My New Normal: Colliers Managing Director Daniel Holmes
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.
Hockey was Daniel Holmes' initial passion. The Whitby native even earned a four-year NCAA scholarship to pursue his hockey dream in the U.S. The dream eventually gave way to reality, obligations and a career in commercial real estate.
“I was very fortunate to have an uncle who had a successful career in commercial real estate that helped guide me, or pushed me, into this great industry and for that I am forever thankful,” Holmes said.
He eventually made his way to Colliers in 2002, where he made a unique pitch for a job.
“I purchased a lottery ticket and sent it to the managing director of Colliers with a handwritten note, asking him to 'take a chance on me,'” he said.
They took that chance. Eighteen years on, Holmes is Colliers' senior managing director, broker office practice group, for the Toronto region.
Holmes was on vacation when the coronavirus shut down his Toronto office (and everywhere else) in mid-March. So, for the first seven weeks, he operated out of a cottage in Eastern Townships, Quebec. He now works out of his Toronto home in The Beaches.
Bisnow: How did the initial transition from work to working remotely go?
Holmes: On March 16, 2020, the Holmes family of five: me, my lovely wife, Kathleen, and three kids, Charlie, Kenzie and Hudson, embarked on a March break we will never forget. With the skis strapped to the roof and the family packed for four amazing nights in Quebec, we hit the highway. As we traveled down the 401, the news of COVID-19 got worse and worse. Seven hours later we arrived at our destination and found that we no longer needed our skis; the hills were all shut down. Turn around? Heck no! We had an amazing 36-acre farm in the middle of nowhere all to ourselves.
On day two of our holiday, news broke that most companies, including Colliers, were sending their employees home. My holiday came to a quick halt. It was time to turn on the Zoom camera and get to work. We have approximately 300 employees as part of the brokerage team in the Greater Toronto Area and this was no time to be chasing farm animals.
The first couple of days were the most overwhelming for everyone. If you had asked me at the beginning of the year to try an experiment that involved sending home the 300 employees in the Greater Toronto Area, with no notice or preparation to see if we could keep the business going, I would have said that it was impossible.
Most people resist nominal change under normal circumstances, never mind sudden, drastic change. Well, it happened, regardless of what anyone would have wanted, and like many other companies, we were happily impressed by the way our team responded.
Bisnow: It’s been a few weeks now. Have things changed from the beginning to now? Challenges?
Holmes: Did we have challenges? Of course we did. I can’t imagine there were companies that didn’t. However, when I look back on those first few weeks of working from home, what strikes me most is the dedication that the team put forward to ensure business continuity. It’s truly remarkable how the entire team pulled together.
As the Holmes family realized that going back to schools and offices were no longer options, and that all activities were suspended, we decided to make the best of the cards we were dealt and stay in our remote cottage haven for another 46 days! The WiFi was great and the kids had room to run around without another person in sight. We were social distancing in style.
Bisnow: What is your greatest concern with your business currently?
Holmes: As we enter week eight, there seems to be increasing optimism for a return to business operations. This is not to be confused with a return to the office. I believe we will return to near-full work capacity long before we return to full capacity in our offices.
My aim now is to ensure that we are focusing on what matters most as leaders (our people) and how we are preparing for the future. My greatest business concern is that we make sure we take advantage of the lessons learned from the largest work-from-home experiment in the world and improve our business. What have we learned and what have we earned the right to change? Our situation has given us an advantage by showing that we can revisit the way we’ve always done it and find better ways to work.
Each week in our sales meeting there is a theme and a call to action. The themes for the first couple weeks were around mass chaos: “you can’t model chaos” was fitting as the stock market fell 30% in less than a month. We then turned our theme to “outreach and support” and as reality set in, and we pressed on to acknowledge that “we will never go back to our old normal, we will only go forward to a new normal.”
Two weeks ago our theme was geared towards trust: “I believe the future will require an increased level of trust.” Trust between employees and employers will be of paramount concern as companies move to plan their future return. This has led to our most recent theme: “planning for the path forward.”
In the Greater Toronto Area we are now looking at the business in the short term (100-day cycles), while still keeping an eye on our long-term goals and initiatives. The information that is provided to us changes daily and often lacks detail, in the face of this we work with the details we do have and adjust quickly to that which is out of our control.
Bisnow: Any lows/highs over the last few months?
Holmes: On the personal side, I have never spent this kind of time with my family. Specifically, we have had every dinner together for the past 50 days and it has been incredible. I have read with my son every day (well … almost every day) and have found a new appreciation for playing checkers. Movie night is certainly a common theme in our house.
This break from an extremely insane schedule that had us in 15 rinks per week, with two working parents and three kids that loved to be active nonstop, has been healthy and likely more needed then we knew. Sometimes you need to slow down to really see how great life is.
We are fortunate enough that this can be one of those times. As a side note: Yes, each one of my kids (and I) get sent to their rooms at least once a week, and everyone living under one roof has tested everyone’s patience at times.
Bisnow: How do you see the virus permanently affecting how the real estate business operates? Can we go back?
Holmes: Over the last seven weeks I have had over 50 conversations with CEOs, clients and leaders sharing advice and trying to learn. The main takeaway is that leaders are focused on their people. I am incorporating that advice in my team as we create our own “new normal.”
I look forward to tomorrow, I look forward to the “new normal.” I appreciate the reset. This is a chance for all of us to revisit our priorities and choose what’s important going forward. We all can choose our own future, with the actions we take today.