Board operates an MLS system. Victoria, where you live, Erin, they operate an MLS system. Some are local and some are province-wide like in Nova Scotia, for example.
As a member of a board, you get access to an MLS system and you can share your listings with other REALTORS®. The MLS systems also contain all sorts of detailed information and tools that are really geared towards the REALTORS®. REALTOR.ca on the other hand is not an MLS system. This is where people get confused. REALTOR.ca is a national listing portal where consumers can view the listing info that is stored in these various systems across the country. Essentially, every REALTOR® represented listing across Canada, residential, commercial, and even some rentals as long as they are shared within this local cooperative, will appear on REALTOR.ca. It’s REALTOR.ca’s role to engage consumers and be that one-stop research destination if that makes sense.
Erin: Yes, it does. Andrew, that’s really where you come in, this sort of the consumer-facing angle of the whole thing. Is that correct?
Andrew: Yes. Well, I focus primarily on sourcing partnerships that are really going to enhance the experience for consumers on REALTOR.ca but also deepen the value to our members. Any partnership that we entertain, the first and foremost question is really where does this contribute to member value? What is this doing for the member? You can imagine that our phone rings off the hook because of how popular REALTOR.ca is, and oftentimes, people are like, “Yes, man, we’d love to put our thing there up on REALTOR.ca. Yet, often actually, those calls don’t really have a clear value proposition to our members, so they don’t really go anywhere. A lot of them have, so we’ve been able to bring a number of exciting partnerships and consumer experiences to bear.
Erin: Can you give us an example?
Andrew: Yes. Patrick, I’m just thinking of all the things that we’ve been adding even over the course of the pandemic, to the viewing experience. I know you want to touch on a couple of those.
Patrick: Yes, I think just really quickly one that comes to mind is the partnership with TD Bank. We know that consumers will visit various sources of data before making any decision. Actually, there’s some research that indicates that the average consumer will look at 11 different sources before making a decision. We know that, yes, they’re coming to REALTOR.ca. They’re probably looking at other real estate sites. They’re going to their bank website to see how much they can afford. They’re going to social media. They’re going to look up editorial content on sites like The Globe and Mail and so on.
The beauty about a partnership like TD Bank, in this case, when a consumer visits the site to go find out how much they can afford, and they do that by using their mortgage affordability calculator. Once they get that ideal range of a mortgage, TD will then show them listings from REALTOR.ca that fall within that range. The idea is that whether a consumer is on TD or Scotiabank, which is another partner, or Kijiji or The Globe and Mail, or they’re on Microsoft Bing or on social media, that the information that they’re seeing is consistent and that it’s up-to-date. That’s why we value these partnerships very much. It helps give credibility to that REALTOR®, -generated information.
Erin: When we come back, how REALTOR.ca came to be? I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying that charity begins at home, and no one knows or exemplifies this better than the people we trust to sell and find our homes. You, the REALTOR®, by volunteering and raising funds across the country, REALTORS® play meaningful roles in the communities where you work and live. Let us know how you’re giving back by sharing your story at REALTORSCare.ca, won’t you?
Now, back to Patrick and Andrew on REAL TIME. Gentlemen, how did most consumers navigate listings prior to the advent of REALTOR.ca? Patrick, let’s go back in the Wayback Machine and when did this start? Was it like renderings of condos on cave walls?
Erin: What are we looking at?
Patrick: Almost. I love the fact that you’re going there because I love telling the story. Before REALTOR.ca was launched in 1995, there was no single source website in Canada for real estate information. You had to scroll through individual brokerage websites to see what was available and keep in mind that we’re talking about the early ’90s. There was very few brokerages that had websites. Really, the other option was to go directly to a brokerage office or even to the mall to see those one-pagers that are pinned up against the wall. I think we still see those one-pagers today, but back then, that was your best option. That and driving around, and looking for lawn signs.
Going back to 1995, the leadership back then made the really wise decision to launch a national website where consumers could see what was available in the market. Regardless of which broker represented the listing or which franchisor was doing their promotion, consumers now had a single source to access that information. However, the site was very primitive back in 1995. Most listings did not even include a single photo. Most listings did not even include an address. Address was not a mandatory piece of information for REALTOR.ca. You would literally have some listings that would have no photo, no address. It would be a message like, “I have a listing, a detached home, 1500 square feet, three bedrooms, call me for more information.” That was the model back then.
Erin: If I understand this correctly, it’s become the obverse if you will because, in 1995, REALTORS® were driving consumers to listings, but now, as we see some 27 years later, it’s listings driving to REALTORS®. Is that about right, Andrew?
Andrew: Absolutely. REALTOR.ca is honestly one of the greatest pieces of member value that CREA delivers to the REALTORS® of Canada. How that translates is in enormous amounts of leads generated as consumers continue to come to REALTOR.ca. The listing agent has always clearly displayed alongside a listing. Our mission there is to generate leads for our members. It really has created this great virtuous circle scenario.
Erin: What differentiates the platform from other real estate sites, Andrew?
Andrew: The way that I frame that question is actually to reflect what I’m hearing from the partners that approach us because of course, in my role, partners are contacting us and they’re considering their options. I often hear from them as to this is why we picked REALTOR.ca. It really comes down to three things that I hear pretty consistently. First of all, that it’s the most comprehensive. It has listings from every real estate board across Canada.
Secondly, it’s the most popular site. It is the most visited real estate website in Canada, and I’m sure that Patrick has some Comscore data that will support that but that trend has actually just been continuing to grow. Third, I think this is really important. Perhaps, most important is that it’s most trusted website by both consumers and REALTORS®. I think a big part of that is because of our ownership as a member-based organization in CREA. Even if you think about the name, it’s REALTOR.ca. A REALTOR® is at the core of this. It means that the data that is coming from our members, it’s trusted data. The business model of the website and the intentions are all trusted.
Erin: I’m a bit of a numbers geek. Patrick, do you have at your fingertips some of the numbers for the people who went to REALTOR.ca in 2021 by any chance?
Patrick: Yes, absolutely. Andrew mentioned the Comscore numbers. Comscore is an independent company that monitors web traffic in pretty much every industry including ours. REALTOR.ca, in 2021, had 45% market share, meaning 45% of all traffic to Canadian real estate websites and apps went to REALTOR.ca. Another great example is CIRA which is the Canadian agency that manages the .ca top-level domain. They recently came out with their quarterly report and indicated that REALTOR.ca is the sixth most visited “.ca”. Not just real estate, but all domains. It’s ahead of sites like cbc.ca and walmart.ca.
Just to build on what Andrew was saying, this is great news for our members because they own a powerhouse brand that is trusted by Canadians. The fact that the site is called REALTOR.ca and that Canadians are spending so much time on this site, that’s helped keep our members top of mind with the consumers. The second benefit of REALTOR.ca and why it’s driving so much value is definitely the leads. In 2021, we sent about 6 million email and phone leads to our members. The great thing is that these leads go to them at no additional cost. Everything is included in their member deal. This is something that is unique anywhere in the world, the fact that members own the leading portal and that they don’t have to pay to get those leads and business opportunities.
Erin: We’re going to talk in a moment. We’ll compare Canada and REALTOR.ca to other, let’s say, neighbours, but what are the alternatives that are out there? If people weren’t going to REALTOR.ca, what other options are there? Andrew?
Andrew: Consumers often will go to a number of different websites on their home buying journey. I think, Patrick, it’s on average 11 or something like that?
Patrick: Yes, 11.
Andrew: We know that consumers are going to get exposure to all sorts of different websites, and that’s actually part of our strategy as well. We actually have a, you can think of it as a syndication service where a member who’s choosing to share their listing on REALTOR.ca can also make the choice to have us distribute that to a number of partner websites that we do business with. In fact, if you were to look at the top 10, let’s say, real estate websites in Canada, I believe the number is something like 8 of those are in fact powered by REALTOR.ca. They also, by the way, display a badge probably to do that because what it does for the consumer is they can see that badge and they can know that they’re dealing with the real legit listing information right from REALTORS®.
Erin: CREA is taking advantage of the, as you have put it, the purity of its model and intent for its members as well. Yes?
Andrew: Yes. I think when a member organization can really tap into who it is and who it isn’t and that’s what we’ve really done with REALTOR.ca. They can really differentiate on a vector that others can’t touch, which is that it is that purity of the model. They’re strictly for the creation of member value. I’ve actually worked at other not-for-profits that have had businesses that had the same structure at play. What it really allows for those businesses to do is really punch way above its weight class, if you will, and compete with much larger and often more capitalized entities.
Erin: When we return with Patrick Pichette and Andrew Jackson, we’re going to talk about how REALTOR.ca stacks up against the global landscape. It’s really encouraging.
There’s something about sharing a cup of warmth and comfort with each other that’s really connecting. At CREA Café, you are connected with each other, as well as the latest news and stats, legal matters, and advocacy updates. It’s all right here at creacafe.ca. Grab a mug of what moves you and join in.
Now, back to REAL TIME with Andrew and Patrick comparing real estate portals, and how Canada shines. Looking to other parts of the world, how does Canada stack up in terms of these types of sites or services for consumers? How does REALTOR.ca, for example, compare to other real estate portals across the globe? Patrick?
Patrick: We actually stack up very, very well when you look at the landscape globally. I’ll use the US as an example where the picture is actually somewhat different. In Canada, the large majority of licensees are REALTORS®, meaning that they have a license but they’re also members of a local real estate board, a provincial association, and CREA. In Canada, REALTOR.ca, with the MLS systems and their rules for cooperation are supporting most transactions. In the US, the industry is much more fragmented so only about 50% of licensees are REALTORS®, meaning that they’re members of a local association and are using the local MLS system. On top of that, there’s about 600 different associations and MLS organizations in the States, and they also have a wide range of different portals.
There isn’t really an equivalent to REALTOR.ca. It’s nearly impossible to get a full national view of the marketplace in the US. One of these portals is REALTOR.com. Unlike here, REALTOR.com is not owned by the National Association. It’s actually owned by News Corp which is a big media company. It owns the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Obviously, it operates under a different model than REALTOR.ca. At the end of the day, what a CREA member gets for their $310 a year in member dues, a US REALTOR® will be paying thousands of dollars to REALTOR.com and other portals.
