Laura Fishback | Dallas Market Leader Property Management, Senior Property Manager | Avison Young | Facilitating a better return to the workplace experience for tenants

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Laura Fishback, Dallas market leader property management, senior property manager at Avison Young. In this episode, we learn about Laura’s journey to commercial real estate and being recruited for a business development role by Avison Young in Dallas. For the past two years, Laura has grown the team from 1 to 9 and their properties from 1 to 15, all while living and working through a pandemic. Laura and her team offer a personalized and boutique approach to property management that really resonated with their new institutional partners. In preparing for the return into office at their buildings, Laura explains that they pulled tenants to better understand what they needed to facilitate the return to work for their employees. She shares that learning as well as her thinking around amenities and community connection being a critical driver of tenant engagement. To meet emerging needs, Laura and her team continue to evolve their product offering by creating smaller, more flexible spaces while recognizing the importance of the health and wellbeing of their buildings. I’m grateful to add that Laura also provided an unabashed promotional pitch for the value of having the HILO platform available in their buildings and the ways in which their tenants continually benefit from connecting to everything their building community offers on HILO. We’re excited to share this podcast with you. So be sure to subscribe to TEN, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now I’d like to welcome Laura to the show. I’m really glad you could be with us today. How are you?

LF: Doing great, how are you, David?

DA: I am fantastic. Thank you so much for asking. So really interested and curious about your journey to your current position and role. How did you get started?

LF: Wow, it’s been a journey. I’ve been in commercial real estate now for about 14, going on 15 years, and I’ve worked for a lot of great, large commercial real estate companies. And, you know, I was lucky that I got to be recruited by Avison Young about two years ago. It’s my anniversary now, two years.

DA: Happy anniversary. That’s great.

LF: Thank you. Thank you and was able to get recruited into the business development line of the side of property management which I absolutely love and have been very successful at. When I started here at Avison Young with our real estate management services division, we only had one employee and one building.

DA: Wow.

LF: And within two years, we now have nine employees and over a million and a half square feet with 15 properties. So we’ve been pretty busy over COVID.

DA: Well, that’s excellent. And I’m super excited to have the opportunity to actually work with you and collaborate with you and see that growth. So congratulations on both the anniversary and the success in terms of growing the business locally. Why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? What’s helped you to become successful? Is it skills, mentors, colleagues, what do you attribute to your success?

LF: All of the above. I absolutely attribute my success to everyone on the team. It really is a team effort and I couldn’t do it without my colleagues in our other service lines which is agency leasing and our capital markets team and our marketing team and our behind-the-scenes operations at corporate, not to mention project management. Jim Lewis and our project management service line has been a great mentor to me as well, work really well together. And also my senior chief engineer, Bobby Carlisle, he was the one that was there from the start, and we’ve had a great partnership and we’ve grown the business together. So I definitely don’t take, you know, the credit for everything. I think it’s definitely attributed to the team and I also have to say just networking and knowing people and that’s a lot to do with commercial real estate is who you know and the relationships and trusts that you build with, you know, different people.

DA: Right, amazing so, just a side question with that growth that you’ve experienced now, specifically in the Dallas Market, do you think there was a void in the market, that, you know, created an opportunity for Avison Young to come in and see this amount of growth or what do you think again, not only attributed to your own success, but maybe the success of Avison Young to be able to grow your portfolio?

LF: I do feel that within the COVID time that we were down per se, which was about that one and a half, two year mark, it was, you know, with everyone working different types of schedule, hybrid schedules, remote, flexible schedules, I think within ownerships with commercial real estate properties, it showed the owners that they really could have a different type of property management.

DA: Right.

LF: And at Avison Young, we provide more of a boutique, very client services-based approach. And so that really allowed us to grow and to get in with some nice institutional owners.

DA: Amazing, so actually, as I think about that two-year anniversary, you literally started just either before or at the beginning of the pandemic, correct?

LF: Yes, my anniversary was actually Valentine’s Day.

DA: Oh my, wow. Okay so my next question then is very relevant. So you know, there’s a lot of commentary around the return to workplace, some extreme opinions being expressed, often confrontational and even polarizing, so my team and I believe that everyone needs to live and work in the world as it is right now. And I think the industry and the world is actually moving in that direction as well. So recognizing that we can’t project the date forward, you know, this is perhaps our new normal and how do we live in a world with COVID, not post-COVID. And I think perhaps your market, in particular, maybe figured this out already. So I’m just curious, what do you think that means for the commercial real estate industry?

