On the first anniversary of the unprecedented shut down of life as we knew it, we reflect on who and what we were pre-COVID -19. The short answer is we were as we remain – a staff that is devoted to our clients, committed to building and managing safe, sustainable facilities, and a family-oriented organization dedicated to the betterment of the communities in which we work.
But 2020 did not move in a straight line. It was full of twists and turns that required quick action, creative thinking, and an unwavering dedication to our values.
Our leadership team acted swiftly to implement a work from home policy for all able employees, began exchanging information with all clients and building tenants, and put processes in place to mitigate the financial impacts that this pandemic might inflict. We knew that continuous communication with employees, tenants, residents, and clients was imperative and established a regular schedule of All Hands Meetings for employees, e-newsletters, weekly check-ins, and site visits.
Our property management team instituted new building protocols including foot traffic patterns, increased cleaning efforts, and requested patrons wear masks. We installed foot pulls, replaced and/or upgraded air filters, and maximized fresh air circulation. All these things were done to ensure that we kept all our people safe and helped the community fight this virus. Our commitment to health and safety was recognized and enabled us to grow our property management division to over 12 million square feet, earning us distinction as the largest property manager in the Pittsburgh region as ranked by the Pittsburgh Business Times.
Development work took a brief pause but resumed quickly for our partner healthcare providers. We continued to move projects along using technology platforms like SharePoint and video conferencing (both of which were in place prior to the pandemic, phew!). Through preparation and creativity, we were able to meet completion dates within one week of schedule and delivered a cutting-edge cancer center, a community hospital, and clinical space for women’s health services.
Financing, legal and brokerage groups remained busy assisting tenants with lease obligations. This focus on our clients allowed most of them to stay in place as their business weathered the pandemic. This group also structured the first-of-its-kind in the Pittsburgh market ground sale of the six parcels that constitute 3 Crossings’ first phase. This $82 million transaction showed that even in an uncertain market, 3 Crossings and the Strip District have driving momentum.
Management at our residential communities had to turn tack with resident life and amenities. Regular happy hour events and as-desired fitness center access instead shifted to virtual ways to remain connected like digital bingo and trivia, zoom hosted book club, and pre-packaged “Breakfast-to-Go” bags. When restrictions were peeled back, our fitness center re-opened with a new scheduling app to ensure social distancing and time for in-between cleanings.
Beyond the pandemic, the past year’s civil discourse regarding race and equity led all of us at Oxford to reflect on how we conduct business and the impact that we have on our community. Through this effort to gain a deeper understanding of our company and ourselves, we’ve realized that while we have a long history and strong foundation of purposeful community building, sustainable building and management practices, employee wellness, and philanthropic endeavors, we need to do more to further these efforts, particularly in support of those that are underrepresented in our company, industry and our region.
Using this lens, we will investigate our current business practices at all levels and begin to build better processes that will ultimately allow us to expand our business networks, create more innovative, sustainable, and inclusive projects, and improve employee and tenant health, productivity and performance. To facilitate this work, we’ve created a Corporate Responsibility initiative that blends our wellness and sustainability objectives with that of diversity, equity, and inclusion. A senior leader is tasked with developing a program and fulfilling these goals through a DEI committee.
While COVID-19 is not yet in our rear-view mirror, we have found much to be grateful for in this experience. We know that our company culture is guided by a strong set of principles and this coupled with the collaboration of all staff is the key to seeing us through to the other side. The world, our industry, and the market have all changed in the blink of an eye. But our values have remained and this is what we rely on to innovate and evolve with them.