Erin: Those are US dollars of course. That is a huge difference. We are almost one-stop shopping, not to simplify it too much, and they’re having to jump through all kinds of hoops and barriers and come up against walls and confusion. It paints a much better picture for where we are or am I being biased?
Andrew: I don’t think you’re being biased. I think that’s exactly the case. I think that, in fact, again, when various partners approached us and they once are educated on the Canadian landscape, they’re like, “Man, wow, you guys have got a great here.”
Erin: What does competition in the Canadian market mean for you, Andrew?
Andrew: More pressure for one but listen, competition is an indicator of a vibrant and healthy market, and it is always welcomed. Honestly, it’s vital to everyone bringing their best game. That’s the way that we view it. For us, it means we’re paying real to close attention to important innovations, particularly those that I would say tap into recent consumer phenomenon or trends. I got to tell you, these past 2+ years has just been unprecedented in terms of changing consumer expectations, not only because of how much we’ve been doing remotely in the pandemic but also demographic shifts and the different expectations that come along with that.
Listen, buying and selling a home in today’s markets is different than it was several years ago. All of that we can see has led to continued innovation, and we think that competition is bringing out the best in everybody.
Erin: We have heard from some of our guests already in 2022 about just how the pandemic just catapulted us into a future that we weren’t expecting to be in for another, well, I don’t know, 5 or 10 years. It’s really been a strong and positive catalyst.
Andrew: Absolutely. It’s almost science fiction, how you could fast forward so quickly. Now, these new ways have just become the new norm. It is unreal.
Erin Davis: Yes, warp speed. Let’s look to the future then, both short and long term if we can. What’s next for real estate transactions in Canada? What tools, technologies, and innovations can we expect to engage with in the future to enhance the buying, selling, and listing experience? We’ll start with you, Patrick, please.
Patrick Pichette: Andrew just touched on this. A second ago, the COVID pandemic accelerated the adoption of several technologies that were still somewhat fringe before the pandemic. An example would be digital signatures, for example. Instead of meeting the client in person, doing that remotely. We’re seeing a strong uptake there about 15% every year. Another great example is using live-streaming platforms, so Facebook live, Instagram, and so on, to do showings, to do open houses. When the pandemic started, nobody was doing this. We had zero live-streaming open houses that were being promoted on REALTOR.ca.
In a matter of weeks, into the pandemic, there were literally thousands of virtual live streaming open houses that were being promoted. That’s an example of a technology that we saw maybe was going to be four, five years out, that really picked up some steam. We saw a bigger uptake in video and 3D tours. Before the pandemic, only about 15% of listings on REALTOR.ca included a video or 3D tour or an interactive floor plan that quickly doubled to 30%.
In terms of the short term, we’re paying attention big time to virtual reality. This is something that hopefully all members are paying attention to. Yes, it’s still early on in this technology. We’ve all seen the wearables. The headset is still clunky looking, but the hardware is going to become friendlier. 5G broadband is going to help as well. I really think virtual reality is primed to impact our industry.
In terms of the short term, the train has left the station when it comes to consumers expecting digital interactions. REALTORS® need to get comfortable with integrating these kinds of technologies into their day-to-day practices.
Now, when it comes to long-term, Erin, it depends how far into the future you want to go. I think, one day, somebody will own real estate in outer space. Maybe that’s probably too far out for this conversation. I would say pay attention to the early signals. You’re hearing a new set of buzzwords, cryptos, NFTs.
Andrew Jackson: Metaverse.
Patrick Pichette: Yes, metaverse. Good one. I know it all sounds goofy right now but it’s like being back in 1995. The internet was new. It was clunky. We were told that it was just a fad. We were told it was for scammers, so we need to stay off the internet. Then, we had the dot-com bubble that burst in 2000. Most of the dot-com projects disappeared but the underlining technology of the internet gave rise to the digital age that we’re living in today. Listen, we’re in 2022 now.
Just last month, a house in the US sold as an NFT for the first time. People are buying real estate in the metaverse. Millennials are buying crypto. I saw a survey by CNBC this week, and I know we’re just talking about millionaires, but 83% of millionaire millennials have invested in crypto. It’s early. These are just signals. I’m not saying that you need to run out and start engaging in all this. Take the time to understand the technology behind it. Just google your questions. Invest the time now to learn about this stuff. Become literate because it could pay off in five years from now.
Erin Davis: Yes, and Andrew, you found that crypto is even hitting close to home?
Andrew Jackson: I was going to say or have kids that can stay literate for you because my 15-year-old comes home and talks about the crypto club at his high school.
Erin Davis: Oh. He’s not talking about a chess club or [crosstalk] anymore. It’s a crypto club. That’s fascinating.
Patrick Pichette: Andrew, what’s happening is we’re becoming our parents. Remember, our parents, how scared they were to put their credit card number into a website or do online banking and they rolled their eyes. Our generations doing the same thing now with crypto and NFTs, and so on.
Erin Davis: I think we’re all looking for signs that it’s safe. When REALTOR.ca says it’s safe, then I’ll believe you.
Patrick Pichette: We’re not quite there yet.
Erin Davis: I’ll keep an eye on it. How do we see REALTOR.ca evolving to add even more value to consumers? There has been a reference of REALTOR.ca shifting its focus from search to research. Now, explain to me, and I know this is going to be easier than nonfungible tokens or crypto. Thank you. What does that mean?
Patrick Pichette: Yes, it is easier to explain. It’s something that we’ve been using internally as well with the team is the shift from search to research. Again, if we go back to 1995, REALTOR.ca listings for the most part had no pictures, had no address. Twenty-five years later, it’s evolved into this national portal. The evolution will continue, and the next big step for us is to transition REALTOR.ca from a search to a research tool. What does that mean exactly? I can give you an example.
Currently, everything that’s available for sale on REALTOR.ca, so everything that’s represented by a REALTOR®, obviously. It’s on REALTOR.ca when it’s for sale, but the moment that the listing comes off the market, there is no information left on the site.
Erin Davis: Right.
Patrick Pichette: One day, you’re looking at 123 Main Street in Victoria, and the next day, the listing is gone, and you don’t know why. That is a major pain point for consumers. It forces them to go elsewhere to get that information, because ultimately, the consumer will always find what they’re looking for, and they’re quite comfortable in doing their own research. Consumers want the history. They want to know how much a house sold for. They want the comparables.
They want to know things like, “This house I’ve been looking at, is it still available? Or is it actually conditionally sold?” They expect to get all this information on REALTOR.ca. Again, they’re quite comfortable in doing their own research.
This shift, believe it or not, is also going to help our members because their value is not in answering basic questions about a property. Their value is to be a trusted adviser, help their clients understand what all that information means, help them navigate the process of buying or selling, and help them make the right decision.
Erin Davis: We’ll be back with Patrick Pichette, VP of REALTOR.ca, and Andrew Jackson, CREA’s Head of Business Development in a moment, looking into the future and what might not be happening.
The REAL TIME podcast is brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We cover a wide array of fascinating topics. For a list of guests and what we’ve already talked about, go to CREA.ca/podcast or subscribe on your favourite platform.
Now, back to our guests and the future as we see where we’re going, but perhaps most crucially, what we’re holding on to. I need you guys to do a little bit of crystal ball gazing, if you will, what are the real estate predictions that everybody is betting on that you think won’t happen? Andrew, I’m going to ask you to go first on this one.
Andrew Jackson: I don’t know what everyone is betting on but you do quite often hear people question or even sometimes, REALTORS® themselves reflect on concerns about what is– They’re maintaining their value proposition in amongst this world of all this innovation. I think that people completely sometimes underestimate the importance and the value of their advice. People are going to and they do continue to seek advice from those experienced individuals on what is one of the most substantial and increasingly complex transactions in their lives. Our research continues to show that in spades, so I really think that the REALTOR® and the core value proposition of knowledge and advice, whether you’re on the buying side or whether you’re on the selling side, is very much there.
We’re all about innovation as you’ve been hearing and listening to some of the things that we’ve made progress on over the 10 years that Patrick has been here and beyond. In the next 10 years, we’re going to continue to innovate. It’s in our mission, but we’re never going to lose sight of that core value proposition that is working with an experienced REALTOR®.
Erin: Amen. Patrick?
Patrick: I totally agree. I think there’s a lot of people who are counting on the displacement of REALTORS®, a lot of companies too. Andrew gets these calls on a daily basis, but I’m betting that is not going to happen. REALTORS® will continue to be an essential part of the transaction. Now, technology will take over the admin side of the business, so how research is done, sharing information with clients, marketing, back and forth on paperwork, and so on.
REALTORS® have to be ready to integrate technology into the process-oriented part of their businesses. There’s always going to be a human side to the transaction, and buying and selling a home is a very emotional journey. There’s always going to be a role for REALTORS® to be that trusted advisor.
Erin: In this age where we’re so used to diagnosing ourselves on Dr. Google and all of those things, a lot of us are used to doing a lot of the legwork on our own, aren’t they, Andrew?
Andrew: Absolutely. I think that that is demographics support that even more so. Every generation younger than me, basically, they’re used to picking up their phone and solving their own problems, or at least running with the ball far enough along until they reach those junctures where they really want the value add of someone who’s been there done that. That’s where they look for that experience.
Erin: It is an emotional journey too and not one that you should take on your own.
Andrew: Listen, who has bought or sold a house in the last couple of years? It’s complicated. You need a strategy. You need a winning strategy. I think that that’s where a lot of this value is in helping determine what’s going to be the right strategy for you, what’s worked in this circumstance, and what could be effective? Absolutely.
Erin: Let me ask you, Patrick. If you had one thing that you wished REALTORS® knew or would take away from REALTOR.ca or use on REALTOR.ca, what would it be?
Patrick: I would say, Erin, most REALTORS® don’t know this, but going that extra mile in adding something to your listing, like a 3D tour, for example, actually has a significant impact on lead conversion. Earlier, I mentioned that, great, we’re up to 30% of listings now that include a video or an interactive floor plan, a 3D tour. That’s great, but there’s still 70% of listings that don’t. That’s a takeaway I hope that REALTORS® will take with them. What I can share is that listings that have that extra level of interactive content are 50% more likely to convert into a lead. That’s something that we see across a board, whether it’s adding a video or it’s adding just more information about the neighbourhood, or more information about the listing. At the end of the day, a consumer that’s better informed is going to be more engaged and are more likely to convert into a lead.