LF: I think it really means trust and respect for everyone on your team, especially, you know, the employees being able to engage with them, for them to be flexible, allowing them to have the flexibility for their work-life balance, and also for the owners, you know, our responsibility to the owners within the buildings that we manage. So that’s really important.

DA: Okay so how do buildings, because I think, you know, the buildings really are now part of a larger ecosystem of workplace, how do buildings continue to be important to businesses and people today?

LF: You know, as we were coming back to return to office, we pulled our tenants and said, what’s important to you? What would it take to actually get you to come back to your workspace?

DA: Right.

LF: And most all of the tenants definitely said more availability to places that they can have, where they can have smaller conference rooms or smaller places that they can have off to the side or outdoor spaces, which was very important to them as well. And just the flexibility to be able to move around the building and not be able to be stuck inside their suite in the building for the whole day. So with that, we definitely took a look at our capital plan for all of our assets and were able to get with our ownerships and to discuss those to budget appropriately, to say, hey, you know, this is what the population is wanting to be able to return to the office. So this is what we recommend, you know, to be able to put some capital into the buildings, to get the employees to come back to work.

DA: Right, so very much a collaborative effort and I love the fact that you’re listening, polling, talking with your tenants. I mean, they’re your customer, right?

LF: Yes, absolutely.

DA: So, you know, if it’s all about bringing people back, and I think that we recognize there are certain aspects of work life that cannot be replicated at home. So, you know, collaboration, you know, providing opportunities for creativity, inspiration, building culture, you know, those are all things that are very much so important to helping companies be successful. And I have heard it said more than once, that ultimately, commercial real estate operators are in the business of really helping their tenants attract and retain the best talent and that that’s really our job. So anything else that you’re thinking about to help your building partners be successful along that path?

LF: Yes and again, I keep coming back to the amenities because, you know, when companies are out looking for space for their employees and their companies, what does the building have to offer them? What does this particular office building can provide in competition to what’s next door, down the street or in that submarket? So, you know, we just have to set ourselves apart. You have to think outside the box and you also have to think community as well. I think the community around the office buildings helps to bring the outside in. And the more that you can get with the tenants to interact with what’s really going on outside of the building, you can bring that into the building, and then you can also have things, you know, right outside of the building. When people have employees they have stated that they want more outdoor activities, it’s nice to be able to tap into, you know, something outdoors that you could have for the employees in the building.

DA: I love that, you know, we often said that buildings are not silos, right?

LF: That’s right.

DA: And it’s so critical to think about the building in the context of the neighborhood or the city in which it’s situated and look for opportunities to collaborate with other partners in and around the area.

LF: Right.

DA: Ultimately creating a richer experience for everybody. And if you can’t have all the amenities under your roof, you know, don’t think so small. Think bigger and look beyond.

LF: Yup, yes.

DA: So I love that you’re thinking about that. And certainly, as we look to continue to provide the HILO platform to your buildings, we’re obviously looking to help you engage with other community partners.

LF: Yes.

DA: And create those connections and create those opportunities, so I love that.

LF: That’s why we love your platform and we were able to collaborate with you guys and get you guys on board in all of our assets and our tenants are very excited about the HILO app. And it’s very easy for them to just jump on and find something for lunch, or be able to find an activity for happy hour, or whatever it may be, be able to help in sustainability efforts, or to find a local gym, or something like that if they would like. So we really love the fact that HILO brings the community into the building. And so, you know, the old saying goes, think outside of the box. Well, your building is the box. And so it’s like, you really have to think outside of your building, how can you offer more to your tenants? You know, well, you go outside of the box. That’s what you do.

DA: I love that. I love that, I’ve not used that analogy before, but I think I might borrow it, so thank you.

LF: Yeah.

DA: That’s great, I mean, I always talked about the four walls, we shouldn’t look at it as the silo, but I love to just think outside the box.

LF: Yeah.

DA: And buildings are generally quite box-like, So I get that.

LF: Right.

DA: So the pandemic has really recalibrated. I think the market and helping building operators to recognize, that ultimately, buildings are places for people, that the people are the real asset. It’s great to have buildings, but as we’ve all discovered, a building with people that are, you know, that are not in it is not much of an asset. So as a result, we think tenant experience and workplace experience is fast becoming the new differentiator, helping to drive real estate decisions. So, you know, you used to be, you looked at the class of building or location of building. We think people are going to be looking at experience and choosing buildings no matter where they’re located, more along the lines of the experience that those building operators are offering.

