Sarah Berman, President, The Berman Group, discusses how real estate companies are trying to bring employees back into the office. She shares examples of creative communications approaches that owners and operators are implementing. Sarah also offers insights into how technology has become the driver for growth in both residential and commercial real estate.
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About the Host:
HOST: Doug Simon
GUEST: Sarah Berman
DOUG: Sarah, you’ve had your company for 16 years, and obviously the pandemic has changed quite a bit in the real estate space. Can you give the viewers a quick take and sort of where you’re at now and what you’re doing?
SARAH: Sure. We are a full-service agency, and we do public relations, we do marketing, and we do events. So, the last two years have been challenging, but also really inspiring in some ways. We have pivoted. We have changed our events to become virtual programs. We’re finally getting back to do some in-person events this fall. And we’ve been creating campaigns for many of the real estate owners and operators and developers we work with, both in the commercial space and the residential space to help them to navigate Covid and also to bring their tenants along, to make sure their tenants know they operate safely, but also to create innovation at this time of challenge.
DOUG: Yeah, and obviously, in the commercial space, I was sort of joking that I’m the only business owner to sign my commercial lease during Covid and re-up for more time on that. But it’s a challenge, and one of the issues is about getting people back to the office. Obviously, that’s to the benefit of people who own commercial real estate properties. How are they going about trying to get people to bring their employees back?
SARAH: Yeah, well, you’re not the only one. There have been some record leases this year. Thank goodness. People, I think, do understand that a company needs to maintain its culture, needs to bring its people together, needs to attract talent, and an office is a very good way to do that. But owners, I think, have been very, very, creative during this time. Obviously, safety and being a safe environment is always first, right, for any business. But I think beyond that, now is a moment where you’ll see a lot of real estate owners and operators getting very creative about the amenities, they can create for office workers. Many of our clients have launched events and pop-ups and collaborations, kind of things you see maybe in consumer marketing and PR, but all with the goal of welcoming people back of making them feel good about the neighborhoods they work with, and also really helping the neighborhood retailers and the neighborhood amenities to survive. So, whether it’s your landlord setting up coffee in the lobby every day for your return or finding ways to cater within the building, we’re finding reasons to some of the owners have created events on their plazas so you can eat lunch outdoors in a safe way, but also have some entertainment at the same time. So, there’s been a ton of creativity, and I think that’s really important. People, I think, feel really energized when they’re back in an office with their friends, and colleagues, and managers, and mentees. I think that’s really a big part of work, is a community at work. But sometimes you have to do some things to lure them back in the first place. And we’re so proud to be working with some of the most innovative owners. Brookfield, for example, there’s not a day that goes by that they don’t have an event going on at Brookfield Place. I mean, beer gardens and pop-ups and retail events, and I mean, just such creativity, art are being activated. It’s been incredible to watch.
DOUG: Obviously, when it comes to office space, New York City has so much more office space than other cities. But are any of the things going on here and opportunities also happening in other markets around the country, and can they sort of take the best of what some of the landlords are doing in New York to try to keep the tenants and bring them back to other markets?
SARAH: It’s funny you ask that. Just last week we were asked by a real estate operator and owner in Philadelphia, you see this in Miami, you see this in Boston. We opened an office in Boston during Covid. I mean, yes, there’s tremendous creativity, I think New York, there’s a ton of creative thinking. But you see it in other places too, concerts, rooftop events, creatively using open space. Yes, and I think owners also need to communicate better than ever before, right? It is not enough to just send a flyer under the door that there won’t be a housecleaning on Martin Luther King Day. We’ve had owners and operators do newsletters, create apps, as I mentioned, create all kinds of new tenant notification portals. We’ve seen this around the country. And it’s just a terrific new protocol, if you will. Many owners having apps and communicating directly with tenants, which is so important.
DOUG: Yeah, and since so much of real estate is, I guess, the three key things, location, location, location. Real estate owners haven’t really been forced to adapt to changes, including technology, but Covid sped that up. Could you talk a little bit about what’s the best practices today? And you’ve alluded to some of the things that they’re doing.
SARAH: Yes. And I’ll even mention on the residential side, technology is fast. It’s really fast growing on the residential side. Residential management historically hadn’t changed in 50 years. You had a building super, you could submit some maintenance requests, and that was about it. And now, we’re seeing the adaption of all these new apps, creative apps. We represent a company called Alfred, where you can get your groceries delivered, your dry cleaning delivered, your dog walked, submit your maintenance request, and also have events that allow you to really engage with the people you live with. Latch is another one that has really created a whole building operating system, automating all those building processes that you think about, not only admitting you to a residential or commercial space, but then powering on all the things you need within the space. Whether it’s getting into the wellness center or getting into fitness area, there’s so many great things you can do through these applications, and you’re seeing that as well on the commercial side. So, it is a time of change. I think technology is really, as you said, being sped up as a result of Covid, and people having been at a distance and now kind of needing everything at their fingertips and needing to operate a bit more smartly as well.
DOUG: Well, thanks so much for your deep dive into what’s going on in commercial and residential from a PR perspective. I’m sure it’ll a lot of value to people both in that industry and those outside of it who might see change and be experiencing some of the same challenges in their own businesses. Thanks so much for sharing your views.
SARAH: Thank you. I have really enjoyed it. Thank you so much, Doug.