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Spotlight Series

Real Estate Leader Spotlight Series: A conversation with JD Norris

May 30, 2024
What initially led you to Corporate Real Estate / Workplace?

I've always been an enthusiast for geography and urban design—so much so that I studied them in college. After graduating, I interned in a small town's community development department in Oregon, and that's where my journey began.

It involved mundane tasks like permit processing, code reviews, and public meeting setups - not exactly thrilling stuff. But the real lesson was understanding what goes into building a community from the ground up. While the public sector moved too slowly for me, it sparked my passion for this field.

When the recession hit, I joined a real estate firm in LA, followed by a design and development company. I constantly built up skills like project management, customer service, conflict resolution, facilities operations, accounting, you name it. A former client eventually recruited me to join his tech startup, and despite being jobless at the time, I seized that opportunity.

That founder gave me a canvas to blend my enthusiasm for the spatial themes of geography with all the hard and soft skills I'd honed. At its core, this career is about community building and fostering a sense of belonging. The company provided the mission; I designed the physical environment for the team to thrive in.

Since that first "Head of Real Estate and Workplace" role at the AI startup, I've been on a journey of crafting vibrant communities where people feel they truly belong. I've created experiences that allow the workforce to connect with the built environment, strengthening the cultural fabric. This industry's breadth is invigorating - negotiating multi-million dollar deals, overseeing vast portfolios, coaching team members, collaborating with designers, and touring architectural gems. Yet some of my most memorable anecdotes involve unglamorous, quirky moments like unclogging sewage lines or rescuing nesting pigeons from an HVAC system! It's that duality of high-stakes strategy juxtaposed with on-the-ground problem-solving that makes this path so endlessly engaging.

Tell us about your most recent role. What functions did you oversee? How large was the CRE team? Where did the department sit within the organization?

Most recently, I managed the wonderful Real Estate and Workplace Services (REWS) team at ServiceTitan, which builds software for the trades. Headquartered in Los Angeles, ServiceTitan has offices globally: Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Yerevan, Dallas, Toronto, and more. The REWS team supported 3,600+ employees, both in-person and remotely.

My role oversaw workplace experience teams and functions—everything from leading pandemic response, vendor management and program delivery to HS&E, employee engagement, and project management for facilities management. The nine phenomenal-person teams handled everything from finding new locations and overseeing to ensuring our offices ran smoothly.

The Real Estate and Workplace Services (REWS) department of this organization was a part of the People organization, which also included HR, talent acquisition, and learning & development. This structure worked well as we needed to work closely with these functions to support the company's growth. We also collaborated with other departments, such as IT and procurement.

Tell us about your portfolio. What did it look like?

The portfolio was around 350,000 square feet, primarily consisting of creative workspaces. The company invested a lot of thought and effort into cultivating a strong workplace brand and staying true to its community.

I'd describe it as a cross between a sleek tech company aesthetic and a moody boutique hotel vibe - featuring open office floor plans, airy/cool design, tech-integrated conference rooms, kitchens with snacks and coffee machines everywhere you turn, rooftop patios, auditoriums, incredible views, EV charging stations, bike lockers, a fully-equipped gym with luxe locker rooms...we even had a soccer pitch for the footy fans. It was really something special.

The spaces struck that perfect balance of feeling professional and productive while also infusing fun, hospitality-inspired amenities that fostered community and belonging. The company was very intentional about creating workplaces that energized people and facilitated collaboration and connection.

Could you share a story of a project or initiative you spearheaded that had a major impact to how your team managed the portfolio?

One major challenge I faced was scaling workplace support in response to ServiceTitan's hypergrowth while also managing a shrinking REWS team. I realized that our existing corporate systems needed redesigns to efficiently support the company's rapid expansion and transition to hybrid work.

To set the scene - in March 2020, the organization consisted of about 800 employees across offices in LA, Atlanta, and Yerevan. Within two years, that headcount grew almost fivefold due to acquisitions and ramped up remote hiring. Layering in pandemic-driven office reopening complexities and the future of work questions - my team desperately needed more efficient processes.

The solution was reorganizing our corporate tech stack to better meet REWS' needs. Any process that could be simplified, standardized, centralized, and automated was. We went fully paperless by creating fillable PDFs, QR code support, and digital feedback channels. The phone system redesign routed calls directly to the right person, and the ticketing system streamlined request routing.

