Sara Tabita | Community Experience Manager | Granite Properties | Facilitating workplace needs through tenant partnerships

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host, David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Sara Tabita, Community Experience Manager at Granite Properties. In this episode we learn about Sara’s career journey, from wedding coordinator, to hotel sales and catering, to software sales on the corporate event side of the business. And finally, to Granite Properties as their Community Experience Manager, all with a focus on hospitality. As a result of the pandemic, Sara’s role expanded beyond Southern California to virtual and in-person servicing of Granite’s national portfolio. The company’s growth mindset has enabled Sara to take risks in her work, and has contributed to her success. Sara emphasized that even before the pandemic Granite Properties was already focused on the emerging trends of quality, flexibility, wellness, and sustainability, and CRE. She feels that office owners need to adapt more of a partnership with tenants to help facilitate evolving workplace needs. Sara acknowledges the shift from office space to office experience, and the need for buildings to provide their tenants with unique and memorable experiences that will also foster a sense of community. She stresses the importance of communication to help inform customers of any changes that may be necessary, to deliver a better workplace experience. Sara, her team, and the company, have a great perspective on customer engagement, and are truly taking a leadership position in differentiating their properties. From building access to digital signage, Sara also recognizes the importance of utilizing technology to enhance the customer experience. 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 Sara to the show, I’m really glad you could be with us today. How are you?

ST: I’m good. How are you David?

DA: I’m excellent, and looking forward to our conversation. I’d love to begin with your journey to your current position, role, how did you get started in this business?

ST: Yeah, so my first job out of college was as a wedding coordinator. The largest wedding I did was for about 900 people, so-

DA: Wow.

ST: It was a ton of fun. From there, I worked in hotel sales and catering, so I did events.

DA: Okay.

ST: On the hotel side. Then I went to go work for a software sales company in house, working their corporate events. And then, now I’m at Granite Properties as their Community Experience Manager. And I’ve been with Granite for about three and a half years, and I work with our Property Experience Team on building community within our portfolios through enhanced programming and amenities. So my background’s really a variety of things, but mostly focused on hospitality.

DA: For sure. And I think bringing that hospitality experience, to, in particular the office industry sector within commercial real estate, is so important, as we continue to think about how buildings can be more hospitable. I think that your background certainly lends itself beautifully.

ST: Yeah.

DA: Just curious, a little bit more about the role, sort of your your day to day, and maybe just a little off script question, but a glimpse back, you know, how was it affected by the pandemic? Like what changed really dramatically for you during that time, and how are things different today?

ST: Yeah, so when I started in 2019, it was pre pandemic.

DA: Right.

ST: We were doing in-person events, really focused on the SoCal Southern California community that I’m here at now, but really, when the pandemic hit and everything went virtual I was able to focus on our nationwide portfolio, as well. Just the nature of the virtual experiences and the communications that we were doing. So really, kind of expanded my role a bit. And then now coming out of it, it’s this hybrid model really, of doing some virtual things and some in person things. So, it really helped me grow my career.

DA: Okay, that’s really interesting. I’m sure there’ll be more opportunity to discuss that as we continue the conversation, but clearly it opened up doors for you, so-

ST: Yeah.

DA: That’s really interesting, I look forward to hearing more about that. But why do you think you were so uniquely suited for this opportunity? What has helped you to be successful? You know, skills, mentors, colleagues, books, what positioned you for success?

ST: Yeah, so I think I was uniquely suited with my background in hospitality, what we talked about, and customer service. And that really matched with the service that Granite wanted to provide their customers in their office buildings. As far as helping me become successful, especially in this role, Granite really has a growth mindset where the leadership trusts and encourages us to try new things, knowing that some things might not work out and that fail forward approach really fosters innovation and learning, and it’s really helped me professionally and personally be comfortable taking risks in my career and in things that we do, and it makes working more fun. So, that kind of environment has helped me really grow and be successful. Has that, I guess that’s been a very deliberate sort I guess that’s been a very deliberate, sort of emphasis for the company, is that across all different divisions within the company

DA: I think it’s kind of company wide. Like anyone that you talk to Like anyone that you talk to, really our leaders want us to be innovative, and part of that innovation is kind of that fail-forward mindset.

ST: Right.

ST: So yeah, it’s definitely helped.

DA: That’s great. You know, there’s been a lot of commentary around the return to workplace, and some very extreme positions being expressed, sometimes confrontational, often polarizing. You know, our team really believes that now is the time to live and work in the world as it is right now, and that the commercial estate industry and employers really can’t continue projecting to a date in the future, “We will return to normal.” What was really normal? You know, perhaps this is the new normal, and it’s not a normal post Covid, it’s a world with Covid. So I’m just curious what your thoughts are on what this means for the commercial real estate industry. And from your perspective and your role at Granite, you know, what does that mean for buildings to ensure that they continue to be important to businesses and people?

