A Look at Returning to the Office Environment

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John: Hi everyone, Welcome to Life is Digital. I am your host, John Bianchi. Get ready to learn about digital marketing as we share our knowledge and perspectives on current trends, best practices and actionable tips to help you grow your business in the digital age.

Well, I am so excited this morning because I have Kim Mills, the VP of Phoenix Commercial Properties, and Marci Robertson, the Director of Marketing for Phoenix Commercial Properties here with me today. Ladies, so glad to have you on board.

Marci: Awesome to be here, John.

Kim: Thank you so much, John, for having us.

John: I’m sure that the pleasure is all mine. I really love having two guests on the podcast who have a very different perspective, I think, than what a lot of maybe business owners think about during their day-to-day, right? What you both do is key and vital as an infrastructure opportunity for business owners, but maybe they don’t always think about commercial office space and real estate on a day-to-day basis. But, it hugely impacts not only themselves but their teams, and before we jumped on today, we were talking a little bit about some key shifts in the industry as it relates to the currency of affairs and the pandemic, etcetera.

I thought maybe if you both could share some key industry facts about where you see this industry right now, and maybe some of the changes that might affect small businesses and business owners moving forward. I think that they would really find some value in that.

Kim: Well, I think you’re absolutely right. Business centers don’t think about their office space or workplace on a daily basis. However, it is key to recruitment and retention, and most importantly, engagement of their employees, so thinking about with intention that office space and keeping those factors in mind is critical to the success of the organization. Obviously, the pandemic has thrown things into a little bit of a whirlwind. We have a number of organizations that are having employees work from home remotely, and that will impact, we believe, that will impact the future of commercial real estate going forward in multiple ways, and there are studies out there that show working from home can be productive, if not more productive. And, so how are you going to take that into consideration as you move forward with your office space?

Just some things to think about and consider.

John: I think those are excellent points. And, I think as the economy shifts, obviously, we will get back working. We’ll adapt to this new marketplace. Something I think we still maybe need to figure out, is working remotely beneficial for all employees? Maybe, a hybrid model. There’s obviously big places like We Work and the larger co-working spaces that have tried to create this community environment.

I don’t know if you see this trend, but do commercial space to see that as maybe developing more of that community aspect for office space as it makes it attractive for the start-ups and businesses to get some of their employees back working. I don’t know if you’ve got any information on that, but that could be interesting on the shift.

Kim: Sure, actually, pre-pandemic, there was a huge shift in build-out of space in general, and so collaboration areas, open space, low level cubicles, where you can see across the span of the offices, real open concept is basically the term for it.

That was very, very big in the commercial real estate world, however, with the pandemic, we are seeing more organizations consider more private offices, more separation of employees, whether that’s by partitions, higher level cubicles, etcetera. So, I think the co-working spaces like We Work that you mentioned are going to struggle a little bit with that new shift in employee protection, if you will. How are we going to protect our employees coming back to the workplace? And by the way, there are many organizations, we feel fairly normal here at Phoenix, but even some of our contemporaries in the commercial real estate world are not back in the office yet, or they’re doing shifts of teams coming in for the office and rotating.

John: Sure.

Kim: But you have to think about, okay, if we reduce our footprint and we have smaller space, because more people are working from home effectively, by the way, then, how are we going to clean and keep that environment safe and, I hate to say, COVID-free, but as much as possible, have employees feel comfortable to come in and use a desk that somebody else used an hour ago. It’s all kinds of considerations that have to be thought about.

Marci: Again, when we do market space, we are starting to emphasize the layout of the space and how many private offices are available because we know that that’s appealing to people. But, going back to the co-working thought… We have worked with some people that are thinking of doing build-outs and co-working environments, and we’ve seen them even shift their thought patterns and how they’re laying out that space to include more private offices, less open collaboration space, then we probably would have seen pre-pandemic.

John: That’s really fascinating, and I appreciate you sharing that, Marci. Working in marketing, obviously, you’re a marketing expert. You know what it takes to get the message out there. You’re probably helping the companies that you’re working with to talk effectively and communicate this message effectively to their employees or to their leadership teams. What are some things that you’ve seen that businesses or business owners have to do differently now in marketing that story or communicating that store? What’s some new tools or new strategies they’re employing to get that message out there?

Marci: Well, I think we’re going to see and continue to see a lot more as far as video goes, and I can speak to how we market here at Phoenix. Pre-pandemic, we did a lot of email blasts. We did a lot of social media posts and all of that, but now we’re really seeing the emphasis of video come into play, whether that be drone video, virtual tours, those kind of things that have really amped up since the start of this.

John: That makes absolute sense. When we work with our clients and something that we’ve been telling them is to take advantage of digital channels. I think a lot of businesses, obviously, the best business you can generate is a warm introduction or a referral. That’s never going to go away. Your network is extremely important to you.

Now, there is an opportunity though for businesses to highlight and present their message digitally through digital storytelling, digital communications. We work with a lot of companies on paid advertising. You mentioned social media. You’ve done a lot of that. Maybe now, it’s not just doing kind of that general awareness, but it’s getting in front of the right target individuals… You know, I wonder how much we’ll see this shift, like you mentioned, Kim, to where an individual who’s effectively working from home, maybe they want to come in once a month to a place where they can commune with their fellow teammates. I’m certainly somebody that loves to come into the office. I like being in that atmosphere, so I think it would be hard for me to work remotely forever.

