Front and Centered

Posted on October 16, 2020

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This season didn’t come without challenges, but they were met with can-do attitudes, smiles, and hard work. 

The exact timing was different for each of us… that moment when we ultimately grasped that COVID-19 was going to change our lives in some way. For some, that moment occurred when we learned we would be responsible for one end of a distance learning equation. For others, it happened when an upcoming conference or business trip was cancelled. And for others still, we knew it was serious when an entire sports league determined they would need to scrap the season. But for those at Foundry whose jobs revolve around the day-to-day nuances of building operations and the safety of the individuals who occupy those buildings, the moments leading up to bracing for impact came a bit earlier.

“With so much of our operations focused within the southeastern United States and in Texas, we’ve obviously prepared for our fair share of emergencies in the past. And we’ve gone through preparedness planning and training before, but it was clear pretty early on that the coronavirus was behaving much differently than anything we’d encountered before, so we had to be able to pivot rapidly,” said Scott Renaud, Principal and Chief Operating Officer.
The term “front-line employee” became common nomenclature almost overnight as workforces throughout the globe quickly came to grips with a striking dichotomy between those who were asked to work from home in order to help flatten the curve and those who needed to continue their job functions on-site in order to keep operations – and thus, the economy – running as close to normal as possible. 

“There was almost a palpable feeling of relief when the associates who work so hard at these properties learned they would be able to continue to serve in their same capacities,” added Cary Fronstin, Partner and Director of Management. “If an associate was in a role that necessitated they be at a property in order to keep the tenants safe, they truly embraced that responsibility. We may have had to adjust shifts to mitigate risk or modify the ways in which our managers and engineers were completing certain tasks, but they were all in and it’s been really humbling to be a part of that.”

For Foundry Commercial, these associates working on the front line had responsibilities and titles spanning real estate manager to building engineer, from controller to project manager, and many roles and titles in between. And while some were as new to the industry and their positions as two months, while others were as tenured as 25 years, not one expressed any hesitation when asked if they would still be able to perform their job functions as property managers, building engineers, real estate managers, facilities managers and maintenance staff, directors, and so many more. 

It has been repeated often by many Foundry team members, clients, and vendors that these front-line associates’ overwhelming willingness to jump in and lead efforts at their properties, and on behalf of the larger company during such an unprecedented time, was both awe-inspiring and eternally appreciated. 

Leading the day-to-day planning and the process development – starting as far back as the first of the year – were Scott Renaud, Principal and Chief Operating Officer; Cary Fronstin, Partner, Executive Vice President- Building Management; and Scott Langley, Senior Director of Building Management. The three began talking almost daily in early January as they heard rumblings about a highly infectious and serious virus spreading throughout China. Having experienced the preparations necessary during the SARS and H1N1 epidemics, they thought it might be best to at least start discussing the potential that this new virus could impact operations in the U.S.

Over time, as it became increasingly apparent that social distancing measures were going to need to be put into effect and many Americans would be asked to work remotely, Fronstin, Langley, and Renaud took charge of the operational efforts to safely transition properties, watching closely as national, state and local governments released guidelines that impacted every building, every tenant, and even every employee of every tenant differently. And while all three agreed that they didn’t have a specific playbook at the ready for COVID-19, they felt their combined experience, individual strengths, and years of training leading up to this moment helped make them well-prepared to lead the property and project management operations necessary to not only survive this season – but to stand out as industry leaders focused on serving clients, tenants, partners, and associates during this time as well. 

“It’s a great testament to Foundry’s leadership that everyone really trusts one another, allowing us to remain nimble and formulate plans tailored for individual markets and properties so we could respond in real-time to what each tenant and each project needed,” said Scott Langley. “Foundry really emerged as an industry leader during this time. We’ve received numerous calls and e-mails from clients, from peers in the industry, from tenants who shared that Foundry really got it right in terms of our planning, the resulting processes and procedures, and the critical communications happening alongside those processes.”


Meeting the Challenges

Due to the very nature of the pandemic, Foundry’s property and project management associates were challenged in ways they had never been before. In addition, our client accounting teams were challenged with continuing all critical services with no lapse in service. Fortunately, elements from emergency preparedness plans, building safety drills, and technology integration exercises had long been a part of the operations team’s annual implementation plans, allowing the team to seamlessly adapt when the spread of the coronavirus dictated it was necessary. The uniqueness of a global pandemic didn’t come without its own set of challenges, however. 

“We had to figure out to how to instantly change our properties and Foundry’s workplace, and we knew so little about how COVID-19 acted or spread,” said Scott Renaud. “Early on, we were trying to determine how to implement changes in case it spread to the United States, while still performing our regular functions. Soon thereafter we weren’t planning for an if, but a when, and we were rolling out enhanced safety procedures and building management measures for properties in a variety of locations – many which were under different phases of lockdown and social distancing measures. It was a huge undertaking.”

“It felt a bit like a constantly moving target,” added Scott Langley. “Even when reopening measures started to go into effect, they were different for every market. There was a lot of eagerness on the part of tenants to get a plan from our building and property management teams to serve as the basis for their own workplace reentry plans.”