Erin: That’s huge listings with virtual content, 50% more likely to convert to a lead than one without, that is huge. When you talk about historical info, what does that entail? What it sold four or five years ago, or what are you looking for there, Patrick?
Patrick: Gosh, there’s so many data points that you can provide about a home and if you look at REALTOR.ca, not all listings are created equal. It could be, yes, sure, sold price history. It could be information on the taxes. It could be information about the neighbourhood, the schools nearby, condo fees. If you did a scanner REALTOR.ca, you’ll see that as you’re going through one listing to the next, you’re going to come across a lot of gaps. There’s still some listings that will have one or no picture. That is still happening in 2022.
Erin: That tells me, you do not want to see the inside of that house. Am I wrong?
Patrick: Exactly. Again, the takeaway is that a consumer that’s better informed, that’s better engaged, you’re building the trust with them, they’re more likely to call you to be that trusted advisor. They’re not looking at REALTORS® as gatekeepers to information. I think that’s a myth that we need to break through.
Erin: Andrew, as we look at this from a consumer point of view, we are in the age of TL; DR, too long; didn’t read. Can a REALTOR® provide too many details? Can you give people too much information because I don’t think that’s possible? What do you think?
Andrew: I was going to say we’re also in the world of scrolling with our thumbs pretty quickly. I agree with you. I think that people have become natural editors, and so that they can flip through and digest a whole lot of information really quickly and pull out the pieces that they think are really important.
I think what’s interesting about this journey from search to research is that, and we’ve seen this also accelerated over the past couple of years where people are not just using the site when they’re in the midst of a transaction. They’re also now using this as part of their dreaming process about the future, or part of their curiosity process about what’s going on in their neighbourhood, or you name it.
That’s the shift that we saw is, and that’s what’s driving our consumer growth is that people are turning to this more. Even sometimes, if it’s just for entertainment value because it’s all very interesting and educational stuff.
Erin: That’s why you’re saying that you’re hoping that people keep coming back to REALTOR.ca for the innovations that are currently and going to be happening.
Andrew: I think that we’re taking this direction that Patrick talks about, the shift away from search to research very seriously. There’s just so much that that vector holds, and we can’t wait to bring it all out to you.
Erin: Oh, we can’t wait either. You guys hold a spot.
Erin: Before we say goodbye for now, what single piece of advice would you give our listeners today to help them stay successful as this market continues to evolve, and Patrick will begin with you?
Patrick: I’ll give you one very actionable and easy piece of advice. When it comes to keeping up with the market and with technology, there are no shortcuts. Take the time to do some research. I hope that this podcast today has stimulated some questions, and I’m sure everybody will be leaving with some questions about some things they heard, but take the time. Google your questions. Go to YouTube. Anything that we talked about today, there’s probably a thousand videos on that topic. Just getting a habit of taking that 10, 15 minutes a day, do some research. If you do that, you’ll be in the 1% club when it comes to knowledge around the latest tech trends and how it can help your business.
Andrew: Here’s what I would say, Erin. I think that when you are really confident in your own core value proposition, when you know that people turn to you in those critical transactions and they need the advice, they want the advice, they want to bounce off ideas, they want to develop a winning strategy, when you know that those things are all there and going to remain true, then you can really lean into change. You can lean into these innovations. You can lean in and you don’t even have to become an expert in it, but you can just be a little bit more relaxed about learning about these things and continue to build your own relevant experiences. That’s the balance that I would advise.
Erin: It should be fun.
Andrew: It should be fun. It is fun.
Erin: As we have had today and proven. Thank you so much for joining us today, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
Andrew: Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Patrick: Thank you very much, Erin. Awesome.
Erin: It was. Our thanks again to Patrick Pichette, Vice President, REALTOR.ca, and Andrew Jackson, CREA’s Head of Business Development for their insight and enlightenment.
REAL TIME is a presentation of the Canadian Real Estate Association. On our next episode, we’ll be discussing mental health awareness. You’re not going to want to miss it. REAL TIME is a production of Real Family and Rob Whitehead and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis. Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll talk to you here again next time on REAL TIME.
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast for and about REALTORS®, brought to you by The Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m your host, Erin Davis. Today we’re going to be joined by the model guest. I mean that literally and you’ll find out how as we dive into our conversation with Sinead Bovell, a human guide to a digital future.
Over the last two years, we’ve seen technology progress at a rapid pace. Sometimes you may ask yourself, are we pivoting or are we spinning? Our rates of embracing new technology have skyrocketed, and there’s not a chance they’re going to return to pre-pandemic levels. We’re in this for the long haul, but what does that future look like, anyway? What are the risks and benefits of a society that engages, transacts, and communicates primarily through technology?
More to the point, in our industry of real estate, where personal branding, human connections, trust, and networking are fundamental, what does the digitization of our economy mean for a REALTOR®‘s business? These are all good questions, and fortunately for us, we have just the guest to answer them today. Sinead Bovell is, to quote her Insta bio, changing the narrative about who should be talking tech.
She’s known as the model who talks tech, founder of WAYE of tech education forum. She’s spoken three times to the UN on tech and the future. Sinead Bovell is our guest today on REAL TIME. Hey, Sinead, thanks so much for joining us today.
Sinead Bovell: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Erin: Well, you’re a futurist and an entrepreneur, and you’ve spoken at the UN and educated 1000s of people on the future of technology. One of the amazing things about you is just the road that your career has taken because it didn’t start this way, you didn’t start this way. Tell us about your journey from a management consultant to a model futurist, and social entrepreneur. This is fascinating.
Sinead: Thank you. Yes, I would say my career has been unconventional, to say the least, but I’ll add as technology continues to change our world of work, my career might not seem so unconventional by the end of this decade. To answer your question, I did start out in the world of management consulting. This is largely to do with how I define success growing up.
I only really considered jobs that existed. I was leaning heavily into societal versions of success. That led me to focus on the things that I liked, which was analytics, problem-solving, strategic management. All of that took me to a place of management consulting. However, along the way, I never felt fully satisfied and inspired by the problems that I was solving. In doing my MBA and landing the goal that I thought I always wanted, it became ever more apparent, and I couldn’t ignore this calling that I was in the wrong lane.
In some ways, the wrong life, these weren’t the problems I wanted to be solving whatsoever, but I didn’t really see an exit. I was simultaneously most scouted by a modeling agency. This is nothing that I had ever considered before.
Erin: How did that even happen? How did that happen? You hear stories about somebody in a lineup at a concert or just – tell us how that happened, Sinead. I’m curious about it.
Sinead: Yes. Interestingly, I was at a business event and a scout came up and said, “Are you interested in modeling? Do you model?” I was in the middle of a conversation with somebody about something else to do with networking, so I was entirely thrown off. I didn’t really take it seriously, I just kind of, as a Canadian would politely say, “Oh, thanks so much.”
Then she returned about a half an hour later. I took the card. I went into the agency a few days later, and I signed with them. Long story short, I ended up quitting the path I had created for myself and stepping into this new world, that I really didn’t know what I was doing, but what I did know is that I would somehow connect my old world with this new one, that the Fundamentals of Business and Economics, all the things I had learned, still applied here.
What makes me a little bit different in this new world might be the very thing I can use to step towards the life I wanted to live, whatever that would mean going forward. One thing I did realize is that I would show up to these photo shoots, and start talking about things like artificial intelligence, the future of work, all the conversations I was having in my consulting and MBA world, and people were incredibly intrigued and wanted to learn.
That was the first light bulb moment that all of these conversations I almost took for granted and got educated in weren’t conversations that everybody was invited to but conversations that everybody needed to be a part of. That was the initial light bulb moment for me, maybe there’s a gap that I can fill here. Maybe this is where I can be of service.
Erin: How did you get inspired to start WAYE? Tell us about this acronym? What it means and how you got it off the ground, Sinead.
Sinead: Yes, WAYE stands for Weekly Advice for Young Entrepreneurs, and where the inspiration for the name came about was, the more I studied the future of work and was forecasting the changes technology would bring to our workforce, the more I realized, a lot of us are going to become entrepreneurs in some capacity in the future. As we start to lean a little bit more into more flexible working contracts, things like gig work, a lot of us are going to have to be our own boss in some way, marketing our skills more frequently. That’s where the inspiration for WAYE as an acronym came from.
Erin: Just the name of it though, the first word is Weekly, so you are committing yourself right from the jump. How did that work out? Was there ever a point where you went, “Okay, this is a lot?” Or did you just know that you had that much content, and enough people interested to contribute and be part of all of this, that you knew your vision right from the jump?
Sinead: I would say I knew my vision. I would encourage every entrepreneur to know what their aspirations are, but there was nothing I could say concretely. Again, with entrepreneurship, everything was up in the air, and not only did I not know if this vision would work, but also if people would care. Is this content that people actually want to consume?
In terms of weekly, our news cycle is, fortunately, or unfortunately, now down to minute to minute. I knew that I would continue to advance the conversation in the best way that I could, but in terms of there were no assurances that any of this would work. Of course, there was the unconventional background also fueling some of my concerns. Would people take me seriously? Is this somebody that they’d want to listen to? I prevailed and persevered through it, and here we are.
Erin: Yes, here we are, indeed. You once said that you noticed the gap in the speed at which technology advances and people’s ability to use it. How big is this gap and who do you think is most affected by it, Sinead?
Sinead: I would say there are multiple gaps happening simultaneously. That depends on the geography you’re looking at, the age group, the skills, economic access, all of these different factors are lenses through the various tech education gaps and tech access gaps that we see.
On the one hand, when you look more geographically, there are a significant portion of the world that can’t even access the Internet, whether that’s the infrastructure itself, whether that’s cultural norms or things like the internet not being gender-neutral in certain locations. There’s that gap that actually is global, even if you’re in a country that leans heavily into technology, you’re still going to find that divide, depending on location, economics, et cetera.
Then there’s the policy base gap. We see technology changing at a pace that our infrastructures aren’t designed to keep up with. Technology is leapfrogging ahead of all of our systems.