Exactly, exactly. I think that team aspect is important.

So, Marci, are you seeing any shift in channels for how businesses communicate? You mentioned video. That’s certainly a different channel than previous. Are you seeing that businesses are communicating even with their employees differently in these build-outs? What are some different channels that they might be using to communicate with their leadership teams or with their employees?

Marci: I definitely think, I know here at Phoenix, we are definitely doing more as far as virtual meetings, that kind of thing.

Gosh, I even attended a virtual broker event the other day. That was very cool. So people are getting very creative in how they do their outreach. On this broker tour that we had, it was just like being there in real live event where they did giveaways and they would switch screens to show you different aspects of the property, and so there are creative ways to reach out to people and to interact with people. Like I said, video, but those virtual meetings as well.

John: Sure… I wonder do you see a shift in the communication strategies? Like how you’re talking about what your value proposition is… Have you seen a change even in the way that you communicate your value to the marketplace and your branding, your communications, obviously as it relates to marketing, but also the unique value that you bring as a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

Kim: Yeah, so I will say we are very blessed to have somebody who’s so awesome in marketing. She is very humble in not telling you that she was on the cutting edge of this whole video virtual tour kind of thing before the pandemic ever had.

So I, I don’t have to worry about our branding and our messaging from a corporate perspective, because Marci does just a fabulous job. When we are talking about space or presenting space to potential tenants, etcetera, we are talking about what is that landlord or what is that owner doing to protect employees, help protect visitors, etcetera?

And again, there are a number of folks who aren’t back in the office place yet or the workplace yet, so those steps are still being defined.

We actually ran a little local informal survey a back in June-July time frame for a talk I’m getting ready to do for the National Association of Women in Construction for the Raleigh chapter.

And one of the avenues that we inquired about were the steps that people are taking that owners and landlords are taking to protect employees when they come back to work, and they are right now, the typical ones you would think about hand sanitizers everywhere. I’ve been in buildings that even the elevators only allowed four people, and they had little place holders, markers, if you will, on the floor of where you’re supposed to stand. You punch the elevator button and the minute you get off there is a hand santizer area right there, so you can immediately sanitize and go forward, so it’s just little things like that, that owners and landlors are having to think about for their tenants and their employees as they come back to work. So, we tell that story.

John: That makes perfect sense. I can see that that’s going to be important moving forward, probably for the foreseeable future as people kind of absorb the new landscape, as we do get into the phases of re-opening, I think some of these things will remain permit and I think that’s important.

Or like you said, telling that story and for people creating a sense of as much ease and as much comfort as possible among their employees as they kind of make this shift. And, as we eventually get a new wave of young people into the workforce… You may have certain expectations that are just simply the norm and common place from what they’re experiencing every day. Kim and Marci, this has been a fascinating conversation. I wonder if maybe there’s a couple of key takeaways that you both can leave us with. Maybe, Kim, you could leave us with something from the commercial real estate side. And then, Marci, you can leave us maybe with a few key points on the marketing side, maybe something that’s even general, for all businesses to think about as they market themselves in this new time period, Kim, I’ll hand it over to you and maybe there’s a couple of things you could leave us with.

Kim: Sure, sure. So one of the things I wanted to share is, we talked about work from home, and in our formal survey, 60% of our respondents who are the majority of which are here in the Raleigh/Durham area, they had zero to 20% of their employee population working from home.

However, yeah, isn’t that interesting? 55% percent felt that they would have 50 to 100% of their employees work from home going forward, so I think a key time away from that is sit down with professionals who can help you, whether it’s a commercial real estate broker, an architect, a space planner, but who can help you think about how can you reconfigure or configure your current office or reconfigure if you’re going into a new space, that work place to accommodate. So, people who are working from home, but also people like you and me and Marci who do like coming to the office some, whether that is hoteling where you get to come in and drop in and use a common area of desk or space, or whether that is a few privacy rooms or how that configuration might look to accommodate that. There are professionals out there who can help you think about it, and most business owners have a business to run, and This is not their forte… Right? They’re doing it for another reason and they need to focus on that, especially during this difficult time, so let professionals help you figure out what works best for your engagement, attraction and retention of your employees and their safety.

John: That’s awesome. Thanks. Yeah, that’s fascinating.

Marci: I would just say… be creative in how you tell your business story and really start to think outside the box and how you use different media mediums such as a video and that kind of thing to get out there in social media and really tell your branding story. Tell who you are. Tell what you’re doing in the midst of all of this that’s going on in the world and how your particular company is making a difference and just tell your story. People like to hear the thought processes behind why you do what you do.

John: That was absolutely fantastic. Well, Kim and Marci, like I said, I really appreciated having you both on our podcast today, and I appreciate you, the audience, for joining us on this episode of Life is Digital. And don’t forget, I’m your host, John Bianchi. Remember to rate, review and subscribe to the show until next time. Don’t stop marketing.

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