ST: Yeah, so the pandemic really accelerated trends that we at Granite, were already focused on; and that includes quality, you know, flexibility, wellness, sustainability. So adaptation to this new normal was key. And it’s going to be important for office building owners to take kind of a partnership mentality when it comes to facilitating companies and their evolving work needs. And nowadays, a lot of people talk about work life balance, you hear that all the time.

DA: Of course.

ST:  And so, with this increased demand for flexibility, you know, companies are looking to balance what works best for their employees, you know, as well as promoting collaboration and productivity, productivity to execute their business. But ultimately, people need to be together to collaborate and grow their companies. And that’s where, you know, the office comes in. And what we’re seeing is that companies are really looking for the best new buildings, the best locations, the best amenities, that they can provide their employees with everything they need when they come to the office.

DA: Right.

ST: So, I think if ultimately, you know, we believe that if you build good real estate in great locations, you know, the commercial real estate industry is going to be just fine.

DA: What thoughts do you have on the relationship between, you talked about partnership, on the relationship between the building and the occupier, the tenant, in terms of helping them to fulfill their mission to fulfill their goals. You know, if we want to bring people back to buildings not just for the sake of, you know, seeing them physically in the space, but because there’s value, there’s purpose, there’s benefit. To what extent does the building operator and the occupier need to collaborate, need to work together, and what kinds of things are you seeing happening, if you agree with that, you know, within your communities?

ST: Yeah, I mean, I think communication with our customers is really important. Every business is slightly different.

DA: Right.

ST: You know, when we are talking to our customers some are, you know, slightly still remote, some have been completely in office this whole time. So, really kind of catering, speaking to each customer, really trying to cater to their needs, and asking them point blank, you know, “What are the amenities your employees enjoy having in our building? Is it the food that’s provided-

DA: Right.

ST: Is it access to the fitness center?” And really taking in that feedback, and then using that feedback to make actual, you know, changes, is what’s important, I think.

DA: Agreed. Agreed. Just curious, given your location, and just because we’re always trying to provide sort of a real time view into the commercial real estate space as to what is actually happening, versus, you know, projections of what will happen. What are occupancy levels, you know, attendance within the businesses in your buildings, like today?

ST: Yeah, you know, as far as people in the building, it kind of varies from all the buildings. I think we’re hovering at about 50%.

DA: Okay.

ST: As far as people in the building. Which is a lot more than the beginning of the pandemic, so we’re happy, and slowly we’re seeing an increase in people coming back, so we’re really just adjusting our service levels based on the number of people that are coming back.

DA: Right. I think the general, you know, masses, need to understand that, you know, and when we say 50%, it’s not like we’re comparing 50% to a 100%. Buildings were never, even pre pandemic, every fully occupied in terms of.

ST: Right.

DA: Every desk full on any given day. So, you know, if 50% occupancy is what you’re experiencing today that’s actually a very positive number. And I think that’s where, you know, the media needs to adjust the way in which they, you know, express or relate those numbers against, right?

ST: Right.

DA: So, the pandemic has certainly re-calibrated the market to now recognize that buildings are really places for people. We’ve just gone through a period of time where our buildings we’re relatively empty, so I think that we know that people are the real asset not just the building. As a result, the work that you do and the work that I do, I think tenant experience, workplace experience, workplace engagement, is fast becoming the new differentiator, and it’s helping to drive real estate decisions. To your point earlier, you know, companies are looking for not just the physical real estate, but they are looking for those additional experiences, amenities, programs, and services. And we think that they’re going to actually drive real estate decisions even more so than, you know, location and class. So if it is truly about creating the best customer experience, I’d love for you to share your thoughts on how we will define and deliver tenant experience now, and perhaps into the future.

ST: Yeah. So there’s definitely been a shift from office space, that we were talking about, to office experiences.

DA: Right.

ST: And at Granite, our vision is that every customer has everything they need to flourish when they walk through our doors. And we’re focused on providing unique and memorable experiences, like we talked about, along with fostering community within each of the buildings. And some of the ways that we define it; so one of the things that we emphasize is that by changing the words we use to communicate, we can communicate our customer-centric approach across the company. So you kind of have heard me refer to, instead of tenants, I refer to them as customers.

DA: I love that. Believe it or not sometimes when I use that word to other… They don’t.

ST: They don’t get it.

DA: Some, they don’t get it. So, I always have to say, “You’re a customer, you’re a tenant.”

ST: Right. Yeah. It can be confusing to some people and-

DA: Right.

ST: But really from day one, we help all of our Granite employees, you know, understand the difference of tenant versus customer. For example, instead of management office, we say customer connection center.

DA: Great.

ST:  And our property operations team, we refer to as our Property Experience Team.

DA: Right.

