Lisa Kirsch | Head of Strategic Initiatives | Landis | Why we need to let people decide how and where they want to work

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host, David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Lisa Kirsch, Head of Strategic Initiatives at Landis. In this episode, we learned about Lisa’s journey to the startup world, catching the bug, as she likes to call it, and her early days in the PropTech space. Her current role at Landis combines all that she loves, real estate, mission, and innovation. Lisa suggests that buildings are spaces that either attract or repel people. Each building and each company needs to figure out why people should come together in their space. All of the stakeholders need to figure out the why before they figure out the what. Lisa shares the impact that their new workplace has had on the Landis team. The key is offering everyone the autonomy to decide how and where they want to work. Like what flexible space providers do, Lisa believes that building operators need to move faster at providing turnkey solutions for occupiers. I love how Lisa describes great tenant experience as solving your customer’s pain points along their journey. Making the workday easier should be a major driver, a better experience. Our conversation continued with additional insight into the ways in which Landis is working to make home ownership more accessible to more Americans. 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 Lisa to the show. I’m really glad you could be with us today.

LK: David, thank you so much for having me here. I’m really looking forward to speaking with you.

DA: Absolutely. Should be a fun conversation. So tell us about your journey to your current position role, how did you get started?

LK: So it goes a little back. I started my career in economic development, I actually worked for the City of New York for about 11 years, really leading large-scale redevelopment projects around the city. Everything was very much focused on creating jobs, housing, and amenities for all the different areas around the city. But then I got the startup bug. Many of my friends at that time were in startups, either they were starting their own companies or they were working in them. For all graduates, I do not recommend that as a way to choose a career path, but it did work out for me. I naturally went into PropTech ’cause I knew real estate. So I ended up at a company called Knotel. Knotel was in the flexible office business and this was before the pandemic, this was when everyone used to go into the office five days a week. And with them, I went through this tremendous scaling period where I learned a ton, it was a lot of fun. We 10X the business in 18 months, absolutely insane. But then the pandemic happened and as we know, offices around the entire world shut down for months on end. But then my journey continued and last year I joined a company called Landis, which is where I am now. And Landis is a home ownership company. We work with people who are just below the threshold to qualify for mortgage. So these are people who want to buy homes but aren’t able to right now, and we determine whether or not with the right coaching, the right support, we can really help them on their path to home ownership. If the answer is yes, we give them a budget. They actually shop for a house, they themselves select the house that they want live in today, that they want own. Landis buys it for them, we rent it to them and we coach them to mortgage readiness. And when they’re ready, they buy back from us and they go from renter to owner without ever having to move again. And that’s a really awesome thing.

DA: That’s incredible. I love that story, I just think that’s so relevant, particularly today as home prices are only going up and up. So that’s a phenomenal mission for the company. I’m really excited to hear more about it as we continue to chat.

LK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think today with all the technology that’s out there, we can really scale what we do to everybody in a way that wasn’t possible even five, 10 years ago.

DA: Right. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited for this opportunity? What has helped you to become successful in this new role?

LK: Yeah. Well, Landis is really taking everything I love and putting it into one company, that’s real state, that’s mission, and innovation. There is this thing that I read in a book that said, “Passion is not the thing that excites you the most, it’s actually the thing that you keep doing when things get really, really hard,” and solving a challenge like home ownership and financial inclusion is really, really hard. When I worked at the city, I worked with amazing colleagues, both inside the city as well as private partners, whether they were capital or developers. And we all worked together to take on really, really complicated projects, really, really hard projects, things that people thought were not possible. And what I learned from this incredible group of people is that if you get together, we can really create solutions any day, even if it seems impossible.

DA: Right, fabulous. So the reason why I reached out to you, there’s a lot of commentary about the return to workplace and some very extreme opinions being expressed and some are confrontational, some are polarizing. The HILO team truly believes that everyone needs to live and work in the world as it is right now. And I think the CRE industry and employers, we can’t continue projecting into the future to an imaginary date when we will return to normal, perhaps the world with COVID is the new normal. So I saw a post that you shared on LinkedIn, and I’m going to share it with the audience. And you said the following, you said, “Landis has just moved into a new office and we absolutely love it.” So you have me there and you went on to say that, “Real estate is about creating spaces for people. And here’s what the office means and doesn’t mean for us, the office is a home base for all hybrid, all remote teammates to come together, whether that’s several times a week, once a month, once a year. Having an office doesn’t mean not having flexibility or autonomy to decide how to do our best work. We are purposeful in how we spend time together and work together as a team, the present is flexible.” And so I saw that and I said, this is a person I definitely want to chat with and we connected. So I’m really interested in your thinking, not only as someone with deep experience in commercial real estate, in the PropTech space, but also as an occupier. What do you think all of this means for the commercial real estate industry? How can buildings continue to be important to businesses and people today?

