My New Normal: TFLiving Chief Operating Officer Jason Deppen
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.
Jason Deppen joined TFLiving from StubHub in January. As chief operating officer, he was tasked with overseeing the firm's platform, which manages amenity programming (fitness classes, resident events, etc.) at mostly residential buildings around the U.S.
Almost immediately the job shifted under him. The pandemic hit, and he had to reinvent the entire platform to mostly virtual experiences, just a few weeks after being hired, and while working remotely.
To top it off, he has an inquisitive 5-year-old at home.
Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life and what you are doing in your spare time.
Deppen: It’s a juggling act with my 5-year-old son and my wife, who also has a busy career at home. I’m fortunate to have a great home office where I can lock myself away, but my son is very persistent when he wants to see who Dad is meeting with on Zoom. There are a lot of early mornings and late nights while my wife and I juggle parenting duties. We recently reopened our office in South Carolina, where I can escape to a few times a week for some pure, uninterrupted focus.
Bisnow: What is your company’s return-to-the-workplace plan?
Deppen: We continue to encourage all employees to work remotely, and that has worked well for the team. We did recently open our South Carolina office with a thorough safety protocol in place, including sanitizing stations, individual offices and no common area gatherings. Our employees must also meet a host of requirements to return, such as not showing any symptoms or sickness, no exposure to others who are sick and no recent travels. It’s purely optional to come in, and we will continue to strongly encourage all employees to work remotely whenever possible, and do what they feel is the safest for themselves and others.
Bisnow: What will reopening businesses and workplaces look like for you personally?
Deppen: The reopening process has recently begun in the Myrtle Beach area, and personally, I’m very hesitant to jump back into any old “norms.” We’ve been ordering delivery for everything imaginable, and having been forced to go shopping the other day physically, I’m more than happy not to rush back and deal with the crowds anytime soon. I’m a huge fan of supporting local businesses and we are getting creative with ways to do that while not having to show up physically.
Bisnow: How will you manage the homefront as stay-at-home restrictions ease and businesses reopen?
Deppen: Very carefully. My in-laws live nearby, and I always consider their risk factors with this virus when thinking about going out. We have a great group of friends that have been extremely careful during the pandemic, and I see us getting together at each other’s homes more often to grill or order from our favorite restaurants. Now that we have warm weather and access to our backyards, private beaches and other spaces, we're keeping gatherings very small and outdoors. I’m not rushing back to anything indoors or confined for the foreseeable future.
Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?
Deppen: As a tech-enabled, on-site fitness and lifestyle amenity provider, COVID-19 changed almost everything about our business overnight. With vendors not being allowed on-site, we made a big pivot to create a variety of virtual and on-demand fitness, wellness and event amenities for our residents/tenants and properties. Offerings such as live mixology courses, team trivia nights, concert series and more were added to keep people connected through the challenging times. To help residents in our partner communities stay active in their homes, we added several live fitness programs, ranging from Bodyweight Bootcamps to yoga to barre classes. Given the effects of the ongoing pandemic, we are very fortunate to have a solid team focused on taking care of our customers and each other.
Bisnow: What was your impression of work from home before this got started? What is it now?
Deppen: I worked from home for the majority of the past three years in my previous role [as a vice president at StubHub]. I always appreciate some time away from the office to focus and limit distractions. However, that was much easier when my son was in school, and we were able to go out shopping or work from coffee shops to mix up the atmosphere. My impression now is that remote work is much more of a challenge with juggling my son, working with other team members who also have children and the different schedules they need to juggle, and just being truly confined to your house. There’s also the extra sense of anxiety and fear that permeated the country after the pandemic hit, which really put a different context on working from home.
Bisnow: How is your company fostering community and maintaining its culture from a distance?
Deppen: We have an incredible team and culture at TFLiving, and the work we do every day makes finding creative ways to stay connected come quite naturally. From Slack channels filled with employee collegiate basketball highlight reels to video team meetings to birthday and work anniversary celebrations, we’ve all been able to stay close and maintain the camaraderie we had in the office. I also give a weekly update to the entire company that highlights the business, company wins and employee shoutouts for great work. Our director of talent also hosts a weekly video lunch with the entire company filled with unique games, challenges and activities. Shoutout to Dan for winning our plank challenge with almost five minutes!
Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?
Deppen: We’re seeing those changes take hold now, from leasing to resident engagement to use of common amenity spaces. Safety will continue to be the No. 1 priority, and I think social norms will continue to change accordingly. Communication is key, and having safe, creative options for leasing, receiving packages, cleaning services and the use of common areas and amenities will all evolve. Residents and tenants crave human connection more than ever but will need to feel safe. Virtual and on-demand solutions have been incredibly successful during the pandemic, and I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future.
Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about right now?
Deppen: That instead of wishing away 2020, we use it as a time to listen, learn and get back to what matters most in life — the human connection. I hope we use these difficult circumstances to create positive change and use the time we’ve been forced to take wisely. To slow down, take stock of what truly matters, and continue to check in on each other. Call our loved ones more. Finally — to see my family in Arizona soon. It’s been too long.