In this collection of conversations with business leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, and creatives from around the globe you will hear from some of the best and brightest, and weird and wonderful sharing their thoughts, ideas, and insights on industry trends and opportunities as we journey through 2021 and beyond, and provide us with some short advice on how to lead, learn, and live and love.
Visions of Renewal with Liz Archer, Business Development & Client Relations Mgr. at FCA - Francis Cauffmann Architects, in NYC (U.S.)
FCA is a 100+ person architectural firm headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, specializing in healthcare, commercial workplace, science and technology, including life sciences, urban planning and higher education markets.
I have actually never met Liz in person, but the amazing networker that she is, and her demonstrated interest in articles and recommendations that I would post on LinkedIn has now transformed into a professional relationship. And tell me if I’m wrong, but that is truly what LinkedIn is all about. See – it does work!
In my chat with Liz, she discusses how the pandemic has opened the doors to a more flexible and healthier style of work, whether working from home or in the office. She talks about how she, as a BDM for an architectural firm, has been able to not just maintain client relationships over the past year, but enrich them based on what clients value most. She also points out that the marketing departments of firms need to be adequately staffed to provide proper, effective support, or it needs to be outsourced! - a point I appreciate since this is what VOOU provides.
Enjoy the read...
What 3 business trends do you believe COVID-19 has accelerated in your industry for 2021 and beyond?
The first trend that is now ubiquitous, is “working from home,” or working from anywhere. I think it's made things a lot more flexible for employees and has emboldened employees to be able to ask for more flexibility going forward.
I know the real estate community in New York City is asking employers to insist that folks come back to work in person. Many are seemingly convinced that the economy is going to bounce back, and they may be right to a degree. But I think there needs to be a recognition by employers that employees/talent will continue as the sellers in this game and that there is now an increased demand for flexible/hybrid work schedules and locations. Look at the impact on working parents – they need a flexible/hybrid work option for better work/life balance.
The New York Times wrote an article entitled “To Hear America’s Mothers, We Let Them Scream,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/06/insider/primal-scream-section.html) which discussed how Mothers have been affected, and their ability to gain work-life balance in and outside of COVID. This topic has been in discussion for years – equity in childcare, even eldercare, but it’s now been cracked wide open.
Another trend is in the area of wellness, which I’ve seen across various industries. Employers are trying to figure out how to help their employees in these perilous times, helping them to feel better – yoga with co-workers on Zoom, happy hours, group walks, etc. How does this correlate with the real estate industry? I’ve seen companies such as Silverstein Properties talk about developing and providing apps for their tenants, including one called “Inspire,” to provide health and safety services for tenants. The apps connect tenants to fitness centers, food delivery services, childcare services, transportation services, etc.
There are wellness certification programs for buildings now as well, such as the www.Fitwell.org a Certification Program originally developed by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and is operated by the Center for Active Design. Fitwell is a building certification that supports healthy workplace environments to improve occupant health and productivity. Another building wellness certification is the WELL Building Standard, which takes a holistic approach to health in the built environment addressing behavior, operations and design.
I'm on the board of the CoreNet New Jersey Chapter and our theme for this quarter (Q1:2021) is wellness. As such, we reached out to our members and asked them what they are doing to maintain their own personal wellbeing during this time. Everyone had a strategy that they wanted to share because that is what we have all been clinging to in order to manage during this stressful time. Many reported that their companies were backing them up with all sorts of wellness programs such as fitness, therapy, meditation, etc.
Wellness has been a topic in other parts of the world for decades. When did you feel that it really started to be more prevalent in the U.S.?
It's been “building” for some time. I think there was a time when everyone in the design and build industry was talking about LEED Certification, which is environmental and energy efficiency for building certification. But I feel the focus has shifted more towards building wellness certifications I mentioned earlier, which COVID has pushed into overdrive.
What opportunities lie ahead as a result of the pandemic situation?
I think there's a lot more opportunity now to determine for ourselves how we live and work, almost like a restructuring of the status quo; the ability to really redefine and push for what we want. And I think employers, in general, are looking for real talent. As such, I think at this moment, employees can use their talent to bargain for the life they want – the schedule, professional development support, etc. This moment has granted us the ability to restructure the way we want to live our lives.
In regard to buildings, there is an opportunity now for developers and building owners to reposition space into safer, healthier, more accommodating spaces - to improve the places where we live and work.
Actually, the workforce will be demanding that type of improved, healthier space.
Additionally, a transformation is taking place in the area of social justice. For example, at FCA over the past year, we developed an EDI committee (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and the firm has invested in quality EDI training for the staff. Even CoreNet, which is a corporate real estate association, has developed a diversity and inclusion certification program. It all ties in with the increased Environmental and Social Governance requirements to which companies are holding themselves accountable. So, we are seeing a huge social awakening and I think it is a positive step for social justice in this country.
What do you believe matters most to your clients, or customers right now?
I think they've been in a planning and budgeting mode – a bit of a holding pattern, not wanting to pull the trigger or spend a lot of money, but they are clearly looking towards the horizon and trying to prepare for when they can pull the trigger on projects, which some are starting to do already. I think they're interested in knowing more about the firms out there that will be able to help them when they are ready.
I feel like this has been a time of discovery and research and building relationships.
From the clients we've spoken with, they’re looking to understand the value proposition of each firm, be it global, high-touch principle involvement, or specialization in certain areas, etc.
How has the way your firm conducts business changed as a result of COVID-19?
I can speak for myself. Because I had 25+ years of doing marketing and business development in design and construction in New York City and in New Jersey, I bring with me all of my contacts, and my hybrid experience of in-house communications and proposal preparation, in addition to the outside-client-facing business development, as well as my involvement in associations - CoreNet, NAIOP, SMPS, and AMFP, for example. FCA didn't have a lot of their staff from the New York City office entrenched in boards and committees or taking part in deep relationship building through community building, or what I call “Association Engagement.” They are very involved in Philadelphia, where they are headquartered, but at the time of Covid, they were not that involved in NYC groups.
When COVID hit it seemed everyone else was falling apart, freaking out, pulling back their efforts and the covers over their heads. But I am a super social extrovert and I needed to stay connected, so I pressed on with virtual meetings, etc. I used social media and extensive networking through association engagement, and I’d pull in the firm partners with me to stay visible. We’ve increased our sponsorships in the NYC area and added members to the associations. We’ve increased our attendance and participation at events.
The aim, then and now, is to connect, connect, connect.
What is the most common mistake you see companies making when it comes to marketing?
When the market stalls, firms panic and let their overhead staff go. I was even furloughed for a couple of months, but to my surprize and delight, they brought me back. You don't hear that return story often and it speaks to FCA’s wisdom to maintain a robust business development effort, especially in downtimes.