ST: And it’s just these slight nuances that really create this customer-centric approach that we provide to our customers.

DA: I think that’s great. And I love just the subtlety of the language to begin to sort of, you know, become part of your DNA, and hopefully then that is heard by your customer, and that they start to understand that with more clarity.

ST: Yeah, definitely. And then as far as how we deliver it, we deliver the experience to our customers in a few different ways.

DA: Okay.

ST: So at Granite, we have a customer engagement platform that we call together “We Connect”, and it’s facilitated by our Property Experience Team. And the goal is, that our customers are able to create meaningful connections in their workspace while also helping them be able to give back to the community, and improve their overall wellness. And it’s done through offering programming, charity events, property amenities, social activities, and other resources.

DA: That’s excellent.

ST: And yeah, and some of the amenities that we have in our building is branded, and what I mean by that is, our customer lounge, we refer to as “The Lounge” our conference center is referred to as “Meet” and our fitness center is “Move” and the outdoor workspace is “The Yard”, and our food amenities we call “Eat”. And I think it really helps create points of connection around our property, which can then further create community.

DA: Right.

ST: And the feeling of place for our customers. And then one thing that I’ve really enjoyed learning more about, you know, in this new normal, and how we deliver the customer experience, is through various ways of technology.

DA: Okay.

ST: So, one of the ways that we enhance our customer experience through technology, is building better access control systems for our customers, via their smartphone. So, we rolled out Open Path at several of our properties.

DA: Right.

ST: And Open Path allows like a touch free keyless entry. And I don’t know about you, but I always forget my key card.

DA: Right.

ST: And so, but we always have our phones, you know? So having our keys on our phones just creates the seamless entry into the building for our customers which really enhances their experience. And then, another part of technology that we’ve enhanced, is our digital signage. So at our buildings, we’ve added digital signage separate from the directories.

DA: Right.

ST:  And the purpose of our digital signage is to help keep customers in the know of all the things, all the fun things that are happening in our building, as well as all of the onsite amenities they have access to. And ultimately, you know, we’re constantly listening to our customers through feedback, face to face communication, as well as providing opportunities for feedback throughout our buildings. And through the digital signage that I mentioned earlier, we offer QR codes that our customers can scan.

DA: Right.

ST: And provide us real time feedback. And our Property Experience Teams are able to respond in a timely manner. So, really we’re just constantly focused on creating a workplace where people feel welcomed and cared for.

DA: Well, you guys are clearly taking a leadership position in the space, and doing some amazing things. There’s clearly a commitment and an understanding of what it means to deliver a great customer experience. I love all the different things you’re doing, and love the consideration to various forms of technology. And I think, you know, as we continue to evolve, it’s how we bring all of that technology together, and one of the things that we’re very focused on here at HILO, is really being that last mile solution, really ensuring that we’re sending all of our customers, you know, providing them, sorry, with a single point of access, a single point of connection, so that, you know, we’re not sending them to five apps, three websites, and two portals. And ultimately, as all these new opportunities, you know, present themselves within your building communities, you can create that just beautiful, easy to use, you know, tool, that your customers are going to love. So, I think we’re very aligned in sort of bringing it all home, bringing it all together, and ensuring that, you know, it’s just a beautiful experience. So thanks for sharing all of that.

ST: Yeah.

DA: And there’s some great learning for our listeners for sure. Let’s take a short break, and we’ll be right back to continue the conversation.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

DA: We are back with Sara Tabita Community Experience Manager at Granite Properties. And thank you so much again, for being with us today.

ST: Of course.

DA: So, let’s first acknowledge that living through a pandemic has been very challenging for so many people. And as much as there has been opportunity coming out of it, I think we cannot forget all those that have been so adversely affected by it. That being said, we really believe that now is the time to be better, do better, and build something better. So, can you share any details about your business or some part of your business that is now really being re-imagined to reflect the reality of where we are today?

ST: Yeah, so I had mentioned our “Together We Connect” platform that we have, and that’s really been re-imagined. And I kind of mentioned it in the beginning; so, you know, pre pandemic, everything was in person, we did lunch and learns and popup events in the building. Pandemic hit, everyone’s at home, everyone’s virtual. So one of the first things that we did to meet the need for connection for our customers, was post a virtual bingo game for our customers. And we kind of just planned it as like, hopefully people join. We had an overwhelming response

DA: Right.

ST: Like we had to have multiple sessions of bingo because people just needed that connection.

DA: Right.

ST: And so knowing that, you know, this virtual experience is still here for some of the people, we’ve then, now coming into this new normal we talked about, we’re still doing virtual events.

DA: Right.

ST: We still do virtual webinars but now we’re also adding in some in-person events for the folks that are in the building. And creating this hybrid model has really worked well for us.

DA: Yeah.

ST: And then, yeah.

