5 women in commercial real estate

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the commercial real estate (CRE) industry and so much of daily life. So how do you stay resilient? We talked to five women in the industry about how they have adjusted to the new normal.

How Do You Define Resiliency?

For Heather Wallace, senior vice president at Sares Regis Group, resiliency is “the ability to recover quickly from setbacks.”

Cecile Chalifour, community development banking west regional manager at JPMorgan Chase, agreed. “Resiliency is the ability to move forward, no matter what,” she said. It doesn’t mean ignoring your problems, though. “You must fully acknowledge reality, pain, challenges, but still keep going with strength and determination.”

For Janaki Kumar, head of CRE digital design at JPMorgan Chase, resiliency is also about self-care. “It means taking care of myself—body and mind, so I can face challenges with equanimity. It means reaching out to my family and friends to get help and offer support. It means practicing kindness with myself when something does not go according to plan.”

And for Merredith Treaster, it’s “knowing we’ve survived our worst days, life will go on and we have everything we need inside ourselves.”

What Were the Biggest Challenges for You Immediately After COVID-19 Hit the U.S.?

“Professionally, my role as a leader shifted focus from growing our company to crisis management and creative problem solving,” Wallace said. “The state of emergency regulations resulting from the pandemic has created constant adjustments to most operational responsibilities.”

“It was difficult not being able to work side-by-side with my team,” said Sharon Groenendyk, commercial term lending client manager at JPMorgan Chase.

One of Chalifour’s biggest challenges was letting go of a sense of control. “Both at home and at work, I had to accept the instability and uncertainties, the lack of visibility to be able to plan.”

"Both at home and at work, I had to accept the instability and uncertainties, the lack of visibility to be able to plan."

Simply seeing and spending time with family members in person has also been challenging.

“The safety of my family and friends have weighed heavily on me,” Kumar said. “Two of my kids lived far away, and thankfully they decided to move back during COVID. My youngest graduated from high school and got admitted to college, but we made the decision to take a gap year given the circumstances.”

Chalifour and Kumar both have family members living abroad, which has been difficult too. “I check in with my parents every day, but I do feel the distance more than I ever have in the past,” Kumar said.

What Are the Most Significant Adjustments You’ve Made Since the Start of the Pandemic?

Throughout the past few months, everyone has had to adjust. Processing how COVID-19 has upended life has helped Chalifour.

“I have done a lot of work since March to learn to be patient with myself, to acknowledge the individual and collective grief related to the COVID crisis. Focusing on what truly matters to me has been key: keeping my kids healthy, in particular emotionally, and supporting my family, friends and larger communities. Centering myself on the core of who I am and want to be, it has meant a very intentional reaffirmation of my commitment to my job in community development, as COVID has only made inequalities more salient.”

Professionally, they’ve found new workspaces, and a new way of working altogether.

Wallace made a location change. Now that she’s out of the city, she and her family can spend more time outdoors. Finding ways to exercise, dine and socialize outside has been a helpful coping method for people all across the country during the pandemic.

Kumar has also changed her surroundings by setting up a home office space. In that space, she has found new ways to connect with coworkers. “We have introduced some fun team activities to get to know one another and share a few laughs. Ironically, I feel even closer to my teams since COVID, and we have built a sense of community despite the trying times.”

"Ironically, I feel even closer to my teams since COVID, and we have built a sense of community despite the trying times."

How Are You Prioritizing Your Well-Being During This Time?

“It’s quickly obvious that being there for others starts with self-care!” Chalifour said. She and Kumar make it a priority to meditate regularly and take a walk each day.

Chalifour also sets an intention daily. “Every morning,  I start the day by thinking of one thing I want to do that will bring me joy—it can be as simple as making sure I have a good laugh with my kids, or being present and outspoken on a panel,” she said. “Truly taking the time to heal, slow down, acknowledge vulnerabilities, find joy and get centered is key to having the purpose, clarity and strength to lead and support in these times.”

Being intentional about her actions has also helped Treaster. She schedules 30 minutes of each weekday to exercise and makes a point to “focus, take and feel gratitude for each day, each breath in my lungs and each meal at home with my children and husband.”

Wallace’s relocation has been central to her well-being. “We prioritized our mental and physical well-being by moving from a confined flat in the city to a retreat in the hills where hiking and mountain biking trails surround us.”

Knowing What You Know Now, How Would You Have Approached Work Differently During the Pandemic?

Planning was something most of the women touched on.

The first two months of the pandemic were frantic, Chalifour said. “I think we did it right and still are, but it became quite obvious that we didn’t have a plan ready. Some conversations could have happened earlier—before a crisis—saving us time.”

“Knowing what I know now, I would have prioritized worst-case scenario modeling and strategic conversations earlier to educate our clients around the impact of the potential extended shutdown on rents,” Wallace said.

Groenendyk would also prepare for a longer recovery. “Our world moves at such a high rate of speed that I was anticipating a near-term rather than long-term resolution.”

Each woman is adjusting to the new normal in different ways, whether that’s exploring new places, scheduling personal time throughout the day or spending time with family. However, they are all learning to practice patience, accept uncertainty and take things day by day.

For more insights on prioritizing your well-being during COVID-19, check out our Women on the Move Women’s Leadership Day replay, which features career advice and leadership lessons from powerful female speakers.

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