The commercial real estate sector has been in the spotlight over the last year and a half as the pandemic pushed workers home. Now, the world is reimagining what kinds of office environments will serve people best. For Jocelyne Legal, newly appointed Executive Managing Director and Managing Principal for Cushman & Wakefield in Vancouver, staying one step ahead means an evolution for the sector.
Prior to her promotion, Legal had been with Cushman & Wakefield for three years as Managing Director of office leasing. She’ll now oversee a group of about 75 licensees in Vancouver and Victoria, covering a broad range of commercial real estate needs that include office leasing, strata, sales, investment, capital markets, retail and industrial.
“There’s never been a better time to be transitioning into a new role. As we’re coming out of a pandemic, as we are really seeing some amazing change in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, as the world is changing faster than we can keep up,” says Legal. “That theme of change is definitely prominent in my mind, and how to how to harness that energy around change, embrace it and look for the opportunities.”
The commercial real estate industry has been and will continue to be subject to a significant disruption. Demographics and generational gaps are two major factors, says Legal. She recognizes the impact technology is having on the industry and is keen to explore the opportunities that will come from embracing and leveraging technology and data.
“We are a data company, we are a knowledge company and we are a services company,” says Legal. “I think there’s a great amount of opportunity for us to embrace all of the new tools and resources available to us and serve our clients better.”
Legal sees opportunity all over Vancouver Island, with a particular focus on Greater Victoria. Cushman & Wakefield has often brought developer clients to the Island, many of whom are doing projects here, from shopping malls to residential developments. In the future, she is looking for her team to take a bigger share of the market.
Many companies were putting their office space on the sublease market early in the pandemic, hoping to cover their rent. Legal is now hearing from colleagues across the country that a lot are now retracting those subleases.
“We are definitely seeing interest in going back into the office.”
Cushman & Wakefield’s strategic consulting group is based out of the Toronto office but covers all of Canada. Their workplace studies are looking at the future of work and asking questions like: what does the hybrid model look like? What does real estate need in terms of technology infrastructure?
“That’s a big trend and it’s growing organically in the organization,” says Legal of the desire from tenants to find spaces that are set up for future workplace needs. “I want to bring that here in Vancouver and Victoria. It’s a real convergence of what we have always done as brokers and transaction people.”
The strategic approach is to offer more than real estate at cost, but to look at the culture those spaces create. When they are looking at spaces, companies want to know what kind of workplace environment they will foster. Legal has observed a significant shift from clients who are starting to say “this is how we want to make our real estate decisions, and all of our decisions.” Clients are putting diversity and inclusion at the forefront of many decisions too, she notices.
“It’s playing into everything, organization status — so all of their purchasing, all of their suppliers and all of their partners. In some cases, we’re being asked to demonstrate that we have those values ourselves in order to be able to work with these groups.”
The best way to do that, says Legal, is to avoid tokenism and aim for authenticity. On asking Cushman & Wakefield to represent them in an office search, one occupier requested the company sign a code of conduct agreement with them confirming that Cushman & Wakefiled had certain policies in place and asking for the right to see them.
Legal has been impressed with how “effortless” the company has made the promotion of women to strike gender-balanced leadership and executive teams. From her experience, the efforts to promote women didn’t feel imposed, it was part of “the language and the fabric” of the company both nationally and throughout North America.
“That’s why I chose to come here,” says Legal. “I don’t think many women are inclined to promote women for the sake of promoting women — and that applies to any underrepresented group. I think it’s more a matter of inclusion and tapping into diverse perspectives of all kinds of people. It’s an industry that has been somewhat homogenous.
I have not seen another commercial real estate company that has gender equity, to the degree that we have. In fact, it almost feels like it’s tipping.”
In a more traditionally masculine sector, a better gender balance might have been more present in property management roles. Legal reflects on the gender disparity found between salaried and commission-based roles.
“I was not comfortable living that way,” says Legal. “And managing my life that way. I was a single mom for a period of time as well. I think that was a huge barrier to entry for women.”
Legal’s predecessor was a skilled relationship builder, networker and mentor who encouraged her to progress. The sector is an interesting one, says Legal, that could offer opportunities to people from a broad range of backgrounds. Legal herself has no formal educational qualifications, and has seen a lot of successful developers and sales people who didn’t finish school,
“It requires a keen intuition,” she says of the skills to succeed in the sector.