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My New Normal: Compass Development West Coast Regional Director Sandra Eaton

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.

The pandemic hit less than a year into her tenure, but Compass Development West Coast Regional Director Sandra Eaton said she and her team are still in growth mode.

Among the tasks making up Eaton’s still-full schedule is hiring. Compass Development Marketing Group, a division of SoftBank-backed startup Compass, is still adding talent for current and future projects, Eaton said.

Outside of work, Eaton has been able to make new time thanks to today’s unusual circumstances. Without needing to commute into the company’s San Francisco offices, she can go on morning runs before starting work. After clocking out, she can enjoy dinner with family members who are also working remotely.  

Eaton, who took over her role at Compass last year after several years elsewhere in the company, was previously with The Mark Co. and Polaris Pacific. She said she expects pent-up demand for restaurants, real estate and travel to follow an eventual economic reopening.

Compass Development West Coast Regional Director Sandra Eaton working from her North Bay residence.

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

Eaton: I have found that there is no spare time. Actually, my workday has expanded. It’s easier to slip through a day with little break between virtual meetings. Access to group meetings is easier than ever and, in many ways, we are more efficient, and we are taking full advantage of this.

Added bonus: There is no need to commute or cross a bridge to San Francisco for a meeting, or get on a plane to Seattle, NYC or LA. Instead, I now begin the day with an early run, then work straight through with meetings until dinner, which I get to enjoy with my family, who’ve also escaped the city and are sheltering with us. I feel fortunate to be able to shelter with my family in Sonoma’s wine country where being together has helped each of us deal with these challenging times.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed working side by side with one son who works for Airbnb and is sheltering in place along with his wife. This is something we never would have experienced. I’m incredibly grateful that we get to share this time together.

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

Eaton: We’ve just reviewed steps to ensure we’re compliant in S.F. I appreciate the difficult position to balance the economy and the safety of our workforce and offices. At Compass Development Marketing Group, we will be strictly following OSHA guidelines to keep everyone safe and productive. We understand that it will take great effort on everyone’s part to reopen.

In our S.F. headquarters, we’re looking at a single point of entry, a touchless check-in and a rotation schedule to ease into this. It won’t be zero to 100 but at CDMG we will be moving forward incrementally with the realization that should anyone on our team become ill with this virus, we all take a step backward. There is no playbook for what we are experiencing right now. We are being very cautious.

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

Eaton: I think we’ve done a great job in California, and as eager as I am to get back to some semblance of normalcy, we have to do so with extraordinary care. I miss socializing and being in the same room with our team and the people I care about. I miss our clients and visiting sites to review progress, sharing a cup of coffee, catching up with the parking garage attendants, frequenting the neighborhood restaurants — nearly everything that I once took for granted. One of our team members said they even miss traffic and meant it. I will celebrate each step toward once again being able to work together.

Eaton and a friend.

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

Eaton: As I did before. I’m fortunate that I don’t have the extra concern of young children at home. I long to see all of our children again, including one who lives in Tokyo. I was cavalier about this at the beginning of the pandemic. What I’ve learned has made me a more cautious person than I’ve ever been before.

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

Eaton: CDMG, which is a division of Compass, is a tech company in the real estate space. We were already using state-of-the-art technology, so our transition has been more seamless. We’ve proven to be a very adaptive group, and in our space, you have to embrace an ideology that pivots quickly to meet market demands. I couldn’t be more pleased about how proactive we have been as a group. We were ahead of the curve in putting systems into place to protect and move forward in new and adaptive ways. I’m surprised at the growth opportunities in front of us now. I’m incredibly busy and not just with internal meetings, but with current and future projects — so much so, that we are looking at hiring.  

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

Eaton: Working from home may have been perceived as a luxury and somewhat isolating. The biggest surprise for me when it became mandatory and a necessity was that it became much more collaborative. It leveled the experience for everyone and may have created a greater sense of another type of community. We now work to a certain degree in each other’s homes and space. We see each other without the best hair, makeup and in workout clothes. We share a part of our lives that was previously not shared and actually strengthen the relationships and create a deeper bond. I think we’ll all understand each other a little bit better, and from where I sit that is hugely positive.


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

Eaton: Compass has ensured that as a group we stay in regular contact through forums, community service, education and more. I couldn’t be more pleased about how proactive we been from the beginning of this for the well-being of the entire company. We quickly adapted using national analytics to make meaningful adjustments in our strategy and forward planning. We continue to look daily, assessing what is needed. The transparency has been remarkable and each person’s role vital to our success. That message was delivered from the top.

We are day to day, and even hour by hour, still acting as a community and performing with this vision. The ongoing task for us is how do we get even better in spite of the obvious obstacles? At the risk of sounding nouveau cliché, we truly are all in this together. What will we learn from this and what sacrifices are we willing to make for the sake of all? That team approach serves us very well.

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

Eaton: It definitely will make us more reliant on technology. That said, we are first and foremost a relationship and people business. Those that don’t adapt will likely lose their way. But the ones that adapt to the new tools and embrace and actually get excited about how to adjust and thrive will be the survivors and forge ahead with a vision that will bring even stronger relationships.

Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about right now?

Eaton: Everything. That this will end, and we all will come out stronger.

Bisnow: What lessons from the past can we bring to now?

Eaton: As said, there is no playbook for this. We’ll make mistakes, but they won’t be passive in nature. We’re going to do the best we can with the best of intentions based on the most accurate information that we can obtain. Know that this will pass, and we will work our way through it, albeit at times with great difficulty. But with great difficulty come great lessons that make us better at what we do and who we are.

Unlike the Great Recession, lending practices and real estate did not lead us into this great global economic despair. My belief is that we are a social society and there is pent-up demand for restaurants, travel, sports, shopping and, yes, finding a home.