That’s quite a gap. Then even if you consider yourself somebody that is tech-savvy, you can pop around on social media, get your news online, there’s an additional gap of how the world of work and life is changing as a result of technology. How we live and exist today is going to look fundamentally different in 5 and 10 and 15 years. There’s all of these different layers and tears of gaps that I’m trying to tackle the close, but I think each of them, all of them are of critical importance.
Erin: Yes. The goalpost just keeps moving and moving and you stop to take a breath and you go, “Okay, it’s moved again.” You’ve suggested, if you want to see what the future holds, all you have to do is Google how tech is disrupting my career. I did that just before we sat down in real estate, and boom, right there, there’s a Forbes article, right online with 15 ways that technology is disrupting real estate. Really, the tools are at our fingertips if we just know where to look or even know to ask the question.
Sinead: Yes, I would say, leaning into technology is the best thing that we can do about our future. Leaning into how the world is changing, doing as much as we can to take initiative, like things like Googling how my career is changing, or how this role is being impacted by advanced technologies.
Erin: Coming up, Sinead looks at how we’ve been forced to fast forward into the future over the past two years, and just how that going.
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Now back to Sinead Bovell as we discuss the future and the reality we’ve been living in for the past two years – the pandemic. Let’s talk about that because there has been so much said and written about it, but really there is no limit to it because your opinion on how the pandemic impacted our with technology now that we’ve been trusted further and faster into a more digital-first economy.
Sinead: Yes, so the pandemic it’s a really interesting case study when it comes to technology and on the one hand, it has been absolutely devastating the amount of lives that have been lost that are still battling this horrific pandemic and virus but I’d say when we look at how it impacted our societal infrastructures and our world of work and life, we have accelerated into the future by at least a decade.
The changes we’re seeing today weren’t on the forecast charts until your 2027, 2030. Interestingly, we often fear that technology is outpacing us and our ability to keep up, which is true in some respects. But at the same time, a lot of us adapted quite quickly. We fumbled around on Zoom. I think you’re on mute is literally going to be the phrase of this time.
Erin: Or you should be on mute. That’s the other phrase, right?
Sinead: Either of those. You’re on mute, you should be on mute or where are you tuning in from, all of these different phrases that we’ve all used at some point, but we got the hold of these technologies a lot faster than I think we would have on ourselves had we not gone through these past couple of years. It has certainly fundamentally accelerated us into the future in many ways.
In some ways, it’s been good. I’d say things like healthcare and industry with so much red tape technology offers a lot of efficiencies, a lot of ways to leapfrog over these legacy systems that were blocking access and now we realize if you can just call in, FaceTime in, remotely meet your physician instead of hustling into a city or having to take a day off work that is a win for everyone.
Of course, it’s not always going to be the right answer, of course, technology you can’t solve all the problems. There are times when you need to go into a hospital or visit your doctor but there’s also a lot of times when you don’t need to do that and so the pandemic forced us in many ways to make these changes and to adapt and in some ways, there have been some silver linings here.
Erin: Yes, and what has felt like spinning is actually pivoting, if you look at it in a positive way too. Yes. Now how do you suspect that digitization is going to impact industries like real estate where personal connections and you mentioned going to a hospital, we can do our medical care so much online, but so a doctor looking at you can often tell you, “Okay, there’s something going on with you. What aren’t you telling me?” Real estate, let’s take it back to real estate where personal connections are so fundamental to business, Sinead.
Sinead: Technology is going to have quite a profound impact, on the real estate industry, and it already has, right. If you were to rewind the clock only a few decades ago, the idea of listings being online was fundamentally unheard of and now that’s the first place we go to check the real estate market if we’re interested in buying or selling or even just browsing. So that’s already been a massive change and social media as well but of course, as we look out into the future technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, you may have heard terms like the metaverse.
These are going to change how we access information, where we access information, and where consumers and prospective buyers and sellers expect the industry to be, and here’s what I mean by that. If, for example, a technology augmented reality or virtual reality becomes more mainstream by the end of this decade, I don’t just want to search and see a house online. I’m going to put on my augmented reality glasses and do a tour as best I can up until the limits of that technology. It doesn’t mean that technology is going to replace the job of the real estate agent. That real estate agent will probably be a part of that walkthrough in the form of a hologram but in a lot of the different areas, our fundamental behavior is going to change.
However, I will let’s say when it comes to something like real estate, an asset and a decision that is usually one of the most important decisions, or at least most important financial decisions in most people’s lives, there are things that you cannot just replace or substitute with technology and this is one of those cases.
An artificial intelligence system may be good at understanding which properties to show you that you might be interested in, but you’re going to want that human real estate agent’s opinion on the areas that AI can’t give you, those subjective human-based experiences that real estate agents have that an AI system doesn’t. Real estate, it’s not a cookie-cutter process.
There is last-minute bidding that happens all of these things that an AI is not cut out to deal with, these ad hoc changes and pivots. That’s where a real estate agent is going to be critical, but you do need to be leaning into how this world is changing. When you hear terms like the metaverse, it means you should stop and think, “How could this change my relationship with technology, with how I sell?”
Erin: Sinead, when you mention the metaverse, I have to confess, I approach it with a degree of cynicism because to me, it’s Mark Zuckerberg changing the conversation from Facebook and saying, “Hey, look over here.” You are addressing it with respect and vision so tell us what we need to know what we can even take in and digest and this point about the metaverse would you?
Sinead: Yes, I have some of the cynicism with you. I totally get it. We hear it. We cringe the way it was introduced to a lot of people, but here’s what I’m turning into a little bit more. Not so much as the cartoons and running around in this virtual world that is a part of it, but that’s not what I think would be important for an industry like real estate. I’m turning into a world, in which the digital is equally, if not more important and so what could that mean in real estate?
It could mean that you have a digital twin of your real house as an asset so when somebody goes to buy a house, they buy their physical house, but they also buy a digital twin that is powered by artificial intelligence, that you can do everything from seeing how furniture rearranged would look before you actually buy the furniture. To get flags and notifications when something’s about to break down ahead, actually breaking down and the same way digital twins are used in engineering right now.
A manufacturing plant would say this dishwasher is going to break down in the real world. We’ve been modeling it on our simulations. We would have that of our houses as well. Those are the types of things that I’m paying attention to. Outside of the real estate, we’ll probably have one of our physical bodies for healthcare and things like that but those are the areas that I’m turning into. I would also as, a real estate agent and technology like augmented reality so if I can show up and give somebody a tour via a hologram that’s a real plausible scenario, for the future.
Again, if you were to align the clock 25 years and tell someone they’re going to really engage in this thing called the internet, and they’re going to put their house in this cyber community, and people are going to bid on it and make appointments on it, we would think that was crazy. Now here we are. So, the metaverse, I think that there are elements that we can ignore, but there are elements that are very legitimate. They’ll of course depend on how the technology changes over time but that’s how I would think about it as a real estate agent.
Erin: If I was to buy a digital twin of my house, what might I expect to pay?
Sinead: Yes, I would say there are many ways that you could look at this question. You could buy actual real estate just in the metaverse and not have a physical house with it but it really depends on how things evolve so maybe this is something that is included in the house deed so it’s not necessarily something that really increases the economic value of the house. It’s something that becomes expected over time and we might look back and think it was ludicrous that we didn’t have this security system where we’re monitoring our house in real-time and where we’re getting these updates, where we’re able to make changes digitally before we invest in them. Physically I think in time, that’s probably the level that well, we’ll get to but there are all different ways that it can evolve and, of course, nobody can predict the future. If anybody tells you, they can, I would be very skeptical.
Erin: When we return. How much do we spend betting on the future? Sinead looks at the risks and the questions we should ask.
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Now back to Sinead Bovell, founder of tech education forum WAYE Talks. From a business standpoint then, what are the risks and opportunities of investing in new technologies?
Sinead: It depends on what you mean by invest. If I’m putting a bunch of money into developing a technology that I hope my line of work will lean into, of course, that’s always going to be a risk. We forecasted the Internet to go one way and it’s gone an entirely different way and people have lost money in that. The dot-com bubble and even technology like virtual reality. If you think that that’s going to be the future and that isn’t the technology that underscores the future, then you’ve probably lost out.
I think that there will be economic risks as we step into this changing world of technology. I think where you can’t really go wrong is what are the general-purpose technologies that are becoming foundational?
The Internet was one and artificial intelligence is another. These are areas where it becomes a little bit less risky but we still have to do our research and lean into them. I think, of course, any investment is always going to be a risk. It’s do your due diligence and ask yourself where is my market? Where will my market expect to find me? Where will my customers seek out information? What will that behavior look like over time? I think that’s in many ways is worth the risk of meeting your customers where they are or where they expect to find you.
Erin: Something that we often hear and feel is a lot of the fear and questions around AI. You’ve talked a lot about AI and the future of technology as it relates to business. How do you think, Sinead, that this growing shift to word automation will impact the workforce? Who’s going to be most affected either positively or negatively?
Sinead: I will say I have yet to come across a job or an industry that won’t be impacted by technology. The same way it’s hard to find a job that hasn’t in some way been impacted by the Internet.
In terms of who will be quite drastically impacted and then what we can say with more certainty, artificial intelligence as it stands today can do one task really, really well and a task that is repetitive and predictable. That would lean more into roles that are more administrative in nature or food preparation, scheduling, and task management. All of those types of roles unfortunately do fall under some of the main advantages of artificial intelligence.
Those types of roles were seen more so in the line of automation versus augmentation. However, 90% of the workforce will have some of their tasks drastically impacted by artificial intelligence. That doesn’t mean that your whole job’s going away but it does mean that tasks in your job will eventually be passed to an AI, some of those tasks. The tasks that can’t are the tasks that are fundamentally human in nature that we need that human interaction, that human viewpoint or opinion or perspective and it’s not something that we can automate.
Erin: The human interpretation, the experience, the wisdom, that sixth sense too because you’ve been there before.
Next up going where we haven’t been before. The upside of tech in our everyday lives, REALTOR.ca is the most popular and trusted real estate website in Canada. Don’t miss our next episode of REAL TIME when two CREA members discuss how REALTOR.ca is evolving into so much more than a listing site. Just make sure you subscribe to REAL TIME when Episode 25 drops, you’ll be there to catch it right away.
From shopping to working to dating and real estate our love affair with technology, it grows stronger by the day. I don’t have to tell you that. You don’t even have to be a futurist just realistic.
