This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to men and women in commercial real estate about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Twenty-five miles outside of the city, MKDA President and Managing Partner Michael Kleinberg has brought his design firm to his home in New Rochelle, working from the New York City suburb while the company’s offices are required to remain closed.
Kleinberg leads MKDA, a New York-based architecture and interior design firm with offices in Stamford, Connecticut, Miami and Washington, D.C. The company is focused on corporate interior design and has designed spaces such as Friedman LLP’s headquarters and Cambridge University Press’ New York office, both in Brookfield’s One Liberty Plaza.
Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life and what you are doing in your spare time.
Kleinberg: I get to my home office before 8 (a.m.) and field emails and video calls for the better part of the day. I take a walk at the end of the day, and after hours catch up on world events, have a drink and listen to classical music to unwind.
Bisnow: What is your company’s return-to-the-workplace plan?
Kleinberg: Our return is still in the planning stage and differs for each market. Our Stamford and Miami studios will be reopening soon with a phased return with appropriate social distancing and safety measures. Our plans for the New York and Washington, D.C., studios won’t be finalized until we hear more from city officials, but we anticipate bringing back 25% of the workforce to start. In each market, we are committed to preparedness and are taking the appropriate steps to ensure a safe return for our team members when the time is right. We have spent many weeks thinking about strategies that will aid our clients’ safe return to their workplaces, so we are prepared to apply these same strategies to our workplace to assist in our return.
Bisnow: What will reopening businesses and workplaces look like for you personally?
Kleinberg: I am very much looking forward to opening our office. We anticipate that once 25% of the workforce returns to their respective workplaces, our clients will begin to focus on their space designs and/or relocations. We are passionate about our work and remain upbeat about reopening and seeing positive gains for our industry and the economy. I am personally looking forward to getting back to some semblance of normalcy but will move forward with a measured, cautious approach in regards to both health and business.
Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?
Kleinberg: We’ve had clients from the early days of the pandemic that we’ve continued to service in all phases, including design and construction. In New York, most of the projects that were placed on hold are still on hold, but a few of our clients have decided to move ahead even at this time: PolicyGenius, Piedmont (60 Broad St.) and Nuveen (780 Third Ave.) are a few. Our Stamford, Miami and D.C. satellite studios have kept busy during this time and we have clients proceeding with projects in those markets as well. We have also been receiving calls from tenants and commercial landlords to assist with COVID-19-related modifications to their built spaces. Having spent our time during the pandemic preparing to assist our clients in their return, we are prepared to meet their needs.
Bisnow: What was your impression of work from home before this got started? What is it now?
Kleinberg: Initially I thought it would never work. However, technology has allowed for amazingly smooth connectivity within our studios and with clients. Our teams have been productive, engaged and collaborative during this period of working from home. But, we remain firm believers in the workplace; being together in a shared environment can help foster the very best ideas, creativity and collaboration.
Bisnow: How is your company fostering community and maintaining its culture from a distance?
Kleinberg: We have held a series of firmwide meetings to connect our four studios together with engaging and educational content and have also held regular virtual happy hours to connect on a more personal level, which has been so important for our people who are quarantining alone. Our local teams and design groups have regular video calls to ensure connectivity and a regular exchange of ideas and insights as they relate to project continuity and progression. We have also enjoyed connecting over our intranet, where we have shared thoughts, photos, inspiration and fun memes. It has allowed us to maintain our culture of connection and we have gotten to know one another better on a more personal level.
Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?
Kleinberg: It will certainly be on our minds for the immediate future, possibly a year or two. Technology will continue to play a role in how real estate is conducted. There will likely be more virtual tours of spaces in the short term and project management platforms that reduce the need for in-person meetings. We are also seeing technology play a role in how all businesses are conducted within the spaces we are designing. We have been seeing more four-person videoconference rooms and dedicated spaces for nomadic workers and we will likely see more of that. As we design spaces, we will also need to look at floor plans a bit differently while we consider less densification and increased flexibility in tenant environments that we design for both businesses and landlords.
Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about right now?
Kleinberg: To open the doors to our New York office and get the wheels of business turning! New Yorkers are resilient and we will get through this together by following the appropriate guidelines and taking a measured approach. As much as remote work can be successful, the real creative work will only happen when people begin to open offices and we can engage and collaborate in person again. I’m hopeful that we will be able to get there sooner rather than later.