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This month we had the privilege of speaking to Tim Bristow, Senior Vice President – Sales Representative at Colliers.  With over 30 years in the industry Tim solves big problems for clients by assembling teams that operate on various assignments such as investment dispositions or acquisitions, development lands, office buildings and more.  Starting out in office leasing and landlord representation, Tim has evolved into a senior strategist who excels at bringing together the right people to deliver on his client’s expectations.  We reached out to Tim for his opinion on the current situation in commercial real estate, and how we can find a path back to the office, safely.  

Q: Thanks for speaking with us today Tim.  To start things off, we ask the question that’s at the top of everyone’s mind – what are your thoughts on getting workers back into the office at this stage of the pandemic?

A: Getting people back to the office – it’s evolving.  The vaccine mandates are changing the way people are looking at things. They have instilled a sense of confidence in the office, but because they are still being rolled out, we don’t have a clear view on timing quiet yet.  In a sense we have fallen off the horse, but it’s not as simple as just getting back up.  We have been off the horse for so long that while the goal should be to get people back in the saddle, we must realize that individuals have a different threshold of risk and apprehension.  The goal is to get people to ride again by providing hand holding, if necessary, to start your recovery slowly but deliberately with goal setting in mind.   I’ve noticed that some enterprise-level organizations have communicated to their employees that they can work from home indefinitely.  One has to wonder what that will do to their real estate footprint, and if that policy will encourage others to follow suit.  We don’t know what brick and mortar is going to look like as more companies confirm their plans.  

From my own perspective, the idea of engagement, and being around other people drives business development better than what we’re doing right now.  I believe we need to find a low water mark and figure out how we can build back.  We’re going to end up with a combination of technology, and virtual, and in-person.  Ultimately, my belief is that we need to get back to in-person engagement for lots of reasons – mental health, productivity and collaboration most of all.

Q: What will this mean for the new office environment?

At the moment, getting people back to the office is an HR issue.  And it’s important to acknowledge that even the people who are ready come back to the office now, will want to do so at different speeds and varying levels of engagement.   Perhaps some will start with one day a month, two days a month, three days a week, with the goal being to straddle the thresholds of people’s comfort levels and still tap into the increased productivity of engaging with other team members in person.   It’s important to get back to the office, but also important to go at a pace that is progressive and allows people to arrive there comfortably.

This process will necessitate some changes to how office space functions, and most everyone is now aware of the benefits of rotating workspaces and sharing multi-functional features of the new office.  Private offices may now become a shared space on different days of the week between multiple team members, which of course will require a technological component to book space and allow for the proper sanitization in between office visits.

Q: How does a good commercial construction partner benefit your team?

From a construction perspective, I’ve always been of the mind that you must know what you’re getting yourself into before you get into the process.  When you have strategic partnerships in the construction industry, whether they’re informal or an established advisory council, that is a key factor in raising the probability of closing a deal – because you already know rough pricing before you get to the quoting phase.  I find that too many landlords and practitioners leave that process to the end, and that’s a big vulnerability on a deal because it can all fall apart when you can’t actually build for the prices you quoted.

This is where deal breakdown happens and when people walk away.  With a committed, trusted construction partner this can be avoided with the right information well in advance of this stage of negotiations.  Proactivity and solid relationships in this industry are key. In this market especially, we don’t know what’s happening with labour shortages, cost of materials, supply chain, and a myriad of other factors that come into play with construction.  It’s not our job as brokers to know that information, so we need partners who keep a close eye on these variables so we can deliver on our agreements.

Q: What is your advice to those in the planning phases of a return to work strategy right?

We’re advising landlords to fit up a space that’s tired and build it out in a way that’s ready to go – “turnkey” as we like to say.  The most success we’re seeing in the market now is with spaces that have been fit up and furnished. They may not have been long-term deals but they are the ones that move quickly and that proof of concept has been proven time and again.  

Make spaces simple, flexible, and safe and the buyers and renters will come.  You’ve got to remove hurdles. The less complicated things are, the easier it is to close the deals and get your clients in to the new workspace they are looking for.