DA: I was going to say, I think it’s really interesting that as the world returns likely to some type of hybrid work model, you’re adopting a similar sort of solution in that the delivery of experience does not necessarily all have to now revert back to in person, but can be a blend, right?

ST: Yeah, of course. And then in 2020, Granite invested over $10 million in wellness initiatives, we call “Inspire Wellness”. And with the $10 million we updated our portfolio with clean air technology, touchless fixtures, and enhancing our outdoor workspaces. And that’s really helped, because, you know, when coming back to the buildings, initially, people were, you know, afraid of coming to the buildings. “Is the air clean, and are things clean?” And now through our wellness initiative we’re able to let our customers know that we’re able to provide clean air technology in all our buildings, which has been great.

DA: Right.

ST: And then in 2021, we launched our flexible workplace work based solution platform, which we call “Evolve” in response to all the changing office needs. And then through “Evolve” we’re able to offer move-in ready space that can be furnished and fully wired for customers to move right in. And we call those our “Ready Suites”. We also have on-demand amenities and spaces to really tailor to a broad range of office needs. And that was in direct response to everything we were hearing coming out of this pandemic. And so, “Evolve” is a platform that we’re really focused on, making sure our customers are aware that we’re flexible and we’re wanting to meet their needs as they’re changing, as well.

DA: Right. Well, it’s very clear to me that Granite has taken a market leading position in this industry, and all of the different initiatives that you’ve covered they’ve clearly left nothing to chance, and are really… Talk about innovation from a technology perspective, you know, they’re clearly innovating just from a product perspective within their… And a legacy industry that often has been slow to change, they’re clearly adapting, evolving, and moving forward, and certainly not looking back. So, really refreshing to hear all the different initiatives that you and your company are involved in.

ST: Thank you.

DA: So our “Closing Speed Round”, Sara, is an opportunity to get to know you a little bit better, more on a personal level.

ST: Okay.

DA: So I’m wondering if you can share one way in which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life?

ST: You know, I think it’s that anything can change in an instant. And I have two beautiful boys at home, and I think it’s really helped me see that I need to enjoy every moment I have with them.

DA: Right, for sure. I think we’ve all learned that. What travel destination do you miss most?

ST: You know, so I actually was born in Japan, and growing up I went every year. The last time I went with 2015.

DA: Wow.

ST: And then, the borders closed but they’re opening, I think.

DA: Yes.

ST: In a week or so, so I would love to get back to Japan to visit some family.

DA: Okay, great. I totally understand that, and I hope you are able to. Anything new on your bucket list that you’d like to experience?

ST: I don’t think this is new, but I still haven’t gone to Disney World, I would love to go to Disney World.

DA: All right. That’s a good one. And what is your favorite technology that is new to your life?

ST: This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I love TikTok.

DA: Okay.

ST: Love to learn the dances, and all the little fun things that are happening on there.

DA: Awesome. And what is your personal choice for days spent in person with your colleagues, versus working from anywhere?

ST: You know, I think four days in the office with one day at home, is kind of the perfect balance.

DA: Right.

ST: I enjoy being with my coworkers. I get to go to different offices, travel a bit for my work.

DA: Right.

ST:  So, it’s the perfect amount. And one day at home is… And not having to maybe dress up as much.

DA: Right.

ST: I think is probably the best balance for me.

DA: Right. That little bit of flexibility that just makes it all work for you.

ST: Exactly.

DA: At the end of the day I think it is all about personal choice. And we ask that question because there are literally so many… There’s an answer for every individual, and every individual’s answer is just slightly different. So, I think it’s important to recognize that this is not a one size fits all, and the more flexibility we can introduce into our businesses, I think it’s better for the industry. And I think, you know, as long as we’re all able to accomplish all that we set out to do, and I believe we are, the focus should not be on where we work, but how we work, and we just believe that buildings are still an integral part of that now expanded workplace ecosystem. And I love hearing from you and from companies like Granite, you know, about all the things that they’re doing to ensure that buildings still hold that special place in that ecosystem. So, thank you so much for joining us today, for sharing a lot of what you and your company is doing, and I look forward to the continuing our conversation. Let this just be the first of one of many, I hope, and we’ll continue to stay connected, and continue to chat.

ST: Yeah, thank you so much. This was a lot of fun.

DA: Good, I’m glad. We’ll talk to you again soon.

ST: All right.

DA: Bye now.

ST: Bye!

DA: I want to thank Sara Tabita for joining me on this episode of TEN, and for contributing to the global conversation around buildings being a part of a robust ecosystem, helping to build great companies, and as 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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In this episode, Antonia shares a number of reasons people want to be in the office. In the past, being in the office was about having access to “stuff”, whereas today the new emphasis is on socialization and collaboration. She suggests that while amenities and environment are important, the “value” of being together is the real driver of spending time in the office.

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