How the Corcoran team revamped their website while working across four continents
While digital transformation has forever changed the way we get a ride, have a meeting, and watch movies, other experiences like buying a home have been considered too important to do through a screen. Until now.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many remaining industries around the world to fundamentally change the way they conduct business. Deciding to move into a new living space requires great trust and emotional connection. It’s a major financial event, and walking through rooms, touching countertops, and seeing water run with one’s own eyes are essential factors before handing over a down payment. But the pandemic is making this ritual impossible.
According to The New York Times, the number of listings including a video walk-through doubled from March 15 to 30—up to nearly 2,000 listings—compared to the beginning of the year. Now more than ever, the industry is relying on immersive digital experiences to get property hunters to commit.
The Corcoran Group, which has invested in their digital products for over twenty years, just revamped their flagship site, Corcoran.com. Using the vast amount of user research and sales data they’ve collected over the years, they were able to create a fun, captivating product that fits the needs of both their customers and sales agents. The proof is in the metrics: they increased engagement by 152% and lead conversions by 87%.
While these numbers are great, they’re a testament to the benefits design thinking has not only on products, but on teams and entire organizations. For Janko Bazhdavela, the then vice president of product and engineering in charge of the overhaul (he recently left Corcoran for another opportunity), product innovations could not occur if internal processes remained the same. According to Janko, “Sometimes improving the processes themselves can improve the outcomes of the company quite a lot— even more than having cool new features.”
Involve the whole team in the design process from the beginning
Janko brought together his core team of designers, engineers, project managers and quality assurance as close to the start of the project as possible to make sure everyone was aligned on the goals for the overhaul. But he also knew that in order to create the best experience possible, he didn’t want to limit ideation to his team alone, so he opened it up to everyone at Corcoran.
A common challenge most product design teams face when everyone gets involved is consensus around exactly what problems they’re solving for. In order to best facilitate a close connection to Corcoran’s audience and their problems, Janko instituted something he calls Empathy Hour, where the whole team reviews their user research. This method was highly effective in understanding who their customer is and what they want, leading to unexpected breakthroughs from employees that don’t even work on product. In fact, they’re currently prototyping a new idea that came from their general counsel.
Empathy Hour unified the team around the same North Star: the customers’ experience. There was minimal top-down direction from executives because the team was able to clearly connect the value of their work to the needs of the user.
Ensure your tech stack naturally fosters collaboration
Janko also knew that a team was only as strong as its toolset. For this project, he needed a software stack that would accommodate a highly-complex process with multiple stakeholders. After evaluating different tools, they decided on InVision for collaborating on prototypes as well as managing their design system, since it easily integrates with Sketch, and has cross-functional collaboration built into its DNA.
Building a design system from scratch is a major undertaking. InVision DSM helps you start from best practices.
Assess how your team can spread expertise
Janko used this project as an opportunity to rethink how his team functioned. The team is spread across eight time zones, so they needed a way to democratically engage all the different players—sometimes asynchronously. The solution was Freehand, InVision’s virtual whiteboard. It acted as a homebase in the Cloud for brainstorming across continents and mapping out the site’s new architecture.
The hybrid nature of the team didn’t just present logistical challenges, but cultural ones, too. At first, Janko tried to bring everyone under a single shared culture, but this quickly proved futile. He recognized that the variety of cultural backgrounds is a collective strength. For example, team members who came from regions with cultures that valued outspokenness often symbolized the importance of raising risks and identifying issues early on in the process. And those who were more culturally strict about timelines taught others the business importance of staying committed. The cultural blend brought different work philosophies to light, and exemplified how combined they create a dynamic team culture that serves both individual and business needs.
Though digital transformation has been a long time coming for real estate, teams like Janko’s show the tremendous opportunity organizations have when they think beyond what has always worked in the past. And that the future of real estate—and now all businesses—aren’t defined by “location, location, location,” but innovation.