October 2, 2020
By Paul Bubny
As COVID began rearing its ugly head and stay-at-home orders began, SIOR Global was forced to cancel its TransACT 360 conference scheduled for April, as virtual conference planning wasn’t nearly as available as it is now. At the time, the commercial real estate community held out the hope that in-person events would be back on the map by autumn.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, though, and so the organization will hold its annual fall conference—renamed CREate 360—virtually, Oct. 21-23.
In the interim, industrial and office brokerage professionals—including CBRE’s Patrick Sentner, president-elect at SIOR—have had to think outside the box to conduct their business remotely while providing maximum value to clients. Connect Media spoke with Sentner about how the switch to remote working has impacted younger brokers, how he and his colleagues have made it work, and what’s in store at CREate 360.
Q: Remote working has presented challenges for everyone, but in commercial real estate, it would seem that younger brokers are especially at a disadvantage—even though they may be more accustomed to communicating via digital media. What are some of the main areas where they’ve been missing out over the past six months?
A: One thing that has been true in the commercial real estate industry for decades has been the need for brokers to work with mentors. And like a lot of interaction, this is best done face to face. It’s tough enough for an older broker like myself to pick up the phone and just brainstorm with colleagues of mine, whether it’s on a cellphone call, a text message, or a Zoom call. It’s even more difficult for somebody who has only been in the business for six months, nine months, 12 months, to get comfortable enough to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, this is what I’m trying to deal with; can you help me?”
Commercial real estate brokerage typically takes three years before somebody is comfortable that they’re going to make it in this industry—and that’s three years with face-to-face interaction on a day-to-day basis. Without that, they’re absolutely not getting the training that they need.
Q: How have you and your colleagues managed the switch to remote working, Zoom, etc.—and what pointers would you offer on maximizing productivity and collaboration under these circumstances?
A: It’s been interesting. I was fortunate because I had a home office that, candidly, for the first 13 years that I owned my home, I never used. With the need to be in the office or at a minimum in a coffee shop between meetings, I just felt that the home office was not where I was going to be most productive. We were actually able to make my home office very efficient: multiple screens, big wide surface area for working, good coffee just steps away. However, as efficient as that has been, it has not been as productive as it needs to be. That’s why over the past eight weeks, I have been setting up outdoor lunch meetings, not only with vendors and clients, but also some of the other brokers in my office, just so that we can continue doing what we’ve been doing for the past couple of decades, i.e. finding out what’s going on in the market, giving each other insights that you can’t get just by reading the newspaper or hearing things second-hand. We’ve really had to think outside of the box on how best to do this. It’s great not having to commute and all that fun stuff, but we have to have that interaction, because without it we’re not able to provide our clients with the best overall service.
Q: CREate 360 will be SIOR’s first virtual conference, and it will have been mapped out entirely during the current “new normal” of working remotely. How has the current environment influenced the content of the conference?
A: For months, the SIOR team was developing two separate conferences: one in case things were improving and we were able to do it face to face, and the other one virtually. The amount of effort they put into it was off the charts, but what you realize is that in person, it’s normal for long days, going from meeting to meeting to networking events, to dinner, etc. But that’s more challenging in Zoom, as nobody can sit in front of their computer and be at their absolute peak efficiency from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
As a result, they had to be considerate of time and they planned accordingly. We still have our phenomenal speakers each day, and excellent sessions ranging from investment sales to industrial logistics to tenant rep and everything in between, it’s just that we don’t have them all back to back to back. What’s really exciting though is that we still have great networking events planned each day and there’s plenty of opportunities within the virtual platform to pop into one-on-one meetings, almost like you would at an in-person event.. We want people to be able to get the maximum benefit out of it. All of the things that our members wholly expect from us—top speakers, strong education and networking opportunities—are all there. I’ve been very, very pleased with the high level of content that’s in place, and it looks as though it can be structured so that we don’t have to stare at our screens for 12 hours.
Q: Talk about how SIOR maximizes networking opportunities in the current environment.
A: We have specialty practice groups—it might be groups that do nothing but represent tenants, or industrial logistics. We’ve created opportunities on at least a monthly basis for the groups to get together, usually with four to 10 people on a Zoom call for an hour, and we stress best practices. How are your cold calls going? How do you cold-call in a pandemic; who do you cold-call? How do you interact with the team that does your financial analysis when they’re usually sitting right outside your office and now you’re 25 miles apart? Those networking sessions that we’ve been having for the past five months have been really helpful. There have been instances where you’ve been able to meet new people through these calls, which has been a very pleasant surprise.
Patrick Sentner, SIOR, is President-Elect of SIOR and has been a member since 2002, with more than 25 years of experience in commercial real estate. He serves as EVP within the Advisory & Transaction Services division of CBRE, Inc.’s Occupier Services Group in Pittsburgh.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Paul Bubny