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The Post-Pandemic CRE Conference Experience Underscores the Renewed Value of Collaboration

IREM members are congregating again, building on the commonalities that form an industry culture as they renew old relationships and forge new ones.

Much has been written about some of the unexpectedly positive outcomes of the COVID pandemic—advancements such as a greater sense of camaraderie and collaboration, a heightened emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and a growing embrace of sustainability as not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. We seem to have emerged from the pandemic with a renewed vigor for our work and what it means to our businesses and our lives.

In part, I believe, this was because COVID told us “No” to so many of our traditional practices. We grew accustomed to seeing our peers framed by computer screens because COVID told us “No,” and we could no longer meet in our offices or at our conferences.

Fresh from this year’s IREM Global Summit in Dallas, I saw firsthand those positive outcomes at work, especially in five prime areas of professional development: 

* Culture

* Thought leadership

* Diversity—including some additional dimensions not typically focused upon

* Mentorship development 

* Generational change

But these dynamics aren’t exclusive to IREM. I saw it played out at the National Association of Realtors’ NXT Conference in Orlando, and BOMA’s Conference and Expo in Nashville, an energy and passion that provides a positive twist on the phrase, “The New Normal.”

Freed from the “No” of COVID, I saw conference attendees returning to the culture that can come only from face-to-face interaction. To use an outmoded publishing term, so much ink was spilled over the past two years about productivity in remote work environments, while the concept of culture took a back seat. Now, people are congregating again, building on the commonalities that form an industry culture as they renew old relationships and forge new ones.

Much of that positive activity took place, interestingly, not only in the formal settings, but in the hallways of our convention venues. It was amazing to see people leaving their educational sessions or keynotes—as important as they are—to shake hands and compare notes over refreshments. It underscores the reality that thought leadership doesn’t live only at panel discussions, but equally in the stories, the challenges and the solutions shared in the informal settings that a conference provides.

We must point out the diversity of thought that comes alive at an in-person conference as nowhere else. Generations, from longtime IREM members to college students; disciplines from all walks of property management; and cultures from the 43 different countries represented by IREM, can all find a reason to share. To use our Global Summit as just one example, I saw our South African Gauteng Chapter President-elect, Khululiwe Sarah Shezi, discussing mentorships with Magnus Norøy, a Norway native and student at the Weidner Center for Real Estate Management at the University of Alaska/Anchorage. (Magnus’ story in itself is a fascinating one.)

The mentorship aspect of our communities is a major part of the conference experience, and that includes reverse mentorship. I mentioned South Africa, and we often think of how we can help that young chapter grow and thrive. But there’s so much they can teach us, given the unique challenges and successes of our IREM members there, just as there’s so much we can learn from the 30 under 30 folks and the college students who are coming into the profession with a new set of values and perspectives.

I was proud, at our final evening Gala, to introduce and thank the leaders who have gone before, without whom we would not be where we are today. I was equally proud to juxtapose them with our young professionals, the 30 under 30 up-and-coming professionals who will take up the baton and lead us into our future, and to call out our college students, who will be their future mentees.

In such relationships we find the seeds of true thought leadership and the value of congregation and collaboration—without the strictures of videoconferencing. I believe we return to in-person congregations of all sorts, be they at a conference or simply in our places of business, with a renewed vigor and passion for what we can accomplish together.

It’s in that collaboration that we elevate our profession. I believe we’re placing more value on opening doors for each other and getting to know one another—in a way that was severely hampered during those years of lockdown and quarantine. We’re connecting important dots, and in so doing, I believe we make the world a little smaller, and a little better.

Barry Blanton, CPM, is 2022 President of IREM. In addition, he served as the chief problem solver and a founding principal of Seattle-based Blanton Turner. 

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