It’s been a long nearly 16 months. Since mid-March of last year, people have been working from home. Zoom calls have replaced most in-person meetings. And industry professionals have attended commercial real estate conferences through the screens of their laptops.
But as COVID-19 cases continue to fall and vaccines are now available to most everyone who wants one, commercial real estate brokers face the big question: Is it time to return to in-person networking, meetings and industry events?
For Mark Kolsrud, senior executive vice president with the Minneapolis-St. Paul office of Colliers, that answer is a resounding “yes.”
Kolsrud, like many industry professionals, has already been meeting in person with clients. He’s already returned to the office. And being back in-person, he says, has been one of the keys to keeping his business not only steady but thriving during the pandemic.
We recently spoke with Kolsrud about the importance of in-person networking and the physical office space. Here is some of what he had to say.
Have you seen workers returning to the office and in-person networking already?
Mark Kolsrud: I have been watching our industry. The quick answer: The people who are trying to grow their careers are very interested in coming back to the office, being collaborative and working physically close to each other.
There are other people, though, who feel that they can do their jobs remotely. They’re asking, ‘What is the problem if I can do my job remotely?’
It’s an interesting debate to watch. I think in some cases, it might make sense for people to work remotely. But for others, I think coming back to the office, meeting people in person, attending networking events all makes a big difference. Everyone has their different personal circumstances that lead them to want to work remotely or not.
The bottom line on whether people should return to work in person or remotely? It depends. That might sound like a cop-out, but there are variations out there.
What about in commercial real estate? Do you think brokers benefit from networking, industry events and returning to the office?
Kolsrud: I do. In our industry, the communication around a transaction is so important. How you resolve conflicts and problems is really one of the key parts of our business. The other part is information and how information is shared.
Maybe you are a reader and you’re OK getting your information that way. But for me, I gain information by talking to people. I get a better sense of what the real market information is by talking to people in the market. That is the part, working together, learning together how to best help clients, that is lost when people are working remotely. You need your time when you talk to your client directly.
For me and my team, working together probably a minimum of three days a week and ideally four days a week is what we have decided is important.
What is lost when people work remotely?
Kolsrud: You can get your work done remotely, but how do you grow your business? Are you adding new relationships? What things are you doing to grow your business? Now, there are some people who have been in the business long enough that they are no longer trying to grow their business. They can work remotely just fine. But I am still interested in growing my business. I have a team of six people. Working together with my team every single day is a highlight for me. I enjoy it. I like sharing successes and hardships. I like talking about what worked on any given day and what didn’t. Being on calls with each other isn’t the same thing as being in the same space together and meeting in person.
Companies have to decide if they want people back in the office or not. If you are a programmer, maybe you don’t need to come back. That is an individual discussion every employer and employee must have.
A lot of people have missed the collaboration and the act of bouncing ideas off each other that comes with being in the office.
Kolsrud: I was so happy when the office coffee maker started getting turned on again. I was so happy when we started to have refreshments and people telling stories, laughing and making jokes. One thing that happens more often when you are in person is that people get an idea or a lead. They need someone to work on these ideas with them. If someone is down the hall, that’s probably who I’m going to turn to with this lead or idea. That doesn’t happen when you’re not in the office.
What about networking events and conferences? Is it important to see those returning in person?
Kolsrud: it sure is. I love to go to industry events. The content of industry events is really great these days. But what I enjoy the most is the time before and after the presentations. I like walking around, talking to people, having coffee with them. We might have a transaction that we can talk about. It’s not only about the content of the events. It’s about meeting with people, seeing clients at these events. That doesn’t work on a Zoom call.
The education that is provided at these events is great. But the social interaction between each other that you get at these events? That is the best.
How normal is the working world now?
Kolsrud: I am one of those people who never really stopped seeing clients. I was meeting with them very early on. I was still trying to meet people face-to-face. Not every client wanted to see you face-to-face, so there was a smaller opportunity to meet with people. But our team closed $1 billion worth of transactions during the last two years. COVID made things more difficult because no one knew what the market was going to do. But investors soon realized that COVID, surprisingly, changed some markets for the good. The industrial real estate market is better today than it was before COVID thanks to the rise in demand for ecommerce.
There are winners and losers in every market change. The key is to be flexible enough and move enough so that you can sustain a change in the economy or the market. That applies to this discussion. If you are working by yourself, clicking on your computer and the market is changing, are you going to be the first to know about it? Or are you going to know about it more quickly because you are in the office bouncing ideas off of everyone else? I think it’s easier to be in the know when you are in the office.
I am a social individual. I know some people are not as social as I am. All the same, I think it’s helpful to learn and work with each other. That’s my opinion. I think we are better working together than we are working apart. There is always going to be stuff that we have to worry about. If we can address these things together and be in it together, we’ll come out better on the other end.