Impacts Far and Wide

While there were a number of global and national health organizations as well as industry associations disseminating information and recommendations, the unknown nature of COVID-19 made it difficult to know exactly what the U.S. was facing. Fortunately, since Foundry’s operations teams had started to prepare at the beginning of the year, they had the foresight to order supplies and start to put together communications plans ahead of many others in the industry.

“We heard from a few clients in early March that Foundry’s messaging and plans were clear, concise, and appreciated, and that we were communicating faster than what they were hearing from others in the industry,” added Scott Renaud.
 
As many companies across the nation were informing their workforces they would need to start working remotely, there was a lot of fear and trepidation around what the implications would be for their office spaces, on their ability to complete their jobs, and to their bottom lines.

In line with our “It’s Personal” mantra, Foundry’s property managers, engineers, and others working on the front line became a calming voice of reason to tenants and building owners, sharing detailed plans and policies that were rooted in fact, and were created after a thorough review of the hundreds of documents and recommendations coming out of industry associations, health departments, the WHO, the CDC, and other governing agencies. 

“We heard early and often how much our efforts and our continuous communications were appreciated, and how Foundry was one of the leaders in the industry in devising and implementing plans,” added Cary Fronstin. “One of the most surprising byproducts of this whole experience has been the amount of collaboration resulting from a common threat. Organizations that would typically be considered competitors and may not traditionally want to reveal their ‘trade secrets’ are working hand-in-hand to share best practices and to get through this together.”

From industry peers to tenants, from clients and investment partners to colleagues in other industries, Foundry has been regarded as a leader during this time of chaos, and it’s a testament to the collaborative, agile team assembled, ready to respond and act no matter the circumstances. 

Holding the (Front) Line

Without the leadership of Foundry’s operations team – and without their collective experience and calm approach while the rest of the world was feeling fairly panicked about what the pandemic meant for our everyday lives – it’s safe to say that Foundry Commercial’s property management, client accounting and project management teams in locations throughout the U.S. would not have felt as safe, confident, and empowered in their own leadership to quickly implement the necessary procedural changes within the properties where they are assigned. Likewise, tenants, property owners, and clients would not have felt the comfort of the safety net provided by Foundry’s industry-leading communications and processes.

Scott Langley and Scott Renaud shared their calm responses to the quickly evolving operational shifts at this time could – in part – be attributed to the training each received in the military. Both recalled the importance of gathering all the facts of a situation before jumping to conclusions or making rash decisions – a skill that has been extremely useful during such uncertain times. 

And while it seems a bit premature to claim any victory over the chain reactions of a global pandemic that’s certain to have implications for years to come, in some small way it feels like Foundry Commercial can raise a flag and claim victory in the face of extreme adversity. For so many reasons, this is possible because of the team that held the line… 

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The notion of a ‘front-line employee’ has taken on new meaning this year; most think of first responders, grocery store clerks, and other professionals who must be on-site to complete their jobs. At Foundry, front-line associates serve in many capacities throughout the company, yet the ones we probably first think about are engineers and others in property management functions. Unless we really consider the critical processes involved in the day-to-day operations of our business, we might not recall that there are a number of associates in Client Reporting (CR) Accounting roles that have definitely served on the front lines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Comprised of nearly 40 people and five distinct specialty groups (accounting, A/R, A/P, lease administration, and treasury), Foundry’s CR Accounting team manages more than 300 properties in coordination with property managers. Each accounting associate oversees a portfolio between 13 and 28 properties, dependent upon the size and scope of the assets under management as well as the complexity involved in reporting to ownership. Over the years, Foundry’s reporting process has become well-known and well-respected as one that is meticulous and systematic. Foundry’s monthly accounting reports help owners understand exactly what’s taking place at their properties, so they can act upon that intelligence in real-time. In fact, as the months wore on and the coronavirus exposed the vulnerabilities of others in the industry, Foundry was contacted by several existing clients and awarded additional property management assignments due in large part to Foundry’s ability to deliver thorough reports on time. 
“Our system is deadline-driven, and our team works seamlessly to meet those deadlines, so our clients receive their reports on time. The functions of our CR team revolve around and lead up to delivering these comprehensive, 
real-time reports on a monthly basis,” stated Mary Beth Paris, Controller. 

“We have a tremendously talented group of people working here; I call them the ‘A’ team. Everyone does their part, meets their deadlines, and pitches in to help one another when they can see a colleague is overwhelmed.” 
When it became obvious that COVID-19 would shift the majority of Foundry’s associate-base to remote working environments, the CR Accounting team acted quickly to determine which associates on the team would need to report to the office regularly in order to continue to fulfill their job responsibilities. For many on the team, they would be joining most of the country in moving their jobs into home office settings. For others, whose roles impacted the team’s ability to deploy reports by deadlines, there were times it was necessary to be at the office to receive mail, organize records, scan checks, and make deposits. 

“Our system had to continue working, so we figured out how to keep it running. Sometimes that meant operating in shifts, and sometimes that meant taking on tasks outside our typical job responsibilities,” added Paris. “Our team takes great pride in the reports we deliver to clients, so there was never a question of whether we’d get it done. We knew we would make it happen.”