Sinead, what are some of the benefits of a society that is increasingly engaging, transacting, and communicating through technology? What are you seeing as the benefits of this?
Sinead: Our personal view of the world has expanded in many ways and in ways that we couldn’t have imagined or predicted. It has really minimized the idea of borders in some respects. We’ve shifted into a lot more efficiency in our day-to-day transactions.
The things that I like to point out, one being in the pandemic, for example, we all had to switch to a laptop or screen-based workforce and you’re only really seeing your colleagues in these little squares. At the same time, it was probably the first time many of us saw into the homes of our colleagues. We saw cats running across computer screens and children interrupting meetings. Those were often met with nothing but compassion and empathy and understanding. It became a lot easier to say, “I can’t schedule a meeting at this time. I have to do a pickup or whatever it is the case.”
We became a much more empathetic workforce in a much more compassionate and understanding workforce. In the same ways that we feel technology takes something innately human from us, in other ways it does the exact opposite. It really does open our doors in our windows to one another in ways that previously weren’t possible without technology.
Erin: That is a great point because previously if somebody said, “I’m sorry. I’ve got to pick up my daughter at daycare or whatever.” There might have been, admittedly or not a bit of an eye-roll, from somebody on the team. Now you can picture that little girl or you can see that employee as a parent who has responsibilities and you go, “Yes, okay. We’ll schedule this for later.” Whether we knew those barriers or whatever those preconceived notions were, they seem to have as you say fallen by the wayside as we open up to compassion. That really is a positive thing to focus on.
Sinead: I think so. I think the conversations around remote work and flexible work, these are incredibly important conversations for a variety of reasons but not least of which being inclusivity. Who are we excluding from the workforce simply because we incorrectly assumed they had to be there. We were probably excluding new parents, people with different physical needs, and accessibility needs, all of these sorts of communities. Even when it comes to building a more diverse workforce, a workforce that’s more reflective of society more broadly, that might not be available in your specific town. Now in a world of remote work, there are no more excuses.
We can truly hire and source from everywhere and we should be leaning into that. I think that it’s brought a lot of important conversations and not just because in some ways or sometimes it’s more comfortable to work from home. From a more inclusivity standpoint in a more progressive society, we don’t really have the excuse to exclude people anymore. We have fundamentally proven that that is a myth and it doesn’t exist. Everybody can join the workforce if we’re willing to accommodate.
Erin: Of course with every gift, there seems to be a risk, especially where we’re talking about technology. What are some of the risks? There’s a great vulnerability that is out there from a technological standpoint, is there not?
Sinead: Absolutely. With every technology there are risks. Especially in technologies like artificial intelligence, the way our data is being captured, the more things we do online, the more exposed we are and the more vulnerable we are. We’ve seen right now we exist in a world where our data is used in ways we don’t understand, in ways we don’t truly consent to, our personal information and our personal lifestyles are mined, refined, and sold. That has quite drastic impacts on society from multiple lens points or vantage points. Whether it’s national security, whether it’s just privacy, and the right to exist in private, all of that is being challenged by technology and not in a good way.
I would say when it comes to the risk with technology, I think I flag data almost immediately. Of course, things like workforce augmentation and automation, that is a very big risk. Not even just a risk, that’s something that we know is happening that we actively have to deal with. Then there are the things that are unforeseen. The ways technology will change the world that we haven’t really accounted for.
That’s also why everybody in some capacity needs to exercise some elements of being a futurist. Companies especially, governments especially how can we forecast in some ways how the world is going to change so we can minimize the risks as much as possible and we can be prepared as possible for what’s to come.
Erin: Up next, Sinead shares what we could be even should be embrace racing more for our workforce and in our social media lives.
Your go-to source for content is just one link away. REALTOR.ca Living Room features timely articles, inspiring design tutorials, and everything else you need to make your or your clients’ dream home a reality. A world of possibilities awaits at REALTOR.ca Living Room.
Now the rest of our chat with Sinead Bovell, our human guide to a digital future on REAL TIME. What digital opportunities are businesses not taking advantage of right now, Sinead? Can you think of any off the top of your head?
Sinead: There are a lot of different digital opportunities. I think businesses are still not fully embracing how digital technologies can shape their workforce for the better. We’re still seeing a bit of reluctance around things like remote work, but also where are your customers on these digital platforms that you are not taking advantage of?
We’re only now in the last five years, seeing companies step into social media and that become a non-negotiable, but the conversation is changing. Whether that’s augmented reality, and keeping up with how that world’s changing or worlds like the metaverse, it’s not as much that you have to suddenly be there, but you have to be leaning into it and preparing your business to make the leap should these technologies scale in the way that they’re forecasted to.
I think what we’ve seen with the pandemic, is technology isn’t going to wait. It was challenging for many, many companies to pivot and to adapt, but they didn’t have a choice. The companies that struggled the most probably would struggle the most over this next decade. They probably wouldn’t have survived or won’t survive the next decade as we see fit, so I would encourage everybody to lean into the world of technology and to take it seriously even if it sounds something out of a world of fantasy because that’s how we would’ve described technology, the technologies we used today, in decades ago.
Erin: Yes, absolutely. To wrap up here today, and we do thank you again so much for your time. If you could Sinead, share one tip to help our REALTOR® listeners thrive in a world transformed by technology, what do you think it would be?
Sinead: My one tip up and it’s actually very, very simple is to every month, every six weeks do a simple Google of how my industry, my role is being impacted by technology. How technology is changing the work that I do. You can get more specific, you can say how artificial intelligence is changing my role, but I would every month, every six weeks stay in the know, do the best you can to lean in and be prepared. Something as simple as a Google search, I think that has some great return on investment.
Erin: Wonderful advice. Again, we do thank you so much for your forward thinking, for your time, and for leaning in with us today, Sinead. Thanks so much.
Sinead: Thanks for having me. It’s been so great being a conversation with you, Erin.
Erin: Follow Sinead Bovell on all social media platforms or Sinead Bovell, that’s S-I-N-E-A-D-B-O-V-E-L-L.com. Her insight on everything happening now and in the future is well worth your time.
REAL TIME is proudly presented to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. Produced by Alphabet Creative and Real Family Productions. Rob Whitehead is our technical producer. I’m Erin Davis, inviting you to be sure and subscribe, so you don’t miss one of our inspiring, informative guests, wherever you download podcasts.
Next time, two members of CREA talk about the evolution of listing sites in Canada, how REALTOR.ca is evolving into so much more, plus the mechanics of Canadian real estate. Thank you so much for sharing this conversation with us, and we’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME.
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for and about Canadian REALTORS® brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association, one of this country’s largest single industry associations. I’m your host, Erin Davis.
Today it’s my pleasure to share with you an amazing chat with Hamza Khan, about what makes a leader. Hamza, as you’ll soon hear, knows where of he speaks. He’s a bestselling author, a teacher, an avid learner, and of course, a sought-after public speaker. Mr. Khan has two TEDx talks that I know you’re going to want to look for, especially after hearing our discussion. I can’t stop thinking about some of the things we talk about today. Active inertia, you stress, and how your social media are all about, give, give, give, and then ask.
Hamza Khan joins REAL TIME to talk about what it means to be a great leader as the workplace and workforce continue to evolve. What do employees look for in leadership? How can those in charge pivot to thrive in the future of work? What does that even look like? How can employees thrive to be seen as a leader in real estate? We’ve got a lot to cover. Buckle in and get set to take some mental notes from episode 23 of REAL TIME.
Thank you so much for joining us here, Hamza. We are so excited to be listening to you and chatting with you. You’re a celebrated thought leader who has spoken to hundreds of audiences globally about the future of work, and of course, you’ve written books on business resilience, even delivered a TEDx talk about the differences between management and leadership. Whew. All right. How did you get here? Tell us a bit about your journey.
Hamza Khan: Wow, wow, wow. First of all, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I’m really, really excited. A little bit about my journey, I began my career working in the education space, specifically within student affairs, both at the University of Toronto and at Ryerson University. Those experiences then set me down the path of entrepreneurship. I created a boutique digital marketing agency that worked primarily in the education space as well. I got to work with institutions outside of those two that I just named. Then that put the wind in my sales to start my current company, which is a soft skills training company known as SkillsCamp.
Throughout that journey I’ve been very fortunate to do a lot of public speaking, to write two books, and to do considerable research on the future of work where I’m now studying at Ryerson University. I’ve come full circle in a sense. I’m studying the future of work, specifically the relationship between organizational leadership and occupational burnout, really interesting stuff.
Erin: It is, it is, and you’ve never stopped learning, which it’s a great message right off the top too.
Hamza: Yes. Thank you, Erin. I would describe myself as a lifelong learner.
Erin: How about the time you were an intern at Sony? That is a fascinating little beginning as it were, and something that you saw that a lot of people didn’t.
Hamza: Yes, that was a really, really formative experience in my career. One of first jobs that I had while I was at university, studying at the University of Toronto, Scarborough in my fourth year, I got an internship at Sony Music that was supposed to only span three months. Now mind you, this was in 2007 at a very interesting time in our history. This was right before the 2008 financial crisis, and then at the same time, the music industry was going through considerable disruption.
I watched from the inside out as an intern, as a fly on the wall, as somebody who had access to all of the different conversations, as many as I could at the time, just hopping into meeting and talking to this person and that person, I got to watch from the inside as active inertia, the tendency to repeat tried and tested behaviors, even in response to dramatic environmental shifts. I watched how active inertia collapsed Sony Music entertainment.
This is a company that had to engage in layoff after layoff during the time that I was there, and what should have been a three-month internship ended up spanning for more than a year, Erin. Actually, my boss pulled me a set and said, “Hamza, I know you’re only here for three months, but you might want to stick around. This is going to be like a compressed MBA for you.”
It truly was because I got to see again how Sony music, but not just only Sony Music, the entire industry responded to these external forces of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, and it was a compressed MBA, an unforgettable rehearsal of the four stages of an organization’s evolution. Every organization is introduced, it grows, it matures, but then it has to decide, is it going to renew or decline? Unfortunately, and I hate to say it, Sony didn’t renew itself in time. They eventually did, but it was quite a turbulent journey. I consider myself very fortunate to have seen that from the inside and then taken those lessons with me throughout my career.
