Q&A with Ali Sajwani, General Manager of Operations at DAMAC Properties
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected you and your organisation?
The pandemic has significantly impacted the way businesses and organisations operate across various industries, but we were quick to realise that it was an opportunity for us to reimagine how we conducted business.
While some sectors can easily transition to a remote working setup, it was more challenging for real estate as the nature of the business is inherently personal. Our clients would need to see the physical space and interact with our agents before sealing a deal.
To work around this, we made use of all the tools at our disposal to find an integrated yet secure way of working that kept employees connected and clients engaged.
What changes did you bring about at your organisation?
When the pandemic hit, we had to take the call to quickly enable our team of 300 agents to work remotely. One of the first things we focused on was to ensure that all our apps could be accessed and used securely from our homes, while still integrating effortlessly with the necessary systems and tools. We started this process as early as February 2020, mobilising 1,500 users for remote work.
Another critical aspect was security, for which we integrated a single-sign-on (SSO) solution to make it possible to access sensitive data securely.
We also integrated online call facilities for our clients that enabled them to schedule appointments and property viewings or complete transactions through our website.
Did you also initiate anything new that has changed the way you work?
For our agents, we built a new app that allows them to book spaces for viewings, schedule bookings and set up payment plans. The app also provides agents complete access to client data, which has enabled them stay productive on the go.
We also developed a new 3D visualisation tool for our customers on our website. It helps them customise their apartments and visualise how their future home would look like before buying the property. The data received from this tool is then analysed to help us understand customer needs and requirements.
How can companies optimise their response during the crisis?
The key to handling a crisis is preparation, agility and a willingness to implement good ideas. In the longer term, businesses should validate their strategic vision and tailor work processes to accommodate unexpected changes like the ones we are currently experiencing. To stay on track, data-driven approaches appear to be most successful, and I believe AI and automation have a big role to play in this.
What next for DAMAC on the work front?
We believe that the digital transformation (DT) journey will continue at DAMAC. We will continue to expand our use of machine learning to help us find the information we need immediately, across all areas of the business. Subsequently, we will focus on data quality, as well as accessibility.
Before COVID-19, 5% of our agents were comfortable handling virtual calls, now 85% are on board. The pandemic has changed not only the tools we work with but also the mindsets of people, and provided the impetus for employees to try new ways of working.