“Energy, attitude and personality cannot be ‘remoted’ through even the best fiber-optic lines. … Real, live, inspiring human energy exists when we coagulate together." — Jerry Seinfeld, The New York Times
It started on the West Coast sometime in late January—a few exposures after the troubling appearance of a previously unknown virus. We didn’t understand the ripple effect that this would have across our markets. The threat to our communities forced us to interpret the complex and often conflicting guidelines from the CDC, to write a new playbook for managing a health crisis, and to make unprecedented decisions with limited, ever-changing information.
As a real estate platform with assets across the country, EQ Office carries an overarching responsibility to ensure the safety of our staff and tenants. From day one, we were determined to stay at the forefront of recommended practices, while communicating early and often. Equipping our tenants with the information and the resources they needed to navigate safely through these difficult times became our sole charge. We were never alone in our commitment; we watched as other organizations in our industry banded together to protect tenants at any cost.
Shifting individually and collectively from the ins and outs of daily operations and into survival mode has taken an enormous emotional toll, forcing team members to draw on sources of strength they didn’t know they could muster. As the pandemic wore on, our work crystallized into a clear cycle—react, respond, deploy, repeat—as we rose to the challenges of the relentless and constantly evolving situation.
This crisis forged a unique bond across our teams. Although all of us are working remotely, we rallied around a greater purpose, united in the recognition that our relationships with our tenants are our most precious asset. Here’s how we’ve shifted momentum, from a piecemeal, reactive approach to purpose in the present:
Our New Normal: When Reaction Is a Default
Our natural reaction to uncertainty is to jump ahead and try to predict the new normal, especially when we’re dealing with a crisis of unprecedented proportions. When so much is unknown, the default setting is to problem-solve. But what if we’re focused on solving the wrong problems? What if our initial responses are simply Band-Aids for huge issues that require far more complex solutions? And most of all, what if we’re not even asking the right questions?
Rather than “canceling 2020” and confining ourselves to imagining a return to normalcy, our organization has created a new foundation in the uncertain present. We’ve taken this extended moment as a reminder to design with purpose and intent.
Even the often-used term “post-COVID” assumes a clear distinction between what we’re experiencing now and a future that may not exist. Rather than “canceling 2020” and confining ourselves to imagining a return to normalcy, our organization has created a new foundation in the uncertain present. We’ve taken this extended moment as a reminder to design with purpose and intent.
Our goal is to harness the energy that emerges when we “coagulate together,” even when we are separated by distance. When we’re all focusing on something greater than ourselves, we can fulfill our potential as an organization now and maximize it when we do return to the workplace.
Beginning Again, With Introspection
"[The pandemic] demands … a moment of existential introspection: What defines [a] company’s purpose—its core reason for being and its impact on the world?” — McKinsey & Company, Defining corporate purpose in the time of coronavirus
Once the reality of the pandemic began to set in — and work-from-home became an indefinite proposition — our teams began searching for meaning. We needed a refuge from the fire drill. After realizing that we could keep the lights on (even though the lights have been dimmed, given that “isolation threatens the creative, problem-solving ecosystem of the organization”), we began looking for initiatives that could give our siloed team members a common purpose.
This didn’t appear out of thin air. There was no shortage of enthusiasm and passion: EQ had already built on decades of investments in local social charters, annual volunteer drives and sustainability practices. Instead, we struggled with a lack of organization around a North Star purpose statement that we could scale for impact. We needed to define a core program that we could benchmark, measure and improve upon year over year. This needed to speak to our organizational, local and personal missions, which is why it was no easy task. So many stakeholders are involved that finding a shared purpose is a tall order, even for the most dynamic teams.
We began by auditing our strengths, weaknesses and whitespace, scanning several regions across the country to understand where we could make discernible change. We discovered a string of themes and initiatives: how we had invested our time, attracted and retained team talent, supported arts and culture initiatives, repurposed materials, collaborated with ethical suppliers. Could we tie these individual efforts together into something grateful and more meaningful?
We then returned to our mission and vision to guide our purpose. While vision is a projection into a better future self, purpose is a company’s “philosophical heartbeat” in the moment. At the end of the day, we knew this purpose must speak to all of us at EQ. Together, we arrived at a purpose statement that summed up the heart of our business:
To build economic health in communities by regenerating urban spaces, preserving local culture, and driving humanity into our workplaces.