I think often about this quote from Jack Welch, the ex-CEO and chairman of General Electric, which interesting fact about them, they’re the only company from the 1917 Fortune list, which remains on the Fortune list today, the Fortune 500 list specifically. I think it’s because they’ve embodied the ethos that Jack put forward, which is, change before you have to. That’s rooted in another one of his quotes that I think about often. He said that if the rate of change on the outside of the organization exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is nearer.
Erin: As Jack Welch himself would say, prepare for when your leadership is challenged, and that really brings home the message that we’re talking about today. You’ve been quoted as saying that you sink to the level of training, preparation, and character with belief that another crisis will happen and more things will test you throughout your career. Can you explain what that means, sinking to the level of training, Hamza?
Hamza: That’s really interesting. I had a very vivid experience at the start of the pandemic. Like many people, I was afraid, I was spending time with my family, not sure how all of this was going to play out. My father, God bless him, a very hard worker, a very resilient man, but he was terrified at the start of the pandemic. Anxiety got the best of him and one night he suffered a panic attack, and thank God I was at home. I was able to see it and get him the necessary help. In that split second where I saw him fall on the ground and have a panic attack, which then led to a seizure, my mind went to a really dark place. It was an out of body experience. In the flash of a second I rehearsed my entire life experience with my father, every memory, good, bad that I’ve had with him just in the blink of an eye.
When I reflected on that experience afterwards, because suddenly in that moment, I remembered how to deal with somebody who was going through this, I remembered how to administer CPR, all of this training that I picked up throughout my life within the Canadian Armed Forces and courses that I’ve taken with the Red Cross just came back. I booted up a dormant program, if you will.
When I reflected on that experience, Erin, it reminded me of something that I talk about quite often, especially when I’m talking about burnout and stress. There’s something known as the amygdala hijack that happens to people when they’re overwhelmed by sudden and unexpected stress. A part of their brain known as the amygdala, a primitive part, overrides their prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that you and I are using right now. It’s used for high cognitive functions. It’s used for complex planning, creativity, so on and so forth.
When we are stressed in a sudden and unexpected way, like I was, when my father suffered his panics attack, the amygdala took over, it overrode, and in effect hijacked the prefrontal cortex and sent blood away from my brain, away from my prefrontal cortex towards my extremities. It got me prepared for fight, flight, or freeze. I learned in that moment something that I had been theorizing up until that point, which is when faced with a crisis like COVID or anything for that matter, a new competitor entering into the space, a conflict at work, whatever the case may be, a leader doesn’t actually rise to the occasion. That’s an optical illusion caused by other leaders falling back, and you sink to the level of your training and preparation, and your preparedness for that leadership moment depends on what happens in the moment, it depends on the days, weeks and years of planning and preparation that go into that.
Erin: Hamza Khan polishes his crystal ball and focuses on soft skills and what we can expect the next decade to bring. One thing that’s hard to predict is style, but you can stay on top of what’s new and now in everything from housing trends to design tutorials at REALTOR.ca/Living Room. Check it out for inspiring and entertaining articles always at REALTOR.ca. Now, back to Hamza Khan.
Hamza, your keynotes are grounded in preparing organizations to thrive in the future of work. What does that future look like?
Hamza: Excellent question, Erin. I appreciate you giving me the space, the platform to share these insights.
Erin: Are you kidding?
Hamza: Published a book.
Erin: We’re so glad to have you here. Honestly, this is amazing. Sorry, go ahead.
Hamza: Thank you. I’m getting a little emotional thinking about that experience with my father, because that served as the impetus for me to then write my second book, Leadership Reinvented, a book that I immediately started writing after reflecting on that experience, because I thought to myself, Wow, every leader in the world right now, government, nonprofit, or business leader, especially in the real estate world as well. Every leader who is being forced to contend with the increased volatility, complexity, and ambiguity caused by Covid-19, this is a reflection of who they truly are. The actions that they’re taking, the thoughts that they’re having, this is their true leadership disposition because they’ve all sank to the level of their training and preparation.
Anyways, that experience inspired me to write Leadership Reinvented which is about being distinctly human in the future of work, of leaning into the things that can’t be easily distilled down to binary code. The things that can’t be reduced to ones and zeros. I believe that in the future of work, the things that are going to be done by human beings are going to be those that can’t be done by machines.
The future of work, like I said, looks distinctly human. By 2030, Deloitte estimates that 70% of the workforce as we know it, will be disrupted by technology. Advances in automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, you name it. Like I said, what’s left will be the jobs that can only be done by humans and those jobs will require the soft skills, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking. To anyone listening to this, get bullish on the soft skills because by 2030, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be forced to rethink your entire career game plan. I promise you that what’s going to be left are going to be the things that make you, you. The things that make us human.
Erin: The job of leaders is going to be, if I understand your message correctly, taking care of their people, enhancing the human resistance to creating leaders.
Hamza: Amen. Absolutely. Couldn’t have said it better.
Erin: You did say it. I’ve read your stuff. You’ve also said something that stuck with me from the jump, and it should be a meme, it should be a t-shirt. It should be on everybody’s desk, if we have desks. You can’t always make the right decision but.
Hamza: You can make a decision and then make it right. Story of my life.
Erin: That’s beautiful because it encompasses forgiveness, forgiveness of ourselves, for others to look at us and see the humanity but can we delve into that a little bit deeper please, Hamza.
Hamza: Yes, certainly. We can’t always make the right decision but we can make decisions and then make them right. Especially when we’re talking about the future of work and being prepared for those leadership moments, the key is to just keep on moving. Keep moving forward and keep striving to reach that forth point in the evolution of an organization and have the necessary training and preparation, so that when you are faced with the turbulence, the stress of that decision, the decision between renewal and declining that you default, you sink to the level of training and preparation that results in you automatically engaging in the behavior that will lead to the organization renewing itself.
It’s a messy process. We can’t get it right. You can plan as much as you want. You can forecast as much as you want. At the end of the day, it’s still you, it’s still your colleagues. It’s still the organization that has to go through the process and take the actions and you’re going to misstep along the way but that’s part of the process, that’s part of the journey.
Erin: I think the time in this case though, time is seen as a luxury when it comes to making things right that perhaps was not the right decision to begin with. You’ve got to be given that time. It’s a necessity and not a luxury.
Hamza: Well said, and I think it was Boston Consulting Group who said that changes that were planned over the next five years will need to be made in the next two. That’s how much time is being compressed according to them as a result of the pandemic. Every organization, entrepreneur included, sole proprietor, somebody listening to this who might just be an agent of one, running a one-person operation, that includes them too. They’re going to have to change faster than they think. We don’t have as much time as we thought.
Erin: Why is it compressed?
Hamza: I think a whole host of factors. Again, I keep on coming back to that acronym that I learned when I was in the Canadian Armed Forces as a way to describe our external environment. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, VUCA. If I had to break them down even further, the more volatile the environment, the faster and further conditions change. The more uncertain environment, the hard it is to forecast, the more complex the environment, the harder it is to analyze and the more ambiguous the environment, the harder things are to decipher.
Another way to think about VUCA, those four forces, is as entropy. It’s essentially a law of the universe that things that are unattended to get worse over time. If anybody listening to this is engaged in avoidance, if they’re ducking and cowering and thinking that the external environment will reset to a more comfortable time, I think they’re in for a rude awakening. Like I said, if left unchecked, disorder and randomness tends to increase over time. Let’s just put it this way, Erin. Chaos is hungry for failing organizations, failing professionals and it thrives when people are unprepared.
Erin: That’s chilling, and undoubtedly dead on. We’ll be back in a moment with leadership speaker, author, educator and so much more, Hamza Khan imagining the world a new and envisioning fresh ways to work.
Celebrate two years of REAL TIME with us by revisiting some of our most popular episodes from these two seasons. We’ve talked about design ideas, social issues that affect us all no matter where we live, living green and plenty of great ideas on how to get your message out. Hamza discusses that a bit later too. Catch them all and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss one episode of REAL TIME.
Other than the entropy that we’ve talked about, what work related trends are we seeing as a result of the pandemic? Let’s get positive here because there have been a lot of good things that have come out of this as we now have two years in the rearview mirror. Let’s look at that and what you think is or are likely to stick.
Hamza: Yes, and I appreciate you shifting us in this direction because I think, especially given the focus of my research, it tends to focus on the consequences of inaction. It tends to focus on the people and the organizations who aren’t moving fast enough, but you’re absolutely right. There’s so much to be gained by this. I often think about a quote from a poet by the name of Arundhati Roy who wrote at the start of the pandemic.
She wrote, historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. I love that quote because it gives everyone, yourself and myself included, the permission to innovate, the permission to see new ways of working. Your question is a really good one. What work related trends are we seeing as a result of the pandemic and what’s likely to stick?
I think the big ones, Erin, are permanent working from home arrangements as well as hybrid work arrangements. Those two things we have demonstrated over the last two and a half years almost, not only can people be productive while working from home and having flexible work arrangements but in most cases, I would say, they can be more productive. That I think is going to stick, it’s going to be left to the leaders to figure out how to do so in a way that also respects the need for collaboration, for the serendipity that comes from being in a physical workspace.
There’s benefits to all three of those styles in-office, hybrid, and working from home. I think in the prevailing paradigm of work, working from home and hybrid work arrangements were the exception to the rule. That’s perhaps the biggest one that I think we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic and what’s likely to stick.
We’re also seeing this final sweep of digitization. Any industry that hasn’t been touched by digital disruption, to be honest, every other industry I can think of has gone through it, beginning with the entertainment industry back in 2007.
I think the final bastion of change is traditional education, a space that I’m intimately familiar with, that I currently work in. To a certain extent I would also say the real estate industry has a couple of elements that require digitization but I think it’s already happened as a result of the pandemic. I’m not too worried about that. We’re also seeing an increase in uptake in gig work and side hustles. More people are getting into the industry. More people are adding on different components to their portfolio of work which is really great.
The one that gets me really happy or the two that get me really happy, Erin, are a reprioritization of well-being at all levels. I get really happy about that. People taking the time, taking the opportunity to step back and reflect on where the imbalance in their life occurs or maybe present and thinking about well-being in a more holistic way. Not just physical well-being but also mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. That’s been really cool to see.