LF: Absolutely.

DA: So, what are you thinking about in that sort of arena? And obviously, you’re partnering with us, which is awesome. So this is something very much that you recognize is important. But how do you think will define tenant experience now and in the years to come?

LF: I would say, again, just coming back to flexibility and just being able to create the environment that the tenants want, constantly going in, maybe once a quarter, maybe by annually, pulling your tenants, what’s important to you?

DA: Right.

LF: Because these things change as we all know over the last two years. We’ve gone from, you know, siloing to a flexible workspace, to a hybrid workspace. You know, people wanted to be flexible to come into the office. Now they want to be able to come to the office, but when they’re in the office, they want to have many choices of how to work and where to work. They don’t want to be stuck at their desk all day. They want to collaborate. However, they may not want to be in a large conference room. Maybe they want to go down to a tenant lounge or some sort of a sitting area down in the lobby that’s quiet or, you know, a small team can collaborate and work on a project together.

DA: Right, just curious, are any of your tenants involved in reconfiguring their spaces right now? Or in the weeks or months leading up to sort of this reopening of the workplace? And what level of activity in terms of redesign or reorganization have you seen in your buildings?

LF: We have had a couple actually where moving the market is actually moving into more of a smaller workspace than more of headquarters type styles.

DA: Right.

LF: So more spec suites for us is what the ownerships or what we’re suggesting to ownership is building out spaces that are pre-made, pre-ready which we call speculative suites. And those are ready to go, ready to move in and that’s what the market is wanting right now.

DA: Right.

LF: They’re wanting to be able to have smaller sub-headquarters per se, where it’s not just one big office, that’s got, you know, a hundred thousand square feet or more. You know, they want to have smaller spaces throughout the city where it’s closer to, you know, different markets for their employees that they can go to. So it’s closer to their home and they can have a more flexible work day.

DA: Right, we’re seeing that in other markets as well, certainly a considerable amount of space being put on the market at finished, completely, you know, ready to go. And then also that next stage, fully furnished as well and just offering a turnkey solution. And those spaces are sort of, you know, 1,000 square feet, 1500 square feet, 2,500 square feet, you know, great for 5, 6, 7, 10 people to come and really create a more of a collaborative environment versus somewhere you come with a defined office and desk. So very interesting.

LF: Yes.

DA: Let’s take a short break and we will be right back.

LF: Great.

Commercial Break

DA: We’re back with Laura Fishback, Dallas market leader property management, senior property manager at Avison Young, really glad you could be with us today. So we are living through a pandemic and it has been a really challenging period of time for so many.

LF: Yes.

DA: But it’s also provided an opportunity to, as I like to say, be better, do better and build something better. So can you share any details about your business, any new or unique that you’re now reimagining to reflect the reality of where we are today?

LF: Yes, absolutely, I would say reimagining just the overall health and wellness of your buildings. You know, slowly becoming very important in our workplace with sustainability efforts and that sort of thing but once the pandemic hit, it was, you know, what can we really do to make sure that our buildings are healthy. Not just, you know, the people, but the building itself, you know, everything from touching surfaces to not touching surfaces, to providing, you know, an electric hand towel dispenser, or to have an automatic door opener, or to have better filtration of air throughout the entire comp, you know, the entire building or the asset, these things are very important to people as they move back into the office environment.

DA: Right, there’s certainly been some press as of late, just a side question about Dallas in particular and where it is in sort of context to the entire country in terms of the return to work. I’m just curious, given that you’re there, you’ve got feet on the ground, what are you seeing in the downtown core? What are you seeing in your building specifically? How have the numbers increased? What’s sort of the overall vibe in the workplace right now?

LF: You know, actually to date, we are very much returning to office. The activity in the buildings has gone up by, I would say, at least 40%. We are anywhere and any of the assets in a range from 60 to 80% fully back in office.

DA: Wow.

LF: But I think that has a lot to do with because we’re very hybrid and flexible now. So I don’t think we will ever see a 100% back in the office again because of how we work, you know, nowadays.

DA: Right.

LF: So that’s probably going to be the norm going forward but it is very nice to be able to get out in the community and just see the activity the buzz out in the air and to see everyone smiling and walking, you know, to lunch or around the corner to get coffee or just anything like that. So it’s very nice to see activity in the buildings and the community.