LK: Yeah. People are social creatures, right? You and I are on this chat today. You saw my post because we all are online speaking to each other, writing comments with each other. And like I said, like buildings are just spaces, they’re spaces that either attract people or they repel people in some cases. And historically, like you said, like office represented this idea, this idea of a five day 40 hour work week because you and I both know that’s exactly how many hours everyone in the startup world works, 40 hours a week.

DA: Right, I only wish.

LK: But the 40 hour work week was the concept that was created by at least in the United States, I dunno about Canada, but in the United States, it was created by the government in 1940. It was a law. And I think that for the commercial real estate industry, there’s a real opportunity here. You either have office and buildings continue to represent and symbolize 40 hours a week, sit in your cubicle and once it’s in offices, you sometimes get together, sometimes not. Or you can really start to hold the office out as something, as a place where people actually want to come together for whatever makes sense. And I think once you start to separate that identity of the office from 40 hours at your desk, you open it up to lots of possibilities that it can evolve into. And I don’t mean amenities, amenities are amazing, but amenities was what we did five years ago, 10 years ago. Each building and each company really needs to figure out why people would want to come together. Like for what reason, how does it make them better? Is it for brainstorming? Is it team meetings? Is it so engineering teams can collaborate together? Is it so sales teams can have competitions and learn from each other? And we really, I think buildings, owners, everyone, employers need to answer the why before we say what.

DA: Right. I’m interested in your thoughts around the role of the building, but as an occupier and since you shared that post, what has been the experience for your team and what has been the re-engagement with this beautiful new workspace and anything you can share with us that would be valuable to our listeners?

LK:  Absolutely. So our workspaces in New York City, where many of our employees are based out if not all, and we had a decision to make, we actually took on this lease and we decided to move forward in the middle of the winter when Omicron was raging at a point where people were pulling back from office plans. But for us, we knew that our team wanted to be together however often. We are a team that thrives off of the energy of being together. And so that was a decision that we made to have this space, and our old space which we outgrew was a sublet that we took on during a pandemic. It was, let’s call it less beautiful than the one in my LinkedIn post. And we still got together, even though it wasn’t the best space. And here, when everyone walked in, everyone’s immediate reaction was, “Wow, this space is awesome. We can’t wait to use it, it is big, we can’t wait to grow into it.” When our remote teams come to visit from other cities, there’s space for them. We have meeting rooms that are fully outfitted with Zoom. We have phone booths, we have collaboration tables, we have desk. We kind of have all the different settings that you need for all the different types of work that can happen here, and that’s really what a well designed space does. It serves the purpose of the people who want to be there.

DA: So I’m just curious, are you finding and I don’t know the age range of your teams, but is there a certain demographic that is more interested in being in the physical space versus not? Just curious to what extent age is playing a factor, ’cause I’m starting to hear some of that in the marketplace. Interestingly, we’re hearing a lot of young people in particular really do want to be back in the physical space, meeting, talking, collaborating, being mentored, having a social component to their workday as well. So I’m just curious, can you offer any insight on that front?

LK: Yeah, like many startups, we skew younger than a lot of companies, but at the same time, our leadership team which does have more experience than us with 15, more than 20 years of experience, I won’t call them all out equally want to be in the office. But the key here for us is that everyone has the ability of the autonomy to figure out what works for them, and obviously has to work for the business, but we don’t actually have a policy. I know a lot of people who have gone back to the office say, X number of days, minimum, et cetera, we don’t have that, that’s on purpose. We want people to want to come in. And of course there are times where we say, “Hey, we’re going to bring everyone in because we’re going to do very specific things.” But it’s crazy. I know how I work best, no one else should tell me that. And as long as I get my work done, does it matter? It shouldn’t matter.

DA: So without the mandate, what are you finding? Are you seeing any patterns in terms of the number of days spent in the office or hours during the course of a day spent, anything emerging at this point? Or is it too still too early?

LK: I think it’s still too early. We’ve been affected quite a bit by the COVID waves that have come through before last summer and pre holidays last year when things were fairly consistent COVID wise. Most folks were in the office two to four days a week and it’s sort of dependent on the team. I would say most people are still in somewhere between one and four days a week.

DA: Okay.

LK: But again, COVID, life events, people trying not to get COVID before life events has sort of really changed up the schedule a bit, but we still get see a good number of our teammates on certain days of the week when we have certain key moments in the company.

DA: Great. I’m curious and I’m not sure to what extent you can offer your thoughts on this, but as the building itself, the building operations team, do you think there’s anything that they could or should be doing? Are you seeing anything specific that for example, the building you are in is doing that is supporting, helping to position the physical workspace as a really vital exciting and a place where people ought to be?

