Coworking Is Not Only For Startups! A Case Study on Corporate Coworking
In March 2017, Leadlease set up its Asia headquarters in the coworking space The Work Project at OUE Downtown Gallery. It was to be the start of a remarkable journey. The fascinating experiment saw approximately 100 Lendlease Asia employees relocating from their elegant office at Anson Road to The Work Project, a hip 24,000 sq ft coworking space that Lendlease shares with other businesses. Another smaller group of employees moved to a site office in Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ).The move to a “corporate coworking” space is a first for global developers anywhere in the world. What led the property and infrastructure group to this extraordinary move?
Start Of The Adventure
It all began in November 2016 with the approaching expiration of Lendlease Asia’s lease at Anson Road.Lendlease Asia’s next permanent headquarters was to be Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ). Developed by Lendlease, the S$3.3billion (approximate figure as of Dec 2017) mixed-use development is billed as Singapore’s most progressive city precinct.
Rather than renewing its lease, Lendlease Asia’s management team decided to experience what it is like to work out of a coworking space firsthand. Over drinks one Friday evening, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Justin Gabbani casually lobbed a proposition: “Coworking looks to be a rising trend. There are all these coworking things popping up everywhere. Why don’t we move into one of these for 18 months?”
That throwaway suggestion was enthusiastically taken up by Tony Lombardo, Lendlease Asia’s Chief Executive Officer. The wheels were set in motion.Why coworking? What was it about the concept that lured Lendlease? The real push, explained Justin, was the desire to more fully understand the concept of coworking itself.
“The rise of coworking is disrupting the traditional office space segment to some degree. As a big global developer of office space, we need to know what is going on. It is something that we’ve been talking about for some years. We had so many questions. For example, how do we work with coworking? Do we set up our own or do we have a partnership with a specific operator? So we decided, let’s just move into one. Let’s experience it ourselves and figure it out.”
At a coworking space, Lendlease would be able to work in a completely agile office setting, where employees could determine where, when, and how they would like to work, with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. Moving to coworking would mean that Lendlease could set up both individual desks and collaborative spaces. There would be team tables, breakout areas, meeting rooms, touchdown areas and social spaces, all designed to allow teams and individuals to choose where and how they want to work. Essentially, it would allow Lendlease to experience a very different way of working.
Committing To Corporate Coworking
By January 2017, a team was tasked with finding Lendlease Asia’s next home. They quickly came up with a list of possibilities. Around that time, the chatter among Lendlease employees started up. Rather than shroud the search in secrecy, Lendlease decided to seize the bull by the horn by holding a town hall meeting with its entire team.
Justin recounted his initial announcement to the team. He shared transparently with the team, saying: “Look, we’re exploring coworking for ourselves. We don’t know the outcome yet. We’re going to run some focus groups. Some of you will be involved in the tours once we’ve shortlisted the spaces we’re considering. We’re going to make this a collective decision, rather than management deciding where we are all moving into.”
This engagement effort – part of Lendlease’s change management strategy – headed off speculation and gossip and helped ease employees’ anxiety about the transition.Concerned about moving to the coworking space, employees raised operational issues that the transition team had not previously considered. They included what to do when guests are in the office, how a shared reception will work and whether the company is keeping its tea lady. These operational questions forced the team to make a lot of quick decisions.
By March 2017, the team had quickly trimmed the contenders down to just three. That month, the Work Project was about to commence its fit-out, with the completion scheduled for June 2017. For Lendlease Asia, the timing could not have been more ideal. This, together with its location, made The Work Project the winning choice.
The Coworking Space
The Work Project currently houses approximately 200 people in its flagship location in OUE Downtown Gallery. It is broadly divided into three sections: a shared and open workspace in the centre, private offices on the south side, and shared services such as the reception lounge and meeting rooms at the entrance. The open areas are deliberately placed in the central core to encourage tenants (or members, as they are called) to mingle.
To help the team acclimatise to the new environment, Lendlease Asia created five neighborhoods, with each neighborhood housing teams that have to work closely together. The five neighborhoods are (1) management, (2) investment and asset management, (3) IT and HR (4) legal and treasury, and (5) finance, corporate communications, building information modelling neighborhoods.
As the first, and anchor, tenant, Lendlease was able to influence the layout of the common areas and its private office. Consequently, The Work Project customised Lendlease’s private office to its branding sensibilities and requirements. For meeting rooms, Lendlease negotiated three small meeting rooms and a large video conference room that can house 10-12 persons. In addition to its private spaces, Lendlease’s package also includes credits for external meeting rooms, a boardroom, training rooms, and other shared amenities.
