Weekend Interview: Kameshia Freeman On What The Future Of Work Looks Like For The Public Sector
This series goes deep with some of the most compelling figures in commercial real estate: the deal-makers, the game-changers, the city-shapers and the larger-than-life personalities that keep CRE interesting.
“Show up and stay ready.” That’s the mentality Kameshia Freeman said helped her land her first job in commercial real estate nearly 20 years ago.
Freeman joined the General Services Administration as a college intern. She rose through the ranks of the organization, which provides workspace and related services for more than 100 federal client agencies, eventually landing the prestigious role of director of the Center for Broker Services in July 2013.
Freeman’s meteoric rise through the GSA meant many of her colleagues were shocked when, seven years later, she made the bold decision to transition to the private sector.
“Most people would say, ‘You're insane to leave. You're at one of the highest levels in government,’” Freeman said. “But I knew that there was this other world in real estate that I wanted to explore.”
After spending a year at a boutique firm in Dallas, Freeman signed on to help lead verticals in JLL’s public sector division as a senior vice president in September 2021. In her role, Freeman connects federal, state and local agencies to services and helps them meet their real estate needs.
Like all office users, the public sector is challenged with finding its footing in an evolving era of work. The federal government, which is the largest office tenant in the U.S., has been forthright about its plan to consolidate its portfolio in the coming years. Much of Freeman’s job today revolves around helping public sector agencies optimize their footprints.
Outside of work, Freeman is passionate about advancing the careers of people of color and women. She is the co-founder and vice president of the DFW chapter of African American Real Estate Professionals, membership chair of the Commercial Real Estate Women's Dallas chapter and a member of the Real Estate Executive Council.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Bisnow: You spent more than a decade at GSA before moving into the private side of commercial real estate. What led you to leave the public sector and make that transition?
Freeman: I started my career as a junior in college with GSA, and I had a rather rapid progression. About five years in, I transitioned to a leadership role. I managed GSA’s national brokerage contract, which is the largest brokerage program in the country. During my tenure for the entire program — and it started before me — overall contracts generated maybe $450M in commission. I developed three brokerage contracts, I had a successful team, we won numerous awards, and I just think I did all I could do and I wanted to bet on myself.
Bisnow: You said you started as a junior in college. Was that as an intern?
Freeman: Yes, and it’s a funny story. They were only interviewing graduating seniors, but my college adviser had me show up and sit outside the door and wait to see if maybe someone didn't show up. Lo and behold, someone didn't show up for their interview. They interviewed me and brought me on that summer. They loved me so much that they found a job for me back in Arkansas until I graduated, and then I went back to Dallas.
Bisnow: Can you tell me a little bit about your role at JLL and what it entails? I think people underestimate how much space public sector agencies actually need and occupy.
Freeman: In layman’s terms, I’m a connecter, but I’m much more than that. I focus on all the verticals within JLL, whether it’s transaction advisory, sustainability, facilities management. I introduce our services to federal, state and local government, higher education and K-12. I’m talking to agencies, helping them identify the need, and then bringing in the subject matter experts to help them solve for that need. My background is in transactions, so I have an affinity for that, and I’m oftentimes looking to see if there are opportunities to help agencies from that perspective. Depending on what the project is, I may go deeper to actually work on the proposals as well.
Bisnow: There have been a lot of headlines about how the federal government is giving up some of its office space. I’m curious how that has impacted your job specifically.
Freeman: The government is in line with many other corporations — they're operating in a hybrid work environment. People are going to return to the office because they want that team-based approach. You may see a lot of desk-sharing. You'll see technology at the forefront. JLL is very keen on helping agencies reimagine how work will look, to help them with their portfolio optimization, to help them with their consolidation requirements and what technologies can best be used to assist them as they navigate this new environment. We are currently working with agencies on the state, local and federal level.
Bisnow: Do you find that the federal government or public agencies in general are open to change? We hear all the time about how there's a lot of red tape at the bureaucratic level and they're maybe not as nimble as smaller private companies.
Freeman: Absolutely, but it’s going to take time to get there because it is the government, and you have rules and policies you must comply with. We expect that state and local government may return a bit more quickly than the federal government, but over time, we will get there.
Bisnow: What does the return to work look like for the public sector?
Freeman: In my opinion, we won’t go back to a five-day workweek. I think it will be two to three days with anchor days where you have a certain group coming into the office on a specific day. One of the things we all need to realize is you can tell employees to come to the office, but you need to make sure that, as a leader, you have the "why" there. It’s not showing up just to show up — what’s the why? In addition, you have this new generation, Gen Z, that wants to come into the office because they want to grow in their career and be around leadership and collaborate with their peers to really understand what their role is.
Bisnow: How will President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill impact the public sector division at JLL? Do you expect to see a lot more business because of that legislation?
Freeman: Yes. We all realize that we are in a crisis as it relates to the climate, and we have been positioning ourselves over the past decade to help our clients. We built a practice around energy and sustainability, and this includes lowering the carbon footprint, helping to implement sustainability systems, teaching clients how to manage their green buildings, and adding on the infrastructure needed to move on a carbon-neutral footprint in the transportation area. We're currently supporting a variety of sustainability initiatives in state, local and federal government. And, of course, technology is at the forefront, so we're always introducing new smarter technologies to our government agencies, especially the federal government — they're a huge client for us.
Bisnow: You are co-founder of the Dallas chapter of African American Real Estate Professionals. How would you characterize the progress that has been made in diversifying the commercial real estate industry?
Freeman: There is still work to be done, but I am fortunate to work for an organization that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion. One of the reasons I came to JLL is because I wanted a seat at the table. JLL isn’t just talking the talk; they’re walking the walk. They’ve been very supportive of me as it relates to AAREP. I didn’t tell them I was a co-founder, but I made a post on LinkedIn after we had our first event, and Kevin Wayer, our president, said to me, "Hey, I didn’t know you were doing this. Please let me know what I can do to support you." That meant a lot to me. There’s work to be done, but to have a company like JLL that is supportive of the work we are doing in this space, if we keep along that track, I think change is going to continue to come.
Bisnow: Is there anything in particular you’d like to see done in order to bring more diversity into the space, both for women and people of color?
Freeman: Be an advocate. When there’s an opportunity that presents itself, know the names of women and people of color. Speak our names; advocate for us. That’s why it’s important for me to have a seat at the table, so I can bring others to the table. If you’re at a table where diversity does not exist, advocate for those individuals.
Bisnow: What is the best piece of career advice that you never received but you would give your younger self if you had the chance?
Freeman: Give yourself grace. To be honest, I’m still telling myself that today because I’m such a doer and so determined. You don’t have to boil the ocean; just give yourself some grace. You are here because you belong here and you deserve to be here.
Bisnow: Give us your bold prediction for the rest of the year.
Freeman: I think you’re going to see more diversity in commercial real estate, and not just women — you’re going to see a lot of diversity in people of color. I also think you’re going to see more public agencies come back to the office.
Bisnow: This is a weekend interview, so I’m curious to know, what is your weekend routine or favorite weekend activity?
Freeman: I love Zumba because I’m not a dancer but it makes me feel like I can dance. I leave Zumba and walk the Katy Trail, and that’s heaven on earth.