My New Normal: Venture Architecture Founder Martin Goldstein
Martin Goldstein has found himself juggling a new career as an assistant teacher.
With three daughters remote learning at home, the founder and owner of Venture Architecture has found the mornings and evenings start and end later than normal, as he helps his children learn.
Venture is best known for having designed a number of modern Denver spaces like Mountain Co.'s headquarters in Zeppelin Station, KSL Capital Partner's space in Cherry Creek and the Wells Fargo Center's lobby in the landmark "Cash Register" building.
Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life.
Goldstein: We closed our office a few days ahead of the city. None of us were sure if it would end up being a mandate, we just wanted to keep our people safe. Working from home is quite isolating. I try to keep close to my normal routine, but the days are ending later because now we’re assistant teachers as well [as] our three daughters are remote learning. That means mornings start a bit later.
I spend the day in the home office we’ve maintained for a decade, but hardly ever used until now. It has a multi-function printer, my laptop, a small desk and a large sofa. The sofa is quite comfortable, but it’s hard to have a conversation with our team. The connectivity our firm thrives on is tough to maintain. While I love seeing my family during the day, the isolation from the professional team, job sites, clients and colleagues has been difficult.
Bisnow: How are you transitioning your life and business to the home front?
Goldstein: Our whole firm had the ability to work from home when necessary before this all started. As a small business, we created this flexibility to fit the needs of our team, and each of us has adopted different work patterns. However, this is the first time we’ve all worked from home at the same time.
The first goal was to work out the bugs and the atypically heavy burden on the external side of our corporate server. This included making some adjustments to hardware and software at all of our home offices. Once that all was worked out, we implemented a new meeting regimen.
Instead of long Monday meetings and all-morning project critiques on Wednesdays, we began daily 30-minute “headline meetings." This allowed us to stay minimally, but more frequently, in contact. At the daily headline meeting, we identify which projects need additional attention, then we dive into those with focused breakout team chats throughout the day.
Finally, to keep in touch, we’ve started to implement virtual lunches. We’ve traditionally hosted a half dozen to a dozen lunch get-togethers for our team every month. That closeness is part of our culture, so we aim to keep the tradition going, even while we’re remote.
From my perspective as a leader at this firm, team cohesion and the ability to support and anticipate each other’s needs is more critical than ever. We are constantly looking for ways to prevent this current situation from substantively interfering in our process. We have to find new ways of doing things.
Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?
Goldstein: At the moment, most of the work we were awarded before the virus is intact. Much of it was too far along in the development process to be put on hold. Loans and funds and leases and contracts were all in place and had matured. So far, only one project has been put on hold as a result of the virus. Our concern is what comes next.
We have several projects in our pipeline that are either in outright jeopardy of termination or will likely be subject to delays. The first question is what those projects will look like after the pandemic. The second is how long it will be before new projects that weren’t already in progress will come back to the market.
Our first two quarters will be strong, the second two are hard to face; in spite of our best-laid plans and some strategic reserves of our own, a long-term lack of work could be a major threat to the future of our firm.
Bisnow: What is your greatest business concern right now?
Goldstein: Our first concern is feeding our machine; balancing incoming revenue from appropriate projects that are a fit for our firm with our staffing capabilities. Recent years have necessitated increasingly robust compensation packages to compete for the best talent in the market. Staffing accounts for over 85% of our annual budget. Without the right volume and type of projects, we can’t keep the balance in check.
A close second to that is maintaining our strong team dynamic. Our work is highly collaborative. Keeping the flow of curiosity, interactivity and cross-team support is critical to any success we have had.
The isolation, coupled with many staffers’ need to balance work with having young children at home who normally would be in day care or school has challenged our cohesion. We’ve all adjusted pretty well so far, but I worry that the longer the stay-at-home order is in place, the more that critical component to our firm’s health will be in jeopardy.
Bisnow: What was your lowest low and the highest high these last few weeks?
Goldstein: Currently the lowest low is related to the Payroll Protection Program. With $350B in forgivable loans being dangled to cover eight weeks of employee costs, our small business of 10 is very motivated. We have spent the entire week parsing what little information we can find in the hopes that we will successfully secure funding before it dries up. However, with the program needing to move so fast and details so scant, we are quite concerned about missing this critical opportunity.
The highs have been few and far between, but if there have been any, it’d be the funny memes and jokes rolling around my personal social media. Friends have tried to pick each other up and share a laugh. Perhaps the high is just feeling the support our personal and professional networks can provide right now.
Bisnow: What are you doing at home to keep your sanity?
Goldstein: My dog has never been walked more. While I have always worked out every morning, my home gym equipment has never been more helpful. Instead of 20-30 minutes each day, I’m getting in closer to an hour each day.
Bisnow: What have you learned about your business or the industry in the last few weeks?
Goldstein: I have been impressed by the agility that nearly all of our clients and our team members have displayed. There is this underlying recognition that the times we are in demand more creativity, patience and commitment to seeing the work get done to the standards that we’ve all come to expect. I’m grateful for the loyalty and dedication I’ve seen in our staff. Let the last of the millennial naysayers lay down their complaints … or send them my way, and I’ll tell them what we’ve been seeing.
Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?
Goldstein: I think the jury is still out whether this will burn in permanent changes. For the immediate future, I expect that folks will be reluctant to spend much time in close proximity. That will likely have a number of impacts on how office spaces are laid out, how companies consult and engage with one another, even how we pass each other on the way to work. I hope that we don’t grow afraid of one another, but I’m curious to see how the standard handshake greeting looks around Labor Day when we’re hopefully all back to work.
Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about today?
Goldstein: I look forward to the size and creativity of the parties that are yet to come! We are hoping to hold a large celebration when we are able to safely return to normal. It would be great to see large gatherings (or many smaller ones) bringing folks back together, blowing off some pent-up steam and starting the process of healing.