The First Day
Justin recalls the team’s adjustment to the coworking space the first week as hilarious and quite “Singaporean.”
“Day one was really funny. Everyone arrived at 8am to chope their seats, making sure they didn’t miss out.”
Employees were excited to see their new workspace, new desks and new environment. Lendlease provided a 9:10 desk-to-person ratio at The Work Project, even though their study suggested a ratio of 7.5:10. They decided to err on the conservative side so that employees would not feel too crowded or cramped with the radical shift to coworking.A week in, employees realised there actually was enough space for everyone. The initial rush petered out. From then on, employees adjusted back to coming in at 9am.
Justin felt that the 7.5: 10 desk-to-person ratio was probably right on the money because employees always were able to find a seat in the private office. Some people worked in the shared areas for a change of scenery.When all is said and done, the adjustment to the move exceeded Lendlease’s expectations. Lendlease sent out a survey a month or two post move. Results were very positive. The transition, in the end, was quite seamless.
The move to a coworking space resulted in more efficient use of space tailored to their needs, which drove cost savings. They were no longer spending money, for instance, on keeping a well-stocked kitchen, cleaning, or utilities because it was all provided for and taken care of by the coworking space.
Although approximately 9% of a business’ operating costs are spent on rent, Lendlease would rather focus on the 90% of operating costs — which is on people-related costs. What is more important to Lendlease than saving money, is providing its employees with a place that they enjoy spending time in – that they look forward to coming to every day. Lendlease’s intention was also to create a workplace that maximises its team’s productivity. Justin explained, “We want a space that is attractive to talent — not de-tractive. We need to attract the best people to run our business.”
Lendlease’s Big Takeaways: Company Culture & Value For Money
One of Lendlease’s most meaningful takeaways from moving to a coworking space has been the heightened sense of community: more interaction and collaboration among colleagues. Previously in the Anson Road headquarters, the office space was broken up by meeting rooms. Justin recalled that he did not see his colleagues at the other end of the floor unless he had a meeting scheduled over there. In contrast, The Work Project is designed with all the meeting rooms at one end and workspaces at the other end. This design naturally creates “collisions” — more interactions. It brings people together, which promotes more collaboration.
Another big takeaway for Lendlease was realising how critical it was that the coworking space must truly reflect a firm’s culture and brand. The personality and community of your coworking space must align with and reinforce the culture of your own organisation. Justin expressed, “The best coworking spaces should enable your employees to be and feel their best at work. Lendlease has a strong company culture, and our workspaces must strengthen and support our company’s values and beliefs.”
Reflecting on the journey as a whole, Justin said, “We took the business on a journey. This pilot has enabled Lendlease employees to experience coworking firsthand and better understand the benefits and limitations of the experience. It is assisting us to continue to learn what makes the best collaborative workspaces for both Lendlease and our clients.”
Corporate Coworking: What To Look For
1) Coworking is about getting value for money
It’s about getting a client floor when a business doesn’t have a client floor. Or getting good use of an efficient, professional boardroom if you don’t need a boardroom full-time. How can a business get all these things if they’re paying only half a floor of a normal office? And… putting the capex to use as opex!
2) Getting the best technology you can get
Your coworking space must offer a complete and connected ecosystem that offers user-centric technology. Managing all the different members, space usage, booking of meeting rooms and shared spaces, events and also billing must be seamless and painless.
3) “Branding” of a coworking space
The quality of the coworking space is always an important consideration. Things like quality design, ergonomic furniture, wellness features, and access to amenities have a big impact on the productivity of your team. Understand your business needs and pay for the right level of quality. Having the right image and branding for clients and suppliers are also important factors to consider. “Great workplaces are so much more than just space,” Justin added.
Is a coworking space in the cards for Lendlease Asia in PLQ? We certainly hope so! There are many firms that made Singapore their Asian headquarters who need to have the same services as their headquarters. These are global firms who want to have the same high-quality facilities they have at their global headquarters. They’d like a workspace that checks off the boxes for wellness, sustainability, amenities, value for money, and a balance between private offices and shared public space.In all likelihood, Lendlease Asia will continue the coworking journey as an anchor tenant of a coworking space.
We work closely with clients to help them maximise the benefits from coworking spaces. If you are a business and interested to find out how you could amplify the benefits from corporate coworking spaces similar to LendLease, please contact GorillaSpace today at +65 8817 9170 for a personalised conversation or drop us an email at [email protected]. For more information, visit GorillaSpace.co.