Translating Purpose Into Integrated Action
“Find a way to express the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients — whomever you’re trying to serve. Make them feel it.” — HBR, Your Company’s Purpose Is Not Its Vision, Mission, or Values
At EQ Office, this purpose statement centers on serving our tenants. But what happens when our tenants can’t go into the workplace? How can we extend the relationship beyond the physical space?
Nothing can substitute for the kinetic energy that evolves from proximity.
Nothing can substitute for the kinetic energy that evolves from proximity. We also recognized that what we create off the grid now will have an impact in the future. That’s why we’ve used this purpose as a framework to consider both EQ’s giving efforts and its overarching business model.
Our work is built on improving existing structures for the betterment of surrounding communities and the environment. This was the basis for many of the initiatives we’d been launching, from waste management and disposal to sustainable procurement. Additionally, we are invested in preserving culture in our assets across the country, from transforming the lobbies of Willis Tower in Chicago to our most recent collaboration with the local Costa Mesa Arts community. Finally, it complements our mission to inspire and develop talent, and expands the opportunity for us to work with national partners like YouthBuild, offering the under-resourced entry into our business through mentorship.
A shared purpose requires a fundamental shift in business strategy, from the way we procure our products to the way we evaluate the composition of our workforce. If we are to live that purpose, it must permeate every aspect of our organization.
This shared purpose goes far beyond Energy Star certifications and reducing greenhouse gas (although such elements are certainly part of it). It requires a fundamental shift in business strategy, from the way we procure our products to the way we evaluate the composition of our workforce. If we are to live that purpose, it must permeate every aspect of our organization.
Nowhere is that clearer than in our social impact program, or our Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) task force. All the members of the task force raised their hands as volunteers to participate, and more than half of our organization is involved in this initiative. Like our purpose, this program reaches across every business unit and region: our investment strategies, development protocols and daily operations management.
Bringing our purpose to life with specific initiatives has unleashed creativity during a period that could otherwise have been stagnant and hollow. By channeling our energies into innovation, we’ve connected across functions and regions—even while working remotely.
Implementing These Ideas at Your Business
Discovering your organization’s purpose may sound like pie-in-the-sky idealism to many leaders struggling to make ends meet, assessing whether to furlough or layoff staff, cut product lines, or let go of office space. But we’ve found that taking the time to define our purpose has enabled us to make tough decisions with the clarity that comes from understanding the “why” behind our business.
We believe that these steps can help you discover your purpose, too:
5 Steps to Clarify Organizational Purpose
Don’t recreate, repurpose. As with most new initiatives, it’s imperative to find out what already exists before trying to drive change. Start with an audit.
Dust off your company’s vision and mission. While vision is a projection into a better future self, purpose is the reason to believe. And without that, your company can be hollow. Find a purpose that is true to your core.
Keep your scope focused. Purpose allows you to say “no,” which is an unpopular concept when it comes to doing good. Being a jack-of-all-trades, though, always dilutes impact and meaning.
Balance organizational and personal passion. Just because you attach your name to an impact program doesn’t mean that your employees can’t still benefit from recognition and support for their personal devotion to the cause. Matching and volunteer recognition programs empower teams to keep giving to causes that are near and dear to their hearts.
Think globally, act locally. Look for areas for substantial change at a local level. The closer you’re able to get to the movement—to see the impact manifest in your backyard—the more tangible the benefits.
Purpose Doesn’t Care About Proximity
In times of uncertainty, it’s easy to forget that a pause can be a gift, a reset, a time to collect ourselves. These periods remind us to practice self-care and reprioritize our time with the people around us. If you can create the space for introspection, you can realign with your purpose. The benefits aren’t just tangential—they’re revolutionary. And without the required pause, we might have never discovered the way that our organization can provide more value in the present and in the future.
As SVP of Strategic Marketing, Lauren Sozio brings a unique perspective to the commercial real estate space. With 15 years of experience helping brands like Hulu and Vanity Fair tell their stories, her mission is to scale a customer-centric marketing program across the country, and imagine the vision behind assets.