Real estate leaders have long focused on the inevitability of workers returning to the office post-pandemic, arguing that firms will rediscover the importance and necessity of in-person collaboration and creativity after an abrupt shift toward remote work. An exclusive analysis by Bisnow of real estate job postings explores how top commercial real estate firms have applied that same rationale to their own workforces.
By looking at job postings on the SelectLeaders job board, part of the Bisnow group and real estate’s largest dedicated jobs resource, it’s possible to get a rough estimate of how the industry itself sees the necessity of remote versus in-office work. Over the past 10 months, during which time thousands of positions in the U.S. have been posted, 23% of total CRE jobs have been listed as having a remote component (16.1% hybrid and 7.3% fully remote), while 77% have been in-office.
Since last August, SelectLeaders job postings could include a workplace option, which told applicants if a position was in-office, partially remote or fully remote.
While the types of positions listed in-office versus remote was harder to parse, many companies tended to fall on one side of the divide, such as CoStar, which posted nearly a dozen in-office positions. Few firms offered both in-office and remote positions like LivCor, the multifamily asset management company.
“While we’ve been able to demonstrate success working remotely, we are big believers in the office environment as the optimal setting for our firm,” said Rahim Ladha, global head of communications for BentallGreenOak, a Toronto-based investment manager that was looking for interns and advertised the positions as remote-friendly.
That balance skews much more toward in-office than other professions and corporate America at large. According to research from Gartner, a business research and consulting firm, plans for the hybridization of the workforce are much more entrenched in other industries: just 5% of large enterprises plan to be remote, and another 5% will be fully in person, leaving the vast majority of corporate America, and those working within it, to figure out how to rethink how hybrid work will work.
Earlier this year, analysts had predicted that real estate would lean more toward hybrid office situations, as opposed to strictly in-office. But even firms that posted positions with a remote option seem to be turning back toward favoring an in-office setup.
The Michaels Organization, a national firm focused on the multifamily sector, advertised for a remote-friendly director of development role in June, but according to Vice President of Corporate Marketing Laura Zaner, for the most part, Michaels is fully back to its corporate/regional offices as of June 1.
“The senior leadership here felt that after a year of remote work for most corporate employees it was important for collaboration and our culture to be back in the office,” Zaner said. “We also believe that this is the best way to support our on-site property management teams.”
But some companies in CRE have embraced a more hybrid and remote future. ExchangeRight Chief Operating Officer Susana Dryden told Bisnow that nearly all staff at the real estate firm have the option to be remote, and after a record-setting year in 2020 in terms of new investment, the company believes staff can be successful in any location.
“Our hiring approach is focused on finding the best candidates versus being restricted by geographical region,” Dryden said. “We care far more about who people are from a character standpoint and how people work from an effectiveness standpoint than where they work.”
Dryden said that while the firm reopened its Pasadena, California, headquarters, it has built up a system of hub offices across the country, and has fostered a culture that rewards self-starters and good work, and allows for a variety of hybrid and in-office scenarios now that many offices can reopen.
Mynd, a property management firm, has a similar outlook on remote work. According to Vice President of Talent and Culture Maria Lovi, two-thirds of the company is now considered remote, versus 40% pre-Covid. As a property management firm, some staff, such as service technicians, need to be local, but the firm has found that, via Zoom, Google Hangouts and the firm’s proprietary OTTO platform, they’ve been able to “provide greater efficiency and cross-collaboration” and hire staff from across the globe, improving diversity.
“By limiting ourselves to only hiring in areas we have office locations, we limit the opportunity to hire exceptional talent,” she said. “Employing a remote workforce also allows us to hire from across the globe. With that, come diverse thoughts and perspectives and increased awareness of how business is done around the world, which leads to greater innovation.”
While there’s clearly an industry preference for in-office work, that hasn’t translated into lower wages for remote positions, CEL & Associates CEO Christopher Lee said. His firm, which consults for the real estate industry and compiles annual salary reports, found that compensation, after a year of salary and bonus freezes and reductions, is “roaring back” and demand for “great talent” is accelerating, especially in the quickly recovering multifamily sector and development, acquisitions, capital formation and project management positions. But the new focus on location hasn’t changed compensation.
“There has been no change in compensation as a result of working remotely and working in the office,” he said. “However, most firms have embraced a hybrid model where some employees come in five, four, three, two and one day a week depending on their position, responsibilities and need for interaction with others. While there has been some discussion on ‘should bonuses be different,’ the current trend is to base bonuses on performance results regardless of where or how an individual works.”
There have been numerous theories as to how remote work would impact CRE and workplaces at large, including allowing for more diverse hires owing to a wider talent pool, and ideally, more support and flexible working arrangements for mothers, parents and caregivers.
Lee said that his own research has also backed up another somewhat counterintuitive divide in the remote versus in-office debate; older workers are thriving in remote gigs and younger workers prefer returning to the office, which he believes is “based on one’s financial condition, where you are in your career development and the need for networking/collaboration and title.” CRE employees at the beginning of their career told Bisnow earlier this year that they’d faced significant challenges starting jobs without benefiting from the face-to-face interactions of five-day-a-week office culture.