CRE Innovator Interview: Linda Cogburn, Carr Properties
We sat down with Carr Properties‘s VP Operations for a candid conversation about commercial real estate, shifting priorities, and – yes – COVID.
What is your outlook on working from home, and how will it impact CRE, and specifically the way we forecast leases, operations, HR etc?
Pre covid, telework was established in some industries. Meeting face to face was definitely more of the norm, especially when you were in the same market. My prediction is for the next 1-2 years we’ll have a blend. Sometime in the future we will rebound. Pre COVID, it was hard to be one of the only people who is not in the conference room, but joining via Zoom; It’s easier to all be remote than being the only person remote on Zoom. Once people start coming back, I believe you’re going to see an uptick, and within a year or so we will be back working as we were before. Some departments, though, that aren’t required to have so many meetings or face to face will adopt more flexibility and will embrace work from home, seeing that people are productive at home. But I do think that you miss the collaboration.
There will be some that will downsize, or keep the same amount of space and will be able to add social distancing. I think space will increase for those customers who have an open concept platform, where we were sitting at work stations – you’re going to need more space or additional conference rooms to ensure implementing social distancing. I will say our platform is one where we’re utilizing our lobbies, open areas and roof terraces to allow for these breakout areas that customers may not have. Our corporate headquarters, the hub in Washington DC is a great example of that. We have terraces that have breakout seating areas and conference tables to allow our customers to have additional space to work from. I think as a property management company or as an owner, we need to ensure that we’re providing these opportunities.
Facing COVID-19 regulations, what are the complications that you’re predicting when it comes to CRE?
When COVID started, Okapi immediately shifted to add value to us in that you were able to track where covid might impact our customer base, pulling from different news resources to allow us to view potential issues. Without that intelligence, it would fall to our team to pull that information together manually. Just having that at my fingertips in a newly created dashboard to help respond to COVID was great. We specifically used that when we’re talking about leasing and accounts receivables.
From my perspective, the impact is still unknown. People are still reacting to the fact that there isn’t a vaccine yet, so we still have to follow the regulations that we have, which reduces the occupancy. I think it’s going to be a blend between people continuing to telework, but also on the flip side of that – moving away from cubicles to greater space needs for some of our customers. That’s why, it’s all the more important for us to be the provider of choice. We have to be the company that’s meeting their needs. And Okapi as a tool absolutely helps us do that.
How has the role of Operations changed since and throughout the pandemic?
Our role is to provide a safe environment for our customers, their guests, service providers, and colleagues to come back to. A substantial amount of my role has been reviewing the massive amounts of information that have been coming out in terms of different product availability: Adding sanitation products, adding the communication, adding the additional cleaning. But also providing our customers with a safe path of travel and all the communications that they need, because they’re also trying to figure it out for their teams. Really being a partner in ensuring that they have what they need to bring their teams back safely. It’s really been trying to absorb and understand what’s happening and ensuring that we’re putting the safest possible environment and communicating it effectively to our customers. Overwhelmingly pleased with the positive response that we’ve received. Our desire was really to emphasize with them, to make their job easier, to communicate our plan and to support them through this process.
What are the key elements or characteristics you believe people in CRE operations should possess and are they different now?
It’s made us focus on the path of travel – which we’ve always done, making sure it looks great, well maintained. It’s really putting yourself in the visitor or customer shoes, experiencing it from their perspective. From my experience, it’s all about the details; It’s all about all of the touchpoints, all of the interactions, the systems – whether it’s the mechanical systems or contractor systems that are in place – and modifying them, creating expectations around those systems. You never stop. Although we’ve had great SOPs [standard operating procedures] created months ago, we’re constantly updating and evolving with new information that’s coming out. I don’t think we will ever be done. I feel like now, flu season is going to be radically different than it used to be. Just like we put walk off mats out when it rains, these sanitation products and SOPs and the response will roll out every flu season, even after we have a vaccine, to ensure people stay safe.
Thank you, Linda, for sharing these great insights. We are looking forward to our continued collaboration!