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My New Normal: SIOR Global President Mark Duclos

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.

Mark Duclos has been steering two organizations through the coronavirus pandemic: He is the 2020 global president of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, and he is president of Sentry Commercial, a real estate services company that handles brokerage, property management, construction management and residential real estate investment throughout southern New England.

SIOR has been hosting roundtables and virtual networking events to provide the industry with best practices. Confidence from the real estate industry is starting to improve as companies adjust to the pandemic, according to SIOR's monthly sentiment surveys. Confidence has been lowest in Canada, the western U.S. and the northeastern U.S., but Duclos has reopened Sentry's office in Hartford, Connecticut, and said the company is performing well.

Sentry Commercial President Mark Duclos clearing out the bullpen, which used to be a bunch of cubicles, to prepare the firm's office for a socially distanced return.

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

Duclos: I’ve been “working at home” since 1991, just not ALL the time! So working from home every day has been the most significant transition to get used to. The Zoom technology for meetings and one-on-one face time, while appreciated, simply doesn’t cut it all the time and for every interaction. I am an early riser (up by 4 a.m. every day) and I continue to keep that schedule, but what I’ve noticed is that I continue to work well beyond what used to be “the end of my day.” Suffice to say, I don’t have a ton of spare time. However, when there is some free time, I love to play golf with my mom or spend time with my family, and visit our home in Vermont, which also has a home office!

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

Duclos: We opened our offices on May 20 but I strongly urged our employees to work from home as much as possible. We are presently making physical changes to our office in order to accommodate social distancing and sanitation. That said, after interviewing our employees, it is clear that they intend to utilize the office in a very similar way as they did prior to the crisis.

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

Duclos: Like our employees and staff, I too will frequent the office in the same way I did prior to the crisis (a combination of office and home-office use). That said, the physical changes in the office will require me to utilize the office differently (conference rooms, kitchen, common area, etc.). State regulations permitting, I will also be shopping, going to restaurants, church and all the other things we did prior to the crisis. We (my wife and I) cannot wait to get back out there! We will certainly use best practices while doing so. We will also not put ourselves in areas where social distancing is not practiced.

Sentry Commercial President Mark Duclos in his home office.

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

Duclos: No different than we have the last 90 days. We will continue to use best practices with social distancing, masks, sanitizing, etc.

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

Duclos: Sentry Commercial is doing well. Beyond being able to continue completing transactions and projects, we have been able to use the last 90 days to stay in front of our clients and become better at what we do, both collectively and individually. I could not be more proud of our people. They have worked tirelessly throughout the crisis to focus on the moment and, while navigating the challenges, taking advantage of the opportunity to improve. Our clients and neighbors have been great, too! The net result is that we have a stronger company, a stronger connection with our people, stronger relationships with our clients and stronger relationships with our community. 

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

Duclos: Again, we have been accustomed to working from home. Since starting the company in 1991, we have been strong proponents of the idea that anything that can be done in the office, can also be performed when away from the office — including at home. But one thing we’ve learned is that we don’t want to work from home ALL the time! We need to be with people.

Sentry Commercial President Mark Duclos working on spacing out the conference room to be socially distanced.

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

Duclos: Pretty much like all other companies. Video meetings, video cocktail parties, and more recognition of accomplishments, both collective and individual, e.g. shouting out our wins! Our collaborative culture means we have lots of teamed accounts and interdependency, which has served us well during the crisis. And that collaboration extends to the relationship I have with SIOR, as the global president. It’s a network of the best CRE workers in the world, and we have used that network to engage on deals and strategies that can be implemented here at Sentry Commercial, along with brokerages on the other side of the continent. We hold regular online roundtables and networking events to come together and discuss what’s happening in everyone’s market. Not only does it create a true sense of community and support, but also helps us work out challenges and problems in a really powerful, collaborative way. In all likelihood, any challenge you may be facing has been encountered by one of our members, so the feedback you get is just tremendous.

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

Duclos: Speaking specifically of real estate brokerage and advisory: The crisis substantially forced us to lean on our online/virtual capabilities and our data. Some of us were prepared, others were not. Many of the players in our industry have been reluctant to adopt technology. Even those of us who were invested in the idea of technology were not fully utilizing it as best we could. Basically, we had the tools in the toolbox, but we weren’t using all of them or in the most efficient way! Today, you have no choice. While the industry was moving toward this change, the crisis has accelerated that movement. CRE providers will be forced to utilize technology and data, as well as move toward a collaborative culture, in order to best provide services to our clients. I also think the pandemic stressed the importance of having a reliable network of professionals to count on. This is not a time to question whether the person you’re working with on a deal, or connecting your client with, is going to be a liability. It’s one of the best reasons to be part of SIOR, where you know, without any question, that every person in that network is the best at what they do in their respective market and if you need a resource, advice, insight or business partner, they’ll always come through.

Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about right now?

Duclos: I am hopeful that this crisis has taught us all about the value of our families, our co-workers, our communities and our organizations. I am hopeful for a vaccine! I am hopeful that we have CRE brokers, brokerage companies and industry organizations that are better prepared to serve the CRE industry into the future. That while Sentry Commercial is a company and SIOR is an organization, we are first and foremost about our people. Yes, technology must deliver a lot of what we do, but it all starts with the people we associate with and the people we lean on, in good times and bad.