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My New Normal: Skanska Director Of Innovation For Commercial Development Daniel Ramirez

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.

Daniel Ramirez might otherwise be in the air, on his way to visit one of Skanska’s offices across the country. But for the time being, the coronavirus pandemic has grounded him. 

With travel off the table due to widespread shutdowns, he can’t make the rounds he used to, gaining insight from his co-workers at the multinational construction and development firm’s outposts. And as a native New Yorker, Ramirez, who now lives in Boston, says his personal connection to people affected by the coronavirus has given him new perspective on what is important in life.

Skanska Director of Innovation for Commercial Development Daniel Ramirez gets some support while making a meal.

While he awaits the opportunity to get back to visiting teams across the U.S., Ramirez — true to his title, director of innovation for commercial development — is working to set Skanska ahead of the curve. As he considers innovations, like how some of the early applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning in real estate will be incorporated into future designs, he said the pandemic has shown him how resourceful his company is.

Until he can travel again to see his innovations at work, he has his sights set on more local travel, conquering Essex County's Greenbelt trails with his wife and two children, ages 10 and 5.

Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life. 

Ramirez: The biggest change in my new work-from-home routine is that I am no longer traveling. I used to do a fair amount of visiting our various offices around the country, and that’s now completely stopped. While I do miss taking advantage of those visits to gain new perspectives from the distinct markets our offices are located in, working from home exclusively has allowed me to be much more efficient with my time. But the biggest challenge has been maintaining a work-life balance. My wife and I have made a coordinated effort to make it work. Our day typically starts the night before when we begin planning for the next day. We map out everyone’s schedule to see who will be “teacher for the day.” As a parent with a young family at home, I have to pick and choose the spots where I can work from and the times that I can get the most done.

Bisnow: How are you transitioning your life and business to the homefront? 

Ramirez: The group I work in within Skanska, the Strategic Services Team, or SST, has always been a remote group, as we’re not all based in the same market. However, as the rest of Skanska’s offices have transitioned to remote operations, we’ve increased the frequency of our communication, which has had a hugely positive impact on our team and work overall. We went from having a standing phone call every month to having a weekly videoconference call, which has added more of a human element to our conversations and allowed us to better collaborate and provide more impactful services to the larger company.

A look at Daniel Ramirez's work-from-home setup.

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

Ramirez: I could see a number of technologies aimed toward enhancing the user experience moving out of the “nice-to-have” category into the “must-have” realm. The COVID filter has distilled that message even more. Before the pandemic, Skanska explored different capabilities that leveraged technology while enhancing the wellness of our buildings. For example, the installation of hospital-grade air filtration systems, using RFD codes to scan into an office building, offering more touchless entries and/or utilizing materials such as copper as a way to decrease the daily bacteria count on shared surfaces. As we continue to delve into these capabilities and others, our multinational perspective puts our company in a great position to learn and share global best practices.

Bisnow: What is your greatest business concern right now?

Ramirez: No one knows when or how this pandemic will end, or the impact that the industry may face. The uncertainty has driven the development of internal groups who are looking at every aspect of what’s changing and how Skanska will collaborate and think throughout development moving forward.

Bisnow: What was your lowest low and highest high these last few weeks? 

Ramirez: I’m a native New Yorker and have a lot of family still in the area. Watching everything that’s gone on there and hearing stories about people I know and love getting sick, including my aunt, who recently recovered from coronavirus, has led to some incredibly low moments. It’s been a sobering experience that has also given me a sense of perspective about what’s really important. On the other side of that coin, I’m fortunate to be able to spend as much uninterrupted time with my family as I have. I’ve felt really encouraged by everyone’s tremendous energy and ability to adapt so quickly. 

Daniel Ramirez has continued to prioritize exercise while working from home.

Bisnow: What are you doing at home to keep your sanity? 

Ramirez: When I turned 40 last year I hired a personal trainer and really enjoyed having that regular physical outlet. I’ve been keeping up with that practice now virtually, and it’s been a great way to keep moving and practice mindfulness as I focus on improving every day. In addition, I’ve picked up drawing, which is something I used to do more of and really enjoy because of the creative, hands-on nature of the work. Getting outside has been great for me and my family as well — we have a book with every Greenbelt trail map in the region, and we’re working on visiting all of them one by one.

Bisnow: What have you learned about your business or the industry in the last few weeks? 

Ramirez: Our business is incredibly resourceful. We operate in numerous teams out of multiple markets, and despite being all over the country, the transition to remote working has been seamless, which is extremely impressive for such a large multinational organization. It’s too soon to predict exactly what the future will look like for real estate development — for example, whether the open office concept will disappear with a smaller percentage of the workforce moving back to occupy more square footage with larger work areas — but regardless of what the circumstance is, we know we can pivot really quickly, which is both reassuring and exciting as we contemplate those possible changes across the industry.  

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

Ramirez: I think it’s still too soon to know for certain whether the pandemic will have a permanent impact on the industry, but we can already see how it has created long-term positive change within Skanska nationwide. For starters, we won’t be reverting back to an email-only business. We’ve realized very quickly that the tools available to us for information sharing and collaborating are much more dynamic than what we previously had in place. Additionally, our ability to collaborate across the country and overseas will continue to grow past this experience. We’ve had the benefit in recent weeks of having any number of team members looking at a problem at once as opposed to solving problems in regional teams. There’s power in numbers, and working holistically as a global firm to share knowledge and find solutions in this way has been an incredibly positive experience. It’s a practice we absolutely intend to continue. 

Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about today?

Ramirez: I’m very excited about the work I’m doing right now as part of the team looking at the future of development for our organization, and [I’m] hopeful about the direction and new ideas we will come out of this experience with. How often do you get to sit down and determine your own future? Our business model and our multinational perspective puts us in a good position to be a bit riskier than normal right now, and we’re taking that opportunity to think differently. We’re looking at the most cutting-edge ideas and evaluating them for our business, upping the pace at which we might have previously implemented change across our portfolio. Tapping into each market’s expertise, we’re collecting information that helps us better understand, as cohesively as possible, what the new future will look like. The possibilities are endless.