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Mark DePiero has a long history in the meetings business. He was the second employee at Dolce Hotels & Resorts, an independent chain focused on business travelers. He helped expand it to 26 hotels across seven countries, before it was sold to Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. In 2014, he joined Convene as employee number three, and during his six years there the company grew from three to 26 properties.

Last year, he became CEO at Ease Hospitality, a management company spun off from New York-based real estate firm Fisher Brothers, which will specialize in luxury amenities, technology, and virtual and hybrid meeting facilities for workplaces.

Ease also opened its own building, @Ease1345, in New York in February this year, and from this vantage point DePiero is on the frontline of the debate companies are having about the relevance of offices in a post-pandemic world.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Skift: This isn’t a great time to be in corporate real estate. Are signs of life returning to city centers?

DePiero: New York offices are running between 6 and 15 percent occupancy. A month ago, everyone was saying let’s bring employees back in September, now they are encouraging June.

Mark DePiero, CEO at Ease Hospitality

Mark DePiero, CEO at Ease Hospitality

From the meetings perspective, we’ve been doing proposals for new hires. Some of our financial tenants are saying it’s impossible to mentor someone over Zoom. You need that connection … in a safe manner. It’s important for them to bring the people together. It’s like the first day of college.

Yes, there is virtual, look at Clubhouse, it’s an audio hangout and people have adapted to that. Human nature will drive everyone back together, but will they be together every single day, that’s the question. Is the work going to change? I think it will.

Skift: How can companies coax employees back into offices in city centers?

DePiero: Everyone’s spent the past year at home, with the convenience of going to their own kitchen when they’re hungry. They want to work out at two o’clock, they jump on their Peloton.

Employers understand this. They’ll make the building feel as much as home as home was, and have creature comforts there.

A lot of the landlords have discovered that if they’re large enough, they could really provide something that’s really special to tenants that they haven’t had before. You have Tishman Speyer executing their own studios and clubhouse as tenant amenities, Durst is doing their own amenity business.

The most important thing is engagement to bring people back, to create that community people are looking for … ice cream sundaes every quarter doesn’t fly anymore.

Our Ease app can be used by staff, from going through the turnstile to get into the building to ordering food from their desk, or booking catering for groups. They can also schedule gym classes, massages and meeting rooms.

Skift: Will Ease compete with your old company, Convene, or co-working spaces?

DePiero: Yes, to a point, we’ll be competing against WeWork, Industrious and Convene, and any other flex-office operator.

Industrious is probably the leader in managed tenant office space, they’re working with a lot of landlords. WeWork has reinvented themselves, and learned their lessons after the past few years. They have a large distribution base right now.

I also see other landlords building out their platforms — there’ll be opportunities for us to help manage their space if they don’t want to do it.

But we’re focused on the landlord relationship, and being a manager for the landlord, so we’re not going to lease space. I know Convene is focused on a management platform as well, but they’re more focused on their digital and hybrid service.

We’re doing that also, but we’ve decided to partner with Exvo to deliver our virtual experience. They’re building our exact meeting rooms virtually, so when we have a hybrid meeting, the people in the virtual room are going to be sitting in the exact same room, because they’ll be identical.

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Photo Credit: A tenant Lounge at Ease's property on Sixth Avenue, New York City. Ease Hospitality