LK: Yeah. So we were lucky, we were able to get a space that was turnkey basically. I did have to set up internet here, but that was very easy with the providers here. And so as a business in today’s world, like everything pivots very quickly. And so the ability to really see a space getting quickly, although I used to spend most of my life managing real estate projects, that’s not quite what I have time for anymore. So that was certainly key to being able to serve our purposes today was how can I get the team into a space that works for us with the furniture, with equipment, with whatever it is that we need in a fast, easy way and on a timeline that works for us? I think that the building was really amazing with that. They were able to work with us not to negotiate 150 page lease, which is very typical in New York City and to a shorter form, really moving towards what a lot of the flex office providers have started offering to the market in the recent years.

DA: Very good, excellent. So listen, the pandemic has, I think, recalibrated the market and buildings now recognize that there really places for people and I think that’s where you and I had great alignment.

LK: Yeah.

DA: The real asset is not the building, it’s actually the people that are in it. So as a result, tenant experience or workplace experience which is the space that HILO operates in is fast becoming the new differentiator. It used to be location and class, and now I think people are really evaluating well, what kind of experience is offered and can be offered to both our company as well as our employees? So if customer experience is really the new business that building operators are in, any thoughts that you might be able to share with us on how you think we’ll define and deliver amazing tenant experience now and in the future?

LK: Yeah, this is a fun topic for me. In the startup world we talk a lot about customer experience, customer success at its core. It really means solving your customer’s pain point along the journey. And I think here, why don’t I use a very specific example ’cause I think that’s probably the best way to talk about it?

DA: Okay.

LK: And from my view and as an occupier, like tenant experience should be about making the day easier for everyone who chooses to come into the office, not put up barriers to it. And today how we move around the world, how you move around the world, how I move around the world, it’s just different. We come and go as we please, anything we need to do we do on our phones. People barely carry a wallet anymore, but the office experience hasn’t really evolved that much. Right now when you come into an office that has a front desk, you still need an ID to get it or you need a guest pass to get in. And offices were designed to actually keep people out. If you didn’t have an ID, you couldn’t get in and that was the world, and it’s difficult. So in today’s world and in the world I operate in and in our team, like what happens when we have remote employees who come in once a quarter? Do I give them an ID that they can forget or lose? Are they a guest in their own office? What if they want to come in early, work late? Do they have to go to security every time? There’s a lot of friction there. There’s also someone who has to put them in the system, but we don’t have an office manager, we don’t have admins anymore, like we just operate in a very different world. And so while it sounds simple, but just getting in and out of the office-

DA: For sure.

LK: Can either encourage you to come in or it can deter you from coming in or bringing people together. And so I think that’s a complete reframing for how traditional property managers think about their work and how they think about the building. And I think there’s probably a whole lot many, many more examples of it, but that’s probably the one that I feel most acutely as a company without resources to put people into ID systems.

DA: That’s a great example. And your point about building security is generally, it was originally intended to keep people out. And now it’s a situation where we actually have to allow people in and do it in as you pointed out, a very frictionless way. So to that end, HILO, what we do is when we are in a building, we will work with the building’s security system, building access system and actually integrate that, integrate that key card or fob directly into HILO so that through their smartphone they can simply pass through these various security access points. And again, whether it’s an employee that’s visiting once a month or after hours or on the weekend or regularly, how do we make sure it’s a very seamless experience, right? It shouldn’t be different, they shouldn’t stand out if they’re part of your team. A great example.

LK: That sounds awesome. How do I get that? Can I for coming on this podcast.

DA: For sure, we can definitely discuss that. I have to learn more about the building that you’re in. So a really great example. Let’s take a quick break, a short break and we’ll be right back with Lisa. Thank you.

Commercial Break

DA: We’re back with Lisa Kirsch, Head of Strategic Initiatives at Landis. So I think you’ll agree living through a pandemic has been very challenging for so many, but it’s also now provided an opportunity for us to be better, do better, and what we like to say, build something better. In other words, it can no longer be an excuse. So can you share any details about any aspect of your business or some part of your business that is now being reimagined to reflect the reality of where we are today?

LK: Sure, thanks, David. So Landis is really about providing a path to homeownership for the millions of people in America who don’t have the opportunity to reach home ownership. And honestly, the pandemic has made that goal, the goal of home ownership even more challenging on both sides of the economic equation, both supply and demand forces have really, really put that goal further and further out of reach. The supply of homes or the lack of supply really is what we should say has really driven up pricing across America, double digit increases year over year, inflation is through the roof. And then on the demand side, which are your buyers or your potential buyers, they’ve been hit hard economically, whether they’re permanently put off the path or temporarily, all of that has really made the challenge harder. And so at Landis, we’ve really have spent a lot of time adapting our programs. We’ve changed terms and we’ve tried to be more competitive in the market. We’ve given people more time, we’ve given them more coaching, but really what it is, we’re doing whatever we need to help them reach mortgage eligibility so they could reach home ownership. And the last few years have also really reinforced just how much the home and the safety, the psychological safety, the social safety that this housing can provide for us. The pandemic has made things harder, but it also has really, I think, pushed our team to try harder, work more, figure out how to do better in this world.

