G.S. Jaggi, known as “Jaggi”, is the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Iridius Capital, a real estate firm based in Tucson, Arizona.
G.S. Jaggi and Iridius Capital invests in real estate across all major real estate asset classes and has acquired or developed $1.5B of real estate since 2011, giving their team a front-row seat to how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting commercial real estate. When news about the pandemic first started to break and major events started to cancel, Iridius moved quickly to transition their team to work remotely. In a few weeks, Iridius is headed back to the office. We sat down (remotely!) with Iridius’ Founder and Chief Investment Officer, G.S. Jaggi, to ask about how his team is approaching the transition back to the office and with the ability to work remotely, why they’re going back to the office at all.
Q: G.S. Jaggi, tell us how you first made your decision to move your team to work remotely.
A: I think most business leaders would tell you that the health and safety of their employees is their top priority. We extend the same consideration to the mental health of our team. As the headlines surrounding COVID-19 quickly began to escalate in early-March and brought anxiety levels along with them, we opted to allow our team to work remotely in order to ease their concerns.
Because we are considered an essential service, we were allowed to keep our offices open when other businesses were asked to close. We didn’t require our team to work from home, but we wanted them to know they had our full support if they chose to do so and most of them took us up on the offer.
Q: Why leave the door open to going into the office at all? How did your team respond to that flexibility?
A: Even though we have a small team, we have a diverse team and we recognized that working from home wouldn’t be the same for everyone.
We have team members with young children out of school that needed to stay home. Others had concerns about potentially exposing at-risk or elderly family members in their homes. But certain team members without such considerations at home expressed the need to feel some sort of normalcy when so many aspects of their lives were being turned upside down, and for that, some of them turned to the office.
To ensure the health, safety, and peace of mind for those still making trips to the office, we enhanced social distancing practices at the office and increased the frequency at which the office is cleaned and disinfected. It is only because we were able to maintain a social distance with so few people in the office, each with their own individual offices, that we felt comfortable leaving the option to go to the office open. If we hadn’t been able to create a safe environment at the office, our decisions certainly would have been different.
Q: How difficult was the transition to having the teamwork remotely? And has anything surprised you about having the teamwork remotely?
It was less difficult than we expected, but we still look forward to eventually being back in the office together again. Over the past year, before we had any inclination of what 2020 might bring, our team had made significant investments in our IT infrastructure, with a focus on transitioning to the latest communication, project management, and information security applications. Because we already had these systems in place, the transition was relatively seamless from a technology perspective.
From a productivity management perspective, we opted to put certain guard-rails in place to ensure we didn’t lose too much of the synergy that we experience from being in the room together. We increased the frequency of certain team meetings and created accountability checkpoints to ensure we were making progress on all fronts. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the team’s willingness to adapt to the circumstances and thrilled with their ability to rise to the occasion.
Q: Tell us about your return to the office, G.S. Jaggi. How will you make the transition back? If you’re able to work well remotely, why invest in an office space for your team at all?
We’ve spent the last year (mostly pre-COVID-19) planning to move our growing team into a new, larger office and the new office will be ready just in time to accommodate our team’s return to working (mostly) from the office. While we’ve been very pleased with our team’s ability to work remotely, we still believe a certain synergy, productivity and focus are much more possible in the office. And the team is looking forward to coming back, anxious to see and socialize with their co-workers and friends.
Our Director of Operations is creating a comprehensive plan to welcome our team to the new office in three phases, with a focus on ensuring our safety and comfort. The phased approach will allow us to move slowly and respond quickly to new COVID-19 related developments if necessary.
We anticipate Phase I to require a staggering return to the office, which will limit the number of people in the office at all times. Phase I will also require limiting visitors to the office, social distancing requirements, employee surveys, and enhanced cleaning procedures. Phase II will continue the staggered work schedule, but gradually reduce some of the other requirements and by Phase III, we hope to be back to a normal schedule, continuing to reduce some of the other requirements but continuing to practice enhanced cleaning procedures.
Our ability to go back to the office quickly is also partly due to the layout of our offices. We never moved to embrace the open concept floor plan and our new office provides every team member with a private and safe office. We have a number of collaborative spaces that can be used when collaboration is required but have always found our team members prefer to have their own spaces to retreat to when the meetings come to an end.
Q: What are the broader implications of COVID-19 on the office market, G.S. Jaggi? You’ve decided that it matters to you to have a place for your team to convene. Will others forego the synergy of the office environment for the convenience of working from home?
I expect COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on how both employees and employers view remote work and the role of the office in their business models. Their experiences will be impacted by the type of work that they do and whether or not in-person collaboration plays a significant role in their business model. Some businesses will fast-track the move they were already making to allow remote work, others will realize they need the office and in-person connection. The role – and the layout – of offices will change, but they won’t be eliminated.
Task-oriented team members may be finding that they can be more productive working remotely than they had anticipated – and their level of productivity may increase further when they can eventually work remotely without the distractions they may currently be experiencing at home. These employees will appreciate the time they gain by eliminating their commute and may gravitate to employers that continue to extend this flexibility when the pandemic is over.
Businesses that are built on relationships and those that require the spark of human creativity that is more likely to take place in a dynamic group environment will be more anxious to get back to the office. We are incredibly social beings and our own energy, motivation and enthusiasm for our work can be greatly impacted by that of the people around us. When new ideas must be had or a new team member must be brought into the fold, trained, and introduced to the team culture, it will be difficult to replace the role of the office.
The type of office that businesses are looking for will undoubtedly change as a result of the pandemic. The open concept floor plan that prioritizes collaborative spaces over private ones will quickly return to private offices. The reduced office demand that results from some employees moving to work remotely permanently will be somewhat offset by the need to give those employees staying in the office more personal space.
Jaggi and the Iridius Capital team will be returning to a new office space at The Gallery Offices on the corner of Skyline Drive and Campbell Avenue, Tucson, AZ.
Connect with G.S. Jaggi: LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter.
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