Nicole Perona has spent her career in engineering, human resources, and construction on both the client and owner sides of various businesses—a journey that not only helped her become a well-rounded leader, but also revealed a truth that transcends any project she sets her sights on.
“When you’re working on projects, nothing ever goes smoothly,” Perona shares, chuckling. “Most of it can go smoothly, but there’s always some bump in the road, and you have to try to take those bumps and turn them into the most positive outcome you can. I’ve learned to pivot, to turn challenges into opportunities that are successful, and to also see the positive out of those difficulties.”
Perona is an expert at that in her role at John Hancock, where she serves as the director of strategy and technology. As the company envisions the future of its Boston office in a post-pandemic world, Perona and her team are looking toward large amounts of occupancy data to help find ways to enhance the employee experience and encourage them to make a comeback to the office.
“We’re consolidating that data into useful information for the business units,” she explains, “so they can make decisions on everything corporate real estate related in regard to the number of seats we have for our people, avoiding or continuing to use certain areas, and how to design our environment to bring people in the office in ways that make their workday more productive and enjoyable.”
Sounds easy, right? Not as much as one would think, considering the nationwide wrestle with out-of-office rates spawned by pandemic-induced remote and hybrid work policies. In May 2023, NPR reported that nearly 20 percent of US office spaces are empty, a figure that exceeds rates during the 2008 global financial crisis. Markets in the Pacific and Northeast regions have been hit particularly hard by the trend, according to a CBRE analysis.
But where some leaders might see a crisis, Perona sees an opportunity to collaborate, foster more unity among company stakeholders, and promote effective communication.
“We are taking a lot of steps, receiving a lot of feedback and surveys to help those business leaders make better decisions on how they want to move forward with their work/life balance,” she says. “Seeing how impactful those analytics are is allowing us to design the space appropriately for the folks coming in.
She adds, “Listening, communication, and transparency have gone a long way. It’s made our goals more reachable, our timelines more realistic, and gives us an opportunity to listen and understand what the needs are. Listening is the first step and then working together to develop a variety of solutions is important.”
That is where future leaders who want to be successful in addressing their most pressing challenges should start—learn to communicate and work effectively with others.
“Seize any opportunities you can. Be the person that comes up with the proactive solution and try to see opportunities and shine. There are always opportunities for the taking, always something that will make you stand out above the rest,” she advises. “Sometimes early on in your career, there is a lack of confidence, but try to be that confident person. Take the opportunity and show people what you’re made of.”
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with a civil and environmental engineering degree, Perona started her career as an environmental engineer at BETA Group Inc. After two years in that role, she went on to serve as human resource business partner and analyst at State Street, financial and HR analyst at State Global Advisors, vice president of global platform and project manager at State Street Corporation, and director of accounting operations at CBRE.
Those experiences gave her a depth of knowledge on various subjects while playing to her strength as an analytical and strategic thinker.
“I like math and science; I like black and white,” she says. “Corporate real estate and construction is like that. I like the constant projects, the ebbs and flows of work, the organized chaos. Things can get extremely hectic but then you might have a few days of downtown. And again, nothing is ever perfect so you need to kind of roll with the punches and do the best you can. But I love the ups and downs of it.”
She stepped into her role at John Hancock in 2021, where she has a passion for “making a difference.”
“I love to be productive, I love to be impactful, and I love when what I’m doing is helping other people personally and professionally,” she says. “I take those attributes and funnel them toward becoming more strategic and proactive with our clients, making sure what I’m delivering is actually useful to them and they can make strategic decisions to help them progress.”
HqO is a real estate technology company that believes real estate should be connected to the people, and in Manulife we’ve found a great partner that believes the same. We’re fortunate to collaborate with Nicole and the leaders on her team precisely because they are focused on elevating the experience for their employees. It takes both vision and expertise to thoughtfully configure physical spaces and services and enable the whole experience with intuitive digital tools. For HqO, success means empowering pioneers like Nicole who are transforming real estate and helping high-performing organizations thrive in this period of disruption.