DA: I’m sure, I’m traveling to New York next week to launch some new partners and meet with other clients and I can’t wait. I can’t wait to get out onto the street and just sort of see what it’s like there as well. And I think people have been yearning for this. I think none of us could have imagined two years ago that this would’ve lasted that length of time. And I think there’s definitely a real desire to get back out and connect with people and have those moments, you know, beyond just a virtual discussion on a Zoom call. It’s great that we’re able to do that today and connect, you know, Toronto to Dallas. But I think that we’re all looking forward to the opportunity for more in-person discussion as well.

LF: Absolutely, I know that all of our tenants are and we just see more tenants every day when we come back and it’s just so nice and refreshing. And you know, we just, we’re now being able to have more tenant events, which is nice, you know, like I said, we’re creating more collaborative spaces in our buildings, which means tenant lounge. We’re redoing our fitness centers to, you know, have them a little bit more open. So everyone’s kind of not on top of each other and really analyzing the spaces that we have to make sure that people feel that they have enough room to be able to congregate, you know, in an open space.

DA: Right, I heard another real estate professional describe, you know, it used to be that we design spaces in real estate and now we’re designing experiences in real estate.

LF: Yes we are, definitely.

DA: And I think that really becomes the overriding theme is that what, whatever we’re doing, whatever, you know, physical expression of space that we’re looking at, it’s okay, what is the experience that it is going to offer?

LF: Yes.

DA: And that’s exciting. Again, I don’t like to look at the pandemic as, you know, oh, look how much good has come from it because just been a horrible world event, but it is nice to see that we are emerging and we are evolving, and I think in the end, that’s a good thing.

LF: Absolutely, evolve, I think is a great word for what we have all learned through all of this is, you know, I feel like what it’s really taught us is looking back on everything. How, you know, how much we did think inside the box. And now, it’s really challenged all of us to really think outside of the box. And you know, how do we help others instead of just, you know, our ownerships and just the tenants, but really all of the employees that we have in the building.

DA: Right. You know, I’ve had some other guests on the show over the last couple of months, senior executives in commercial real estate, and they all expressed the same sentiment that they recognize now that their customer, you know, two years ago, probably they would’ve thought it was just the person that signed the lease. They all acknowledge that every person that enters their building.

LF: That’s right.

DA: For whatever purpose is now their customer.

LF: That’s right.

DA: And I think that’s exciting for the industry to have that level of recognition and begin to think about their buildings and the amount, the number of people that they touch, and how each one of those moments needs to be amazing. And that leads to this whole notion of it’s all about the experience.

LF: It is, absolutely.

DA:  Yeah so heading into our closing speed round, can you share one way in which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life?

LF: Oh yes, absolutely. I would definitely go back to just, I think it’s the collaboration. When we went into a pandemic, it really showed us how much we need people and everyone really needs people. I know that we’re, you know, on Zoom and Teams and different things like that. But the congregation is very important to be able to collaborate with teams, not with just in the workspace, but within the community as well.

DA: Right, agreed, agreed. What travel destination do you miss most?

LF: Dominican Republic.

DA: Yeah.

LF: I’m a beach girl for sure. So missing the beach.

DA: I get that. We’ve missed our beach vacation now for two years in a row. And I just need a little bit of sand and sun for that beautiful pale complexion that I have. So I get that. Anything new on your bucket list that you’d like to experience?

LF: Wow, that’s a good one. Let’s see, well, my bucket list right now is I have a graduating teen from high school, so getting her off to college and into the real world. So that’s very exciting for us right now.

DA: Absolutely.

LF: So that’s our focus this year in the summer, so that’s going to be a lot of fun.

DA: Okay and will they be going far from home?

LF: No, not too far from home which is nice.

DA: Okay, all right, perfect. Best of both worlds, there but not too far from there.

LF: Yes exactly.

DA: Got it. What’s your favorite technology that is now new to your life?

LF: Oh, wow okay. I Definitely, I have two.

DA:Okay.

LF: One is the HILO app and I’m not just saying that because we’re on HILO. It has really shown us how we can bring the community into our offices, which is amazing to me and our tenants absolutely love it. Second is collaborative software. There is one, if I can name it by name, it’s called Asana and Asana has changed the way that our management office works. All of our properties, all of our ownerships, all of our assets, all of our property managers and team use Asana as their daily or monthly meetings. We use it for agendas. We use it for project planning and it has changed how we work together. Instead of one person putting together notes on a Word document or an Excel document, which is kind of the old school way that we used to plan meetings and stuff, now it’s each person from each service line, whether it be leasing or the ownership or a project manager or even a general contractor or a service vendor. We give them the link to that project and they are able to go in and fill in what they have to, you know, share within the meeting, whether it’s documents, proposals, pictures, forms, anything like that. So everyone can go in at any time and see, you know, everything that’s going on with the project. That’s one of the ones that I love the most.