Standardization was critical - we implemented unified hardware and cloud-based systems across locations. A key example was moving to an integrated mobile credentials/access control platform to eliminate fragmented badging.

Centralization meant creating a "REWS Hub" on the intranet - a one-stop shop for office guides, floorplans, protocols, visitor registration and more.

Automation leveraged our tech stack for frictionless experiences - IT integrations for syncing employee data, chatbots fielding FAQs, automated vendor communications, and more.

None of these tactics were revolutionary, but empathizing with our users' pain points allowed us to re-engineer efficient, digital-first corporate system experiences for REWS' high-volume responsibilities. In this realm, an efficient experience simply is a positive one.

What was your real estate tech stack? Are there any favorite processes or tools you think would be interesting for others to learn from?

Our tech stack largely piggybacked off other departments' tools, which helped simplify operations:

Envoy—This tool handled visitor check-in, desk assignments, and hot desking across our portfolio. Integrating employee directories and conference room panels made it versatile.

Google Workspace— We lived in Sheets to track everything from capital projects to service requests. Forms allowed us to make data-driven decisions. And Drive/Calendars kept us organized and collaborative.

Slack— Organizing channels and developing bots and workflows kept our global team aligned. Vendors had dedicated channels for updates/requests.

Procore— We utilized this construction management software to track all buildouts and renovations from planning through closeout.

One favorite process was creating "portals" within our intranet for each office. These one-stop shops provided floorplans, amenities, parking instructions, service guides, etc., for that location, making it easy for employees to self-serve.

I was also a big fan of the QR code movement we implemented. Coded plaques beside amenities/rooms are linked straight to the online instructions and room reservation panel, eliminating disposable inserts that constantly need updating.

What challenges do you see in the industry today? How do you think leaders need to evolve to address this?

The corporate real estate landscape is facing some big hurdles, but savvy leaders are rising to the challenge:

  • Remote and Hybrid Work: The pandemic accelerated remote and hybrid models, leaving many offices underutilized. Leaders should reevaluate their real estate strategies to align with this new normal of distributed workforces.
  • Corporate Culture: Maintaining a strong culture, fostering collaboration, and keeping employees engaged is trickier in a hybrid setting. Traditional offices may need reimagining to meet evolving workforce needs and expectations.
  • Tech Integration: Smart buildings and workplace analytics are becoming essential for efficient, intelligent workplaces. Integrating new technologies seamlessly into existing portfolios can be a challenge.
  • Sustainability & ESG: There's growing emphasis on sustainability, energy efficiency, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when making real estate decisions. Leaders must balance these priorities with organizational value delivery.

To tackle these, I believe leaders should consider:

  • Agile Workplaces: Shift from long-term, rigid leases and designs to flexible, activity-based solutions like mobile furniture and desk sharing.
  • Employee Experience: Prioritize workforce well-being, engagement, and crafting spaces that foster collaboration and community.
  • Data-Driven Approach: Leverage analytics tools for data-backed decision making around space utilization, occupancy patterns, and more.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Benefit from the workplace's ability to break down silos and align strategies across HR, IT, sustainability teams, etc.
  • Sustainability Champions: During site selection, leverage tenant power to champion sustainability, pursue green certifications, prioritize energy efficiency and mass transit-accessible locations.

Ultimately, flexibility, technology integration, and putting employees first will separate leading corporate real estate teams.

What’s next for the industry? What are you most excited about?

I'm particularly excited about intelligent, data-driven workplaces' potential and heightened focus on ESG.

By leveraging technology and data insights, we can create workplaces that truly support and empower our workforce, fostering productivity, creativity, and an authentic sense of belonging. Imagine spaces that can dynamically adapt to employee needs and preferences based on occupancy analytics, or buildings that can optimize energy usage in real-time based on utilization patterns.

I'm also thrilled to see the growing emphasis on sustainability and circular economy principles really taking root. From net-zero buildings to informed sourcing to equitable community impact - our industry has such an opportunity to be a force for environmental and social good.

At the end of the day, the workplace should be an incredible tool to attract, engage, and invest in an organization's most vital asset - its people. I'm excited to be at the forefront of designing the workplace experience of the future through innovative technology, data-backed decisions, and human-centric approaches that elevate employee well-being.

How can people get in touch with you?

I’m #openforwork, and you can find me on LinkedIn (

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