DA: Amazing. You’re operating across North America, just the United States?

LK: We’re just in the United States right now, we are in 12 states in all the major cities in those 12 states and then Midwest and Southeast. But we hope to come to more states soon, and hopefully eventually around the world.

DA: Very cool, I love it. Our closing speed round, an opportunity for us to get to know you a little bit better. Can you share one way in which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life?

LK: Well, I’m a pretty intense type A person, you can ask anyone who knows me, but the pandemic has really forced me to slow down and I’m trying really hard to just focus on the things that matter most now.

DA: Great. What travel destination do you miss most?

LK: All of it, I miss traveling. But in seriousness, I had a trip planned for Tokyo for April, 2020, so that’s definitely on the list if they ever ever opened the borders again.

DA: Right. Anything new on your bucket list that you’d like to experience?

LK: Yeah, actually a rail trip across the Canadian Rockies is on my list.

DA: I’ve driven from Calgary to Vancouver, which is phenomenal. But there you’re right, there is a beautiful train that travels literally right across Canada, but certainly all through that area and I highly, highly recommend it. When you head out from Calgary and you see the Rockies in front of you, it is truly, truly magnificent. And just recently I had the opportunity to be out in Vancouver, hadn’t been in quite a number of years. And again, just the scenery is just out with mountains all around. Even just a few weeks ago, still with snow on the mountain peak.

LK: So beautiful.

DA: It’s just breathtaking.

LK: Despite this might have to kick Tokyo off my next trip list.

DA: Well, it might be a little more accessible at this point, so work up to Tokyo.

LK: Great.

DA: What is your favorite technology that is new to your way of life?

LK: This is definitely not a new technology, but I did get a Peloton recently and it’s really changed my life. It’s a total cliche, but I don’t like working out. So having one means there’s zero excuse when it’s in my bedroom.

DA: Well, actually I get it. I know some people that have one and I used to spin pre-pandemic, but I’ve shared their membership and I love doing the Peloton classes. They’re great, so totally get that. What is your personal choice for days spent in person with colleagues, your team versus working from anywhere?

LK: So usually I’m in three to four days a week, depending on the week what’s going on. That said, if I had the chance to travel more, like say work from Europe for a month in the summer, I would totally do it, or Hawaii or Mexico, or just name your location.

DA: Right, I think that’s going to be exciting. Listen, again, as I said earlier, I think the pandemic has been an absolutely horrible worldwide event. I think it’s dramatically changed the way in which we work and where we work. And I think there’s just so many exciting opportunities that are continue to emerge in the physical workspace, combining all these new and innovative places to work and experiencing, to your point, maybe you will spend a month in this location that perhaps you’ve never been, work remotely and also experience a new way of life. Lots to learn, lots to experience. And I think if we can just get over the fact that it’s not the same and not what it once was, I think we’re going to be okay. And even though our company is very much focused on the built space, I still think there’s an opportunity for us all to be successful. And I don’t think buildings are going to become obsolete or irrelevant, I think they’re just going to find their new place in this larger ecosystem and I’m excited to see how it all unfolds.

LK: I am as Well. David, thank you so much for the conversation today, it was so much fun.

DA: Absolutely. Thank you for joining us and I love the perspective that you brought as a startup, as an occupier, as someone with deep experience in commercial real estate. It’s been an amazing conversation. Thank you so much.

LK: Thanks, David.

DA: All right, take care, bye now.

LK: Bye.

DA: I want to thank Lisa Kirsch for joining me on this episode of TEN and for contributing to the global conversation around buildings being part of a robust ecosystem that could help to build great companies and that they are a vital part in the effort to cultivate and support great people and teams. The future of the workplace will likely take many forms and we’ll 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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David Sturner | Principal & Senior Managing Director | Banyan Street Capital | ‘Adapt or die’ to keep up with CRE market changes

Season 3 / Episode 4 / 35:46
In this episode, David shares how the pandemic affected Banyan’s business and created an opportunity to pivot by converting office spaces to residential. David firmly believes in the adage ‘adapt or die’ because he understands that markets will change and we must continually be thinking about what needs to be done in order to keep up.

David Sturner | Principal & Senior Managing Director | Banyan Street Capital | ‘Adapt or die’ to keep up with CRE market changes

Season 3 / Episode 4 / 35:46
In this episode, David shares how the pandemic affected Banyan’s business and created an opportunity to pivot by converting office spaces to residential. David firmly believes in the adage ‘adapt or die’ because he understands that markets will change and we must continually be thinking about what needs to be done in order to keep up.