Even with the pandemic’s upheaval, Amy Bakula, a relocation manager at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England / New York / Hudson Valley Properties, always felt secure the real estate company’s leaders would navigate through the uncertainty to what would surely be a vastly changed workplace.
“We never felt we were just out there floating,” Bakula, who has worked for the company for 25 years, starting as an administrative assistant, said. “We have to do business a little differently but I love how we are still able to make things work. Whatever is thrown at us, we know we are going to get through it. “
A strong sense of innovation rooted in employee empowerment fostered with a culture committed to diversity and inclusion is part of what made the company the winner this year in the Hartford Courant Top Workplaces 2022 survey in the large employer division.
The Wallingford-based company placed at the top in its category for the third straight year. It also won the same award in 2018.
Candace Adams, the company’s president and chief executive, said Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ culture is built on a foundation of listening to employees and empowering them to make decisions. Training and mentoring also are crucial to building a cohesive, successful workplace environment, even one where many more people are working from home, Adams said.
“If you empower them and there’s a difference between ‘I have to go to work today’ or ‘I want to go to work,’ Adams said. “And I want to go there because this is exciting what’s happening at work, and we’re all enthused. That’s what we have here. “
Bakula said she does not feel micromanaged in her job that involves people moving in and out of Connecticut – and securing the connections to make that happen.
“I own what happens, what’s positive, what’s negative,” Bakula said. “I am able to influence that, make decisions on my own and I’m just allowed to grow and know I don’t have to check with someone to make a decision.”
Bakula said she can be creative in her decisions with the knowledge she has the support – and guidance, if needed – from her bosses.
The residential real estate business is coming off a frenzied couple of years of buying and selling homes, touched off by the pandemic. The market is now cooling a bit with few houses on the market and interest rates rising. Sale prices are not rising as rapidly as they were a year ago, but multiple offers are still common, maybe, say 4 but not 20.
In the past year, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England / New York / Hudson Valley was ranked at the top of 33 Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices companies nationwide for how diversity and inclusion is integrated in its culture, based on a survey of employees.
Adams said the company has a diversity and inclusion council that meets monthly. The council strives to educate on being accepting and open-minded, looking for diversity and celebrating it, whether race, religion or sexual orientation or identity.
Workers “like having an environment that no matter what you think or what you do, you’re accepted,” Adams said. “It doesn’t mean that there aren’t expectations for performance. You have to do your job. You have to be professional. Be the best you can be, and that’s the expectation we set, but you can be the best you can for who you are. “
Adams said diversity and inclusion is a highly personal one for her because her grandchildren are biracial.
The company said it registered a 50% increase in minority employees hired between 2020 and 2021, the latest figures available. There also was a 39% rise in the minority real estate agents hired in the same period, according to the company.
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Adams said the pandemic has brought significant changes to the real estate business, particularly that far fewer agents and brokers come into the office.
“So, unless we organize a meeting, they’re not there,” Adams said. “I used to be able to go into offices and see 15-20 people, now there’s 2.”
Adams said she made the decision in the last six months to consolidate the Berkshire Hathaway offices in Wethersfield and Newington into an office in Berlin.
“We’ll continue to do that in some markets, if the market is suited to that,” Adams said.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has a long tradition of work-life balance, but the pandemic has added more flexibility to work schedules at the company, Adams said.
“I think the most notable change is that we have more flexibility about ‘Perhaps I want to work from home on Thursday and we say,’ Ok, ‘which we might not have three years ago.”
Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at [email protected]