William Raveis

Agents at the William Raveis office in Avon gather in the break room after their monthly staff meeting. (Dan Haar / Hartford Courant / August 15, 2012)

At William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage & Insurance, social media and other digital tools are in heavy use, helping agents with organization and promotion and improving the firm's success in the market and their employees' satisfaction.

The Shelton-based firm is the Courant/Fox CT Top Workplaces 2012 winner in the large employers category for the second consecutive year. It has been praised, by its employees and through national awards, as one of the most innovative real estate firms.

"This is the third real estate brokerage that I have worked at during my career, and it is by far the most innovative in training, technology and staying ahead of the competition," one agent wrote in the survey by Workplace Dynamics.

The survey prompted employees to answer questions and complete sentences including this one: 'I love my job because ... .' One Raveis employee said: "The company makes my job easier."

Many agents credit the company's founder, chairman and chief executive, Bill Raveis.

"Bill always asks, 'What can I do to make your job easier? What do I need to be doing?'" said Maura Hammick, an exceptional properties specialist in the Avon office.

Raveis said his company's business model is a little different because the agents are considered the customer.

"We're really pushing the iPads, the iPhones. Everything is going mobile," Raveis said. "We're re-engineering all of our branches, so the agents will be more of a cross between the Apple Store, Kinko's and with a little Ralph Lauren."

Other firms have followed a digital path, including Prudential Connecticut Realty, this year's No. 2 large company.

Jean Zdanowski, a regional administrative coordinator for Prudential, said she has watched the real estate market and Prudential become more tech-savvy.

"When I came here 18 years ago, we were doing things by hand, writing things by hand. Everything was done by the telephone, calling things in at the end of the month," Zdanowski said. But no more.

Both Prudential and William Raveis use a "dashboard" system that allows agents to access their files online. And both companies use several forms of social media, which have been well received by agents and clients.

William Raveis has nearly 90,000 views on YouTube, more than 9,400 likes on Facebook, and also uses Pinterest and Google+. And Prudential recently released a mobile phone application and mobile website.

"We make sure that everybody has the most innovative opportunity to serve the clients, so we can communicate with them how they expect to be communicated with," said Candace Adams, president of Prudential Connecticut.

Prudential has introduced a short-sale and foreclosure program that has allowed the agents to provide immediate assistance to clients for selling or buying properties. The company has listed nearly 100 properties through the program.

The sophistication of online access to materials and information once only available in an office means that at Raveis, as at many other companies, employees need not report to an office. As large companies, William Raveis and Prudential use their headquarters to offer a support system for technology and management.

Heidi Picard-Ramsay, a sales vice president in the William Raveis office in Avon, said when she first joined the company, the local office was in a more home-like setting, but it moved soon afterward to a plaza location with cubicles.

While much of their material is now accessible online, agents still can work in the office, where training sessions are also held. In addition to business meetings, agents meet at family and company get-togethers.

At the corporate level, Prudential has departments for marketing, technology, education, and relocation.

The Raveis agents get all education and technology training free. Picard-Ramsay said that the team atmosphere of the company helps those agents who are not as adept at technology.