Then, I also think that we’re seeing a great leadership reinvention. Every leader in the world right now, myself included, is taking a hard look at their assumptions about leadership, their leadership style and are thinking about ways to be more human-centric.
What’s likely to stick from everything that I just listed right now will be everything except the great leadership reinvention but not if we can help it and that’s why we got to get this podcast out to as many listeners as possible.
Erin: The great leadership reinvention. What do you mean by that? Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Hamza: Sure, sure, sure. There’s so much over here but I’ll try to keep it succinct because I could go on for like five hours about just this topic alone.
Erin: We could listen, trust me.
Hamza: You think about the old way of leading or like the old playbook. It was rooted in what was known as the Theory X style of management. This was advanced by Douglas McGregor, a professor from MIT. In the Theory X style of management, the leader assumes that the employees are lazy, that they want to avoid work, that they need to be micromanaged. This is how some leaders thought about their employee at the start of the pandemic.
What was true was that younger and younger generations, certainly my generation, Gen Y, and I know this to be true for all of the students that I teach as well in Gen Z, that they require a Theory Y style of management, which isn’t really management at all. It’s actually just being led. It’s assuming that these people are adults. They’re perfectly capable of managing themselves. They have the best of intentions. They’re creative, they’re self-reliant, they’re resourceful, et cetera, et cetera.
In the words of Admiral Grace Murray Hooper, you manage things and you lead people. The great leadership reinvention is going to see people shift away and just abandon the Theory X style altogether, unless you’re dealing with a problematic employee in which case you might have to step in and micromanage a little bit over here but I would contend that it’s also the leader’s responsibility to see to it that those employees are phased out of the organization. I’m a big believer that there’s no such thing as bad employees, there’s only bad leaders. I will be the first to say that as somebody who has been a bad leader in the past and is actively working to be a good one.
The great leadership reinvention is ultimately about four qualities, of leaders becoming more human-centric. That’s prioritizing people over everything. It’s about them being changed friendly, making innovation a priority. It’s about becoming values-driven and Gallup has shown this time and again that what employees want out of the workplace more than money, more than titles is they want purpose, they want meaning, they want engagement. I think that being a values-driven leader is really important and that can go into a whole other area of study which is the Theory Z style of management. I’m not sure we have enough time for that one.
I gave you human-centric, change-friendly, values-driven and the last one is self-disrupting. This goes back to the quote that I shared earlier from Jack Welch which is, change before you have to. All of the organizations and the people listening to this podcast who were shocked by Covid-19, this is a wakeup call for us, that this event can happen. It can stress us out, it can disrupt our business. Let’s use this as the impetus to start disrupting ourselves well in advance of whatever that next disruption may be.
Erin: You’ve also talked about embracing the flexibility. It was birthed through necessity totally like so many great things. Now can you put that genie back in the bottle once people have said what I really hate that commute in the morning or I’m enjoying having this melded life, this balance of home and work? Now, of course, with real estate and REALTORS®, you can’t do everything virtually, but can that flex be flexed even more in the future as we head through that great gateway as you quoted the poet earlier?
Hamza: This is going to be tricky. I think about this all the time as somebody who does a lot of solo work. I’m studying right now attachment theory and it’s talking about how at the end of the day we are social creatures, we need each other’s company, we need to be with people that we like including our coworkers. The research is showing that this is a great way to reduce our stress, to reduce cortisol, and to produce oxytocin, the bonding chemical that has tremendous benefits for us just on a biochemical level alone. Being around other people, engaging with customers, with clients, with colleagues, with managers, it’s really important.
I think that Zoom and Microsoft Teams and other virtual communication technology that we’ve used, Slack, Discord, whatever you may be using over here, was a good holdover. It has shown us that we can maintain relationships. We can continue to do work, if needed, virtually but where possible we should find ways to incentivize employees and teams to come together in-person. I think the onus is on leaders and I would also encourage leaders to include their subordinates in the decision-making process with the question of how can we make our shared workspaces more conducive to productivity and collaboration?
I think you’ll be surprised by the answers that you get. Like where I’m recording this podcast right now, I can look out and I can see an office building right beside my home here and it’s empty. It’s empty at the time of recording and I think that’s largely because if I look inside all of these windows, I see a very boring space. It’s cubicles. In a strange way, Erin, cubicles reinforce isolated work.
Can we reimagine what a shared workspace looks like? Maybe it’s hot desks, maybe it’s an eclectic combination of seating and standing arrangements. Maybe it’s something that’s conducive to bumping into people. It allows for the kinetic energy that comes from when the right people, the right engaged people are in a shared space together. Maybe leaders need to think about intentional ways to bring people back to the office. For theme days.
Maybe they can say, if you’re coming back to the office two to three times a week, and let’s say that that’s your prerogative, on Wednesdays from this time to this time, we put our computers away and we all meet up in the boardroom or we all meet up in this creative space and we do some innovation exercises. We try to imagine what sort of organization would disrupt this one and we try to emulate attributes of that organization. There’s so many possibilities.
We sometimes focus on all of the things that we’ve gained from working from home but I would encourage everyone listening to this podcast to also think of the things that you’ve lost. Trust me, one of the things that we have lost is people and being in an environment where the magic that comes from people seeing each other and not being mediated by the screen is possible.
Erin: When Hamza Khan returns, sharing the lessons he teaches about social media, this is so good.
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We return now to our enlightening and fascinating talk with educator, speaker, author, and leadership expert, Hamza Khan.
Part of what we are embracing now is of course, the myriad ways that we can get our messages out, whether it’s TikTok, Insta, Facebook, all of these different platforms. How important is it for people to be using these keys in order to reach the audience? What do you put out there? You have a pretty good formula as to the give and ask that’s really important for people to hear.
Hamza: One thing I should mention is that I’m also an educator teaching at Ryerson University and prior to that, I was one of the founding members of Seneca College’s social media certificate program, which was the first in the country and I’m really proud of that. I teach social media classes. It’s a really interesting class because it transcends the technology itself and it has less to do with the individual platforms like Instagram and TikTok and more to do with branding, marketing, and communications as disciplines.
I assure all of the students, and I want to give the same assurance to all the listeners today, that being effective online in terms of branding yourself, in terms of using social media to get your business out there comes down to these four words. Do things, tell people. It’s really that simple. Do things, tell people and you’re already doing incredible things. The business that you’re running, the sales that you’re making, the testimonials that you’re acquiring, the connections that you’re fostering, the events that you’re volunteering at, your presence in the community, you’re doing these things but now you have to let people know because this is where our market has gone.
At least for the last 10 years, certainly I would argue even longer than that, there’s been a gradual shift to people living their life offline to living it online to the extent that now we’re having conversations about we’re going to go fully online with the metaverse. I don’t know how we’re going to eat in the metaverse. I think we’re going to have to come back out of our virtual reality from time to time to perform some very basic bodily functions, if you will. The point remains that the audience’s expectations and behaviors have shifted to spend increasingly more time online.
The last time I checked, Gen Z is spending something 15 to 17 hours a day connected to the internet. This is where our audience is. If this is where our future customers are going to be, then the onus is on us to present ourselves in a way that is memorable. That we’re top of mind when it comes to this generation. I would include myself as well in that to make decisions about buying a home, about renting, whatever the case may be, about getting mortgage, all of that.
There’s a couple of things that you can do to create an effective personal brand online, again, and they all fall within the do things, tell people model. The first thing that you can do is share testimonials that you’re getting from the different clients that you’re working with. Ask for them. If you’ve done a really good job with a particular client, ask them to write you a Google review. That’ll go long way towards increasing your searchability. You can also take that Google review and turn it into an Instagram quote and share that. You could also perhaps even record them if they’d like talking about what it is that you did for them and how hands-on you were and what the experience of working with you is like and that can serve as some social proof that you can broadcast across your social media.
You can then also ask for warm introductions via social media. I’ve seen a couple of REALTORS® do an exceptional job of giving resources and information generously. I’m in the process right now of buying a home. I’m working right now with a REALTOR® who I followed for a number of years and didn’t do any business with but they were so great in terms of providing education.
What’s the word I want to say? I don’t want to say it was easy because as a social media user and a content creator myself, I know how much work goes into this but they seem to have found their groove with producing their Monday tips and providing eBooks that I can download. A whole manner of things. Do that. I would say, what should govern all of this, the sharing of testimonials, asking for warm introductions, giving resources and information generously, just be a mensch. Try to be helpful, try to be useful to your community. You give, give, give and then you can make that ask. I think a lot of people make the mistake of jumping onto social media, creating a website and making the ask right away, but you actually have to earn the trust of your audience first. I think that this real estate agent did a phenomenal job of earning my trust over years of nurturing me in their funnel.
Erin: That’s amazing. Build the bond without necessarily being on topic but on brand. Playing the long game, it is a long haul.
Hamza: Playing the long game. Actually, earlier today, Erin, I was looking at another one of my friends who is running a fantastic real estate account on Instagram. They were talking about their experiences of going through a pregnancy. You might think listening to this, what does being pregnant and sharing that have to do with my business? Well, it creates a bond. It humanizes you. It makes your story very compelling.
In 1927, a doctor by the name of Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik advances a theory known as the Zeigarnik effect that states that humans are irritated by unfinished tasks. I think that this can also apply to social media. If I’m invested in your story, I’m more likely to continue to follow your story until it reaches its resolution. By simply engaging with one piece of your content, that’s all I need, if I just for the first time see your post about you going through your motherhood journey, I want to know what’s going to happen next because I’m invested at a subconscious level. I want to see this through until the child is born, but then I’m not going to stop at the child anymore. I actually want to follow through the child’s evolution and development.
Throughout that entire process of you sharing, you can definitely weave in elements about your work. Even if you don’t want to talk about your work at all, if I’m curious enough, I will actually click on your bio and then I’ll see, oh, wow, you’re an agent. If I go on your website, you’re offering this webinar series that I can attend. Fantastic. It’s free of charge. Next thing you know, something will click. I’m looking for an open house and then I remember what’s top of mind for me is that you shared on your Instagram story or on TikTok that there’s an open house coming up this Saturday. That’s how the new sales funnel looks like in this digital world.
