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My New Normal: Massport's Tanya Mitchell

This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to men and women in commercial real estate about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic struck in March, Massachusetts Port Authority legal specialist and data analyst Tanya Mitchell had always wanted to work from home but wasn’t allowed to do so by her employer.

Now that she is working from home full time, Mitchell finds being a remote employee has its downside. The irony of the situation isn’t lost on her.

Now that I have this benefit, it has been bittersweet due to the restrictive nature,” she said. “Working from home and social distancing is in everyone’s best interest to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus. Yet the requirements are very isolating in nature. I still find work from home as a benefit, but even good things should be taken in doses."

Mitchell manages Massport’s Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Certification program. She also helps oversee diversity and inclusion for Massport’s real estate and asset management development selections. Mitchell is also one of Massport’s voting members on its selection committees for real estate development proposals.

Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life and what you are doing in your spare time.

Mitchell: Since the stay-at-home directive was issued, I have spent my time working from home. On the one hand, working from the comfort of home has been a blessing. It is a blessing because there are many individuals who have lost their means of income or have been furloughed from their jobs. Additionally, many employees are required to show up to their place of employment, potentially putting their health at risk. On the other hand, it has been a restrictive and isolating way of life that we, in general, are not used to. Not everyone has a personal life where their home is filled with immediate and extended family. It is also difficult to balance life and work when you have relatives or parents outside of your home with social distancing requirements in place, as the ability to check on them is limited. 

As the stay-at-home process started, it was a struggle to balance the benefits of being at home. There was a need to take the time that was allocated for commuting to work and transition that time to completing personal tasks. I found for me that working from home was a need to rotate from room to room to room to keep the feeling of a change of atmosphere. My workdays are filled with virtual meetings and conference calls, and where I was once required to do in-person site visits, everything is now done through virtual platforms. 

With the isolation during the pandemic, I dedicated a bit more time to outside organizations, for the purposes of staying connected and for continual personal growth. Although I was already engaged in committee work under the Urban Land Institute, it felt nice to continue my participation even if we could not meet in person. I did this by participating as a judge for virtual urban planning competitions for college students, panel discussions hosted by Urban Land Institute’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and virtual networking. Additionally, in my spare time, I have participated in virtual brunches, panel discussions, social media concerts and Zoom parties/cocktail hours. I even attended a Zoom paint party with friends!  

With all the uncertainty in the world, I have also taken some time to research items that many of us put off doing. I researched life insurance as it relates to handling emergency situations and retirement and have been researching stocks for purchase on websites like E-Trade. I also investigated a much-needed refinance of my home. 

Bisnow: What is your company’s return-to-the-workplace plan?  

Mitchell: Each department submitted a proposed return-to-workplace plan at my company. The company provided continual updates on the implementation of a return-to-work plan. The nature of many jobs at my company is that only a small percentage of people worked from home, and many remained in the office or in the field. The return-to-work plan incorporates the guidelines laid out by the governor. However, there is no immediate rush to flood the office with people. The desire to keep employees safe and healthy while protecting jobs has been the utmost priority. 

Bisnow: What will reopening businesses and workplaces look like for you personally? 

Mitchell: It is not fully clear what the reopening process will look like because we are still living in a great deal of uncertainty. As of now, I can still fully work from home. If I need to go into the office, my office visits requests are reviewed and approved.  

As businesses reopen, some people begin to visit stores and shops, but I am still relying on platforms like Amazon or online ordering for quick pickups. As restaurants begin to reopen, outside dining has become extremely appealing. Restaurants that pivoted to QR codes on their tables and receipts to access menus and payment options to provide contactless options for customers should perform well during this transition.  

Bisnow: How will you manage the homefront as stay-at-home restrictions ease and businesses reopen? 

Mitchell: This time has been scary for many families — as I watched friends work hard to juggle their work requirements and balance that with the needs of their children and their education — and it is a very hard thing to manage, although many have done it with grace. With uncertainty still ahead, there requires a need for a great deal of empathy and kindness amongst everyone. Many will need to continue to work from home or remotely to balance the required needs and responsibilities of personal care, families, parents, etc. 

Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment? 

Mitchell: Since the start of the pandemic, I have not seen a business that has not taken some financial hit. Many people also remain unemployed, so the focus for most families is ensuring that basic needs are taking care of, including food and shelter. 

My company had to review the budget like most businesses. Yet safeguarding jobs and keeping people healthy has always been the main priority. 

Bisnow: What was your impression of work from home before this got started? What is it now? 

Mitchell: I found this time to be filled with varying levels of irony. In the past, I have not been allowed to participate in a work-life balance that allowed the benefit of working from home. It was always a benefit I wanted access to.

Bisnow: How is your company fostering community and maintaining its culture from a distance?  

Mitchell: My department conducts conference calls and video meetings to stay informed and connected. We are informed on topics discussed by executive leadership. Additionally, the CEO has held conference calls with a few departments at a time, to hear their thoughts and allow employees to ask questions.  

Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?  

Mitchell: Businesses are still evaluating ways on how to pivot to online platforms and maintain a certain standard of social distancing. As the real estate industry has great breadth and depth, it will be easier for some companies than others to implement these pivots. 

During this time, I found that while I went through a refinance, no in-person meetings were held. Many documents that once required wet signatures were DocuSigned. The meeting with the attorney was a paperwork dropoff and a Zoom meeting conducted for review. Individuals still may not be allowed to show up impromptu to offices, businesses and perhaps property tours on a going-forward basis. I believe scheduled appointments and visits will continue for an extended period. 

As each reopening phase is implemented, some businesses will not open the floodgates, but will cautiously continue contactless practices. There will be a need for continued, clear and increased communication of each stage of business practices and expectations for clients/customers. 

Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about right now? 

Mitchell: I am hopeful that the economy will come back bigger and better. However, it will take some time. I am also hopeful that businesses will become more innovative and will seek access to resources to keep their doors open. I also have hopes that businesses will seek methods to diversify their business practices at all levels.