DA: That’s great and that’s not even just collaboration. That’s called co-creation.

LF: Yes.

DA:  So and then co-ownership, the fact that everybody, you know, owns that at the end of the day.

LF: Yes.

DA: That’s great, thank you so much for sharing that. What is your personal choice for days spent in-person with your colleagues versus working from anywhere?

LF: I would have to say midweek. Midweek is the best for me. I go into corporate midweek, and then towards the end of the week, I go out to my other properties to visit my other property managers. And Mondays are my days at home that I spend from getting my week planned out and started, you know, to set out on a good note. So that’s pretty much my routine.

DA: That’s great but just think about that for a minute and just think about you’re able to sort of look at, you know, where you are and be able to do the best work in that moment wherever you are.

LF: Yes.

DA: And even in your position to have the flexibility, to be able to think about, you know, where that might be best on any given day. So again, I think that’s one of the exciting outcomes. I don’t think it’s, you know, we have to come back, we should never come back. I do believe that hybrid is going to win the day.

LF: Absolutely.

DA: And kind of creativity and flexibility that you’re bringing to your sort of workday solution. I hope that others will do the same. And from my perspective, you know, just being a part of this commercial real estate ecosystem and providing a technology tool that helps keep people connected. And I’m pretty excited to be in this place and to provide this service as this world continues to evolve. So thank you so much for spending time with me today. I loved having the conversation and continue to get to know you better as you and I continue to collaborate. And I look forward to all the great things that we’re going to achieve together and continuing to have these conversations. So thank you so much for joining us.

LF: Yes, thanks for having me on today. It’s been a pleasure.

DA: All right, take care, Laura.

LF: Thank you.

DA: I want to thank Laura Fishback for joining me on this episode of TEN and for contributing to global conversation around buildings, being part of a robust ecosystem that can help to build great companies and that they are vital in the effort to cultivate and support great people and teams. The future of the workplace will likely take many forms and we will continue to explore what that looks like together. Subscribe to TEN for more conversations with leading CRE industry professionals and experts who all have something to say about tenant experience and the future of the workplace. We love hearing from you. So if you enjoyed this episode of TEN, please share, add your rating and review us through your preferred podcast provider. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live. Thank you.

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Rita Tené Ellison | Associate Director | T. Dallas Smith & Company | Putting customers first in CRE

Season 3 / Episode 20 / 22:20
In this episode, Rita explains that access to local amenities is becoming more of a driving factor in real estate decisions, causing smart landlords to become more attentive to tenant needs, and respond with appropriate programming. With a “client-first” mentality, her firm has maintained a consistent approach throughout the pandemic in responding to the evolving needs of its customers.

Jamie Petten | President & Executive Director | Kanata North Business Association | Connecting the community in Canada’s largest technology park

Season 3 / Episode 19 / 31:09
In this episode, Jamie shares that in order to attract and retain talent, a big part of the conversation is adding new opportunities to live and play at Kanata North Technology Park, and making new investments to enhance physical workspaces. Jamie is enthusiastic about the role that HILO will play in helping to connect all the partners in the park and promote all of the park’s activities.

Rita Tené Ellison | Associate Director | T. Dallas Smith & Company | Putting customers first in CRE

Season 3 / Episode 20 / 22:20
In this episode, Rita explains that access to local amenities is becoming more of a driving factor in real estate decisions, causing smart landlords to become more attentive to tenant needs, and respond with appropriate programming. With a “client-first” mentality, her firm has maintained a consistent approach throughout the pandemic in responding to the evolving needs of its customers.

Jamie Petten | President & Executive Director | Kanata North Business Association | Connecting the community in Canada’s largest technology park

Season 3 / Episode 19 / 31:09
In this episode, Jamie shares that in order to attract and retain talent, a big part of the conversation is adding new opportunities to live and play at Kanata North Technology Park, and making new investments to enhance physical workspaces. Jamie is enthusiastic about the role that HILO will play in helping to connect all the partners in the park and promote all of the park’s activities.