Management in the Time of COVID-19: 3 Key Considerations
Steven Caligor in Commercial Property Executive
The pandemic has dramatically changed the workplace—the manner in which we work, where we work, and the means of day to day communications with both employees and clients. What everyone thought was a short-term response to an immediate crisis has evolved into a new way of thinking about business and the workplace. While companies have been adopting various “return-to-work” approaches, it appears that some form of remote work is here to stay, with considerations for how we can approach management in this new normal.
In New York alone, just a third of the city’s workforce will return to the office by the end of 2020, according to a report released in mid-August by the Partnership for New York City, a consortium of major employers. As of late July, just 8 percent of Manhattan office workers had returned, according to CBRE Group, which measured unique card swipes at security turnstiles. Across the country, major technology companies such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google announced remote work policies through early to mid-2021.
Beyond health concerns associated with going to the office, there is also the matter of employee preferences. According to a survey conducted in June by Morning Consult, 75 percent of adults working remotely would like to continue to do so at least one to two days a week. Twenty-three percent said they would like to work from home three to four days a week, and 32 percent would prefer not to return to the office at all. In addition to commutes and safety issues, the uncertainty of school openings and logistics of juggling continued remote learning are factoring in to the work from home decision for many working parents.
The Partnership for New York City report notes that the real estate industry has been the most aggressive in bringing employees back, with more than half returned as of mid-August and 94 percent expected by the summer of 2021. But even if you and your business teams are back, or are making plans to return, many of your clients, vendors or other firms with which you do business may not be.
What has become the new normal, with long term business ripples yet to be determined, now requires new, innovative and evolving management strategies in these critical areas.
The challenges currently faced by the real estate sector mean that you need to employ greater oversight and step up your diligence on a daily basis. For example, in addition to your communication with tenants, partners, investors and lenders, stay in touch with vendors, appraisers, and other market experts. Spend more time on gathering market intelligence, understanding trends and the potential impact on your portfolio, and finding ways to stay well-informed.
It is imperative to find new ways to stay close to clients and maintain that personal relationship. It may require breaking old routines and moving beyond your comfort zone to maintain contact with major stakeholders, partners and counter-parties. If you typically email, it’s time to pick up the phone. While in-person meetings are now especially challenging, you can step up your schedule of virtual sessions and find other ways to stay in touch (even if it’s just saying “hello!”). Frequent, transparent and meaningful communication with your banker will strengthen your relationship beyond just banking.
Given the prolonged work from home framework and the related impact on employees, managers need to employ new strategies as well. Over the past few months, as the pandemic progressed, I switched gears from being a crisis manager back to being a leader and mentor. The most important thing was finding new ways to build up and motivate the team. Some of my most engaged people became quiet, others became tentative, and some just wanted to speak with me more as if we were in the office. They needed sublime engagement and positive reinforcement. I found that the team needed empathy, some fun discussions, and, mostly, ongoing comfort that we are in this together. I found myself reaching out just to say “hi,” or asking how I could help if someone was having a tough day.
That has been my experience and maybe yours has been similar. The point is, as a leader, to make adjustments according to the rhythms of your team and clients. We should be aware that the situation affects people differently, and we can use these times to become better people and managers.
John F. Kennedy said that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower, Steve Jobs said. Right now, the usual and customary operating procedures just won’t suffice. As this unprecedented period unfolds, we can approach the various facets of management in our industry by learning—and innovating—together.
Steven Caligor is executive vice president and division executive of the Structured Finance Group – CRE, Healthcare, Technology and Treasury Services at BHI, a full-service commercial bank and the US division of Bank Hapoalim.