Erin: As my mentor, Valerie Geller, who is an amazing broadcast journalist and teacher of broadcasters, just this tidbit is, be personal but not private. There is a line in there and it’s brilliant.
Hamza: Be personal, not private. I love that.
Erin: She’s great. Is there a telltale sign in the online world, Hamza, that tells you, that’s a good leader?
Hamza: That’s tough because it really depends. I’m thinking about this especially in the context of like some of the listeners of this podcast are sole proprietors, others are organizational leaders and especially online, trust, leadership, and authority are tightly grouped together. Be ridiculously helpful. I can’t stress that enough. I think that everyone, regardless of what you do for a living, if you strive to be genuinely helpful, that is going to take care of all of your other success metrics, because the natural byproduct of being ridiculously helpful is all of the success that comes with it. I would advocate that the best leaders that I see out there are ones who are genuinely helpful and actively helpful for that matter.
Erin: You’ve said that there are two kinds of marketers, pull marketing and push marketing. Can you tell us what that’s about?
Hamza: Yes, sure. The push marketers, you know them, and you’ve probably unsubscribed from their newsletters and you’ve probably muted them on social media. They’re annoying. They’re in your face. They’re human popups, if you will. God bless them. They’re trying their best, I understand. But maybe if you are a push marketer listening to this, let me tell you very respectfully that you might be annoying your audience.
What you want to do instead is become a pull marketer. Again, provide value. Solve a problem for your audience. Help them do something better, faster or cheaper. At the very least, help them do something better, faster, cheaper. If you do this enough, if you do it consistently, if you do it actively, and if you do it with good intentions, eventually what’s going to happen is you are going to pull people towards you. You are going to be top of mind for them. You are going to be unforgettable.
I’m a very good example of this. The agent that I defaulted to when it came time for me to make the decision about who I want to work with to go through this process of buying a home was the one who earned my attention over this long funnel. I was pulled to them. They didn’t have to push their services to me, they pulled me into their orbit.
Erin: Excellent. Now how can sole proprietors, Hamza, like many of our REALTOR® listeners strive to be seen as leaders in their field? I know you’ve been reading a really good book that has this acting as if sort of an underlying theory here. Have you got anything out of that that you can share with us?
Hamza: Winning by Tim Grover. What a book. It’s quite an intense read, I must say. Again, I feel like a broken record over here, but think it’s worth repeating over and over again, but you just have to be useful. You have to give, and that’s how you’re seen as a leader. It’s very clear to your audience that you are helping other people. Unabashedly share those testimonials that I alluded to earlier. Capture them and share them.
Like I said, if you’ve done a great sale, if somebody is happy with your level of service and you’re working with them, make that known to your followers. It’s a feel-good story. It’ll impress people and it’ll create the narrative in their minds that you are somebody who is helpful, who can get the job done, who is effective, who is again, human-centric, has all the values that we’ve been talking about throughout this entire discussion that we’ve been having so far.
Act like the sort of person that you would want to work with. Act like the sort of person that you would do business with. Act as if you are already this successful business owner, this business person, this REALTOR®, whatever you may be right now. Act as the best version of yourself and conduct yourself accordingly online and the rest will take care of itself, I promise you.
Erin: Our final segment with Hamza Khan is next. We’re going to talk about stress. Guess what? There is a good kind, and he’s going to share that insight and wisdom with us in just a moment.
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Now, as we’ve discussed, real estate runs on an entrepreneurial spirit and certainly, so do you, so tell us, how do you stay grounded and healthy and avoid burnout, Hamza?
Hamza: That’s a great question. There’s something that’s very helpful in the conceptualization of burnout known as the conservation of resources theory. We experience stress typically in three instances. The first one, when there’s a threat of a loss of resources, the second one, there is an actual net loss of resources and the third one, there’s a lack of gained resources following the spending of resources. I’m not just talking about money, I’m also talking about time, energy, and attention.
It’s really important for entrepreneurs and people with an entrepreneurial spirit to do two things. There’s so many I can give you, but I think the chief among them are to assemble boundaries and to guard your precious resources, to guard your time, to guard your energy, to guard your attention. One way to guard your time, for instance, is by putting non-negotiables in your calendar.
Let’s say that it’s really important for you to replenish your energy by working out in the day. Well, don’t leave that to chance. Don’t let it be something that is occasional. Make it likely. Make it consistent. Put it in your calendar every morning from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM, I’m going to work out. Fantastic. If you find yourself consistently pushing off lunches, well, put them in your calendar the same way that you would reflect a meeting in your calendar or a showing in your calendar. Put in from 12:00 to 1:00 every single day I’m going to eat lunch and I’m not going to do any work while I’m eating lunch, because that’s just working while eating.
Assemble those boundaries against your precious resources, number one. That also includes your attention. Being very intentional, for instance, about turning off notifications, maybe using some app, like I use the Pomodoro technique to guide how I work. I work in 25-minute bursts with five-minute breaks.
The second part of the solution that I would advocate for entrepreneurs, and those who are entrepreneurially spirited is a guilt-free replenishment of your energy. Imagine that every day you start your day with four full buckets of energy and you have the mental bucket, the emotional bucket, the physical bucket, and the spiritual bucket, and you empty these buckets as the days’ tasks require.
Now, most people wait until the end of the day to maybe sit down with a warm meal and watch something on TV and replenish their energy, but they never quite get all of their energy back. They go to sleep waking up the next day feeling groggy. The year that I burned out in 2014, I didn’t take a single break for 11 months and I hoped that I could take this miraculous trip around the world in December of 2014 and recover. Unfortunately, I burned out in the process. I learned the hard way that if you don’t pick the time to relax, your body will pick it for you and it usually picks the most inopportune time.
Replenish your energy on a daily basis, ideally throughout the day, if you can. If you have the opportunity in the middle of the day, if you’re big on naps and you can take a nap, take a nap. If you have the opportunity to drop your kids to school and that replenishes your energy, build that into your calendar, make that non-negotiable. Guilt-free replenishment of your energy, I would argue, is part your job. It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s not an augment. It is essential to the work that you do.
Erin: I love that. It’s permission. Thank you. Then there’s your idea of reconceptualizing bad stress as good stress?
Hamza: Yes, yes, yes. I thought, like many of the listeners, that there’s only one kind of stress, distress, and that is stress that causes trouble, danger, feelings of alarm. I learned, after I had burned out in 2014, that there was such a thing as good stress, eustress, E-U-S-T-R-E-S-S. This is stress that is helpful, plentiful, is a precursor to something more desirable.
Research out of Stanford by Dr. Kelly McGonigal who wrote The Upside of Stress, a fantastic book, by the way. She revealed through her research that simply reframing a stressful experience as one that produces eustress instead of distress is enough to change your reaction, your body’s reaction to that stressor. You actually register that stressor as less stressful.
I actually did this quite recently too. I’m in a master’s class right now and I thought to myself, “Oh, man. I don’t want to do this. It’s a huge drag on my time. I don’t feel quite ready for this.” I found myself going into a mental spiral. Then I took a step back and said, “Well, this is actually a precursor to something more desirable, I want to continue to develop my understanding of this subject matter. I want to become more adept at the work that I do. So, this is necessary for me, this is the thing I got to do to get to do the thing that I want to do.”
I know that many of the listeners right now feel that way about a lot of their portfolio, there’s things that you don’t like to do right now that are causing you psychological stress. Coming back to the conservation of resources theory, you might be perceiving it as a threat, a net loss, or an insufficient reward. I promise you, if you drop a T-chart, and in one column you write down distress and the other you write down eustress as the labels, and then you just move things from one column to another, there’s a very, very good chance that the things that you are perceiving to be stressful right now, for example, let’s say updating listings, you think, “Wow, I don’t have the time for that right now. It’s really stressful.” If you see this as important to building your book, to meeting your targets, and then you take it a step further, what is the transcendent end result of doing this work? Well, I get to have all the things that I want and enjoy them with my family. I promise you that you will actually process that stressor quite differently.
Erin: That’s amazing. As we end, could you – there’s just been so much. You have filled our buckets again and again here, Hamza. If you could share one last tip to help our listeners become stronger leaders, what would it be?
Hamza: Okay. Ready for this one?
Erin: I am.
Hamza: As counterintuitive as it sounds, be more human.
Erin: Be more human. Is there any way you can elaborate on that at all?
Hamza: Absolutely. Coming back to an earlier question that you asked about what the future of work looks like, I think that, again, everything that can be automated will be automated. By the year 2030, we are going to find ourselves in a very, very different epoch of work than the one we are in right now. The most effective leaders, the ones who are able to attract and retain and engage top talent, the most effective entrepreneurs, those who are able to compel others to work with them, the most happy people are going to be those who have made considerable investments in their humanity.
These are people who have gotten bullish on soft skills, they’re creative, they’re empathetic, they’re emotionally intelligent, they’re collaborative. Again, the jobs that we’re going to do in the future of work are going to be those that can’t be done by the machines or can’t be easily done by them. You just have to extrapolate a little into the future, not that far, just 2030, those jobs are going to be distinctly human. That is what is going to remain at the end of the day.
In the words of futurist Alvin Toffler, I think about this quite often, he said that the illiterate of the 21st century won’t be those who can’t read and write, it’ll be those who can’t learn, unlearn, and relearn. Mental dexterity, flexibility is another fantastic skill to invest in that’ll allow everybody listening to this to be prepared for when the next change comes and to continue to change themselves and arrive at that fourth stage of the organization’s evolution, and renew every single time. In this way, you cross the chasm of time, time and again.
Erin: Thank you so much for the time you’ve spent with us today, you went past your Pomodoro rule of 25 minutes. We are so, so grateful to you, Hamza, it’s been a pleasure and all the best to you in the future. Thank you for helping us with ours.
Hamza: Thank you so much, Erin. I really, really appreciated this.
Erin: We appreciate you listening and joining us for this 23rd episode of REAL TIME from the Canadian Real Estate Association. We know your time is precious, and thank you for spending some of it with us.
On our next episode, we’ll keep our eyes on the road ahead with an expert on AI and the future of work, Sinead Bovell. You’re not going to want to miss it, so be sure and hit that subscribe button.
REAL TIME is produced by Rob Whitehead with Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis, and we’ll talk to you here next time on REAL TIME.