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Amid COVID-19, Here's How These Execs Found Optimism

Amid COVID-19, Here's How These Execs Found Optimism

To be clear, there is nothing good about a pandemic. But while the next year holds great uncertainty for commercial real estate, study after study has shown that optimism may be good for your health — and your immunity.

So as CRE leadership and business owners are finding ways to move forward and show up for their clients, tenants and teams in uncertain times, one approach to soldiering on is to find a bright spot and run toward it. SelectLeaders spoke to executives across the country about the opportunities that keep them looking up amidst COVID-19’s threats. 

The Opportunity For Housekeeping

“The city is halted, and it has halted my business,” Logic Commercial Real Estate Vice President of Office and Flex Tenant Representation Natalie Wainwright said of the current landscape in Las Vegas. Of her active deals, as of mid-March she said some have fallen through while the rest are slowed.

"Of all my active deals—and I've never had so many — I have one deal moving forward right now," she said. "It’s a funeral home."

But the downturn hasn’t flagged her focus. Wainwright said she’s very accustomed to a “go go go” workweek, running back and forth across the city with little time to step back and take a breath. As the industry takes stock and waits to see what the coming months bring, she sees opportunity in the downtime to address some less pressing — but still important — needs, like devoting more time and focus to new staff. 

“I may be at home, but this is going to give me a chance to train my assistant properly,” she said. “We have this chance to just hunker down and do back-of-house that we would've been too busy to do before.” 

The Opportunity To Modernize And Transform

One indiscriminate impact of COVID-19 on business is an increased reliance on technology in order to work around isolation and quarantine. Harvard University Professor of Business Administration Gary P. Pisano sees that driving long-term change.

“All organizations will learn that they can leverage technology much more effectively to operate remotely and conduct business,” he told Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. “We will realize we need far fewer face-to-face meetings than we thought. I think the productivity benefits could be quite big.” 

In CRE, professionals across all sectors are turning to technology where they had not before, from virtual property tours to videoconference client meetings.

MIT Investment Management Asset Management Director Amanda Strong sees the positive side of that shift.

“Look at what we’re going through right now — the ripple effects,” Strong said. “There’s no way to anticipate the impact. But it’s going to present opportunities. Where real estate has always been ‘old school,’ now technology is almost forcing our hand.” 

The Opportunity To Build Stronger Relationships 

For Jason Ting, co-founder of family-owned private equity real estate investment and development company Ting Financial Group in Tulsa, Oklahoma, deals are slowing and tenants — especially mom-and-pop retail and dining tenants — are suffering. As an employer and a landlord, Ting wants to step up however he can, starting with checking on his smaller tenants and brainstorming ways to rework his properties’ parking lots to create makeshift drive-thru solutions for their struggling restaurant businesses.

“Times like these create an opportunity for companies to take care of employees and tenants, and to build loyalty,” Ting said. “As landlords, we see tenants that feel like landlords don’t care about them. Now, whether we’re taking care of a tenant or an employee during a recession like this, it does give us the opportunity to build something deeper, and that will pay off and drive business.”  

The Opportunity To Create Opportunity

At Jabbrrbox, a workplace solutions proptech company based in New York City, co-founder and co-CEO Jeremy Jennings’ first focus is on supporting his team. Among other things, Jabbrrbox leadership is working to maintain a positive attitude. 

“I think being upbeat and positive at this time is very attractive to anyone that encounters it,” Jennings said. “We are being very mindful of our energy, voice and body language” in team communications and video-based meetings.   

But when asked what networking and communications challenges COVID-19 has posed, Jennings said that oddly, he has found it easier than usual to connect and find opportunity. 

“First of all, more people have 'time' because they are not in transit or traveling,” Jennings said. “The ‘OOO’ emails are not a factor. Also, going back to positivity, good energy matters more today than ever. Humans want that connectivity and they want to believe there is going to be a tomorrow.” 

He said syncing that connectivity with vision and actionable steps is a combination that’s opening doors.

“This crisis is creating an opportunity to provide a vision of the benefits that will be created,” Jennings said. “If you can paint them realistically and with credibility, the opportunity is there.”