People working at their desks in The Work Project, a coworking space that housed Lendlease's Asia headquarters

A Leap Of Faith: Lendlease’s Asia Transition To Coworking

In early March of 2018, the GorillaSpace team met with Lendlease Asia and interviewed their Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Justin Gabbani about their experience with coworking. We also got the chance to tour their new space and observe how their experience was working firsthand.

So, what is this story all about?

In March of 2017, Lendlease Asia, a major global leader in workplace development and design, embarked on a fascinating experiment when it set up its Asia headquarters in a coworking space. Approximately 100 Lendlease employees relocated from their corporate office on Anson Road to The Work Project at OUE Downtown Gallery, a hip 24,000 sq ft coworking space. This would be a completely new experience for the company as it required the team to share space with several other corporate businesses.

What led Lendlease to this ground-breaking relocation?

How It All Began

With the approaching expiration of Lendlease’s lease at Anson Road (June 2017), the company needed to move fast to find the right solution for their company. Lendlease’s next permanent headquarters was to be at Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ), Lendlease’s S$3.3 billion (approximate figure as of Dec. 17) mixed-use development, which 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 first hand. Lendlease Asia’s CFO Justin lobbed a proposition: “Coworking looks to be a rising trend. There are all these coworking things popping up everywhere. Why don’t we just go move into one of these for 18 months?”

This throwaway suggestion was enthusiastically taken up by Tony Lombardo, Lendlease Asia’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The wheels were set in motion.

Lendlease’s Process

By January 2017, the team tasked with finding Lendlease Asia’s next office space had come up with a list of possibilities. Although location, quality, and costs were all factors that needed consideration, Lendlease was putting much more energy and resources towards finding a place that employees would enjoy coming to and working in — a place that staff would feel most productive.

Approximately 12 spaces were brought back to the team of decision-makers; soon the list was cut in half, leaving six prospective options for the company. At this time, the once out-of-the-box idea was a full-fledged reality. This inevitably led to chatter amongst employees. Rather than leaving employees in the dark on Lendlease’s relocation, Justin spoke to the team publicly, saying:

Look, we’re exploring coworking for ourselves. We don’t know the outcome yet. We’re going to run some focus groups, and 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.

As may be expected, employees had lots of concerns about their big move. Will I have my own keyboard, or do I need to share with someone else? What about my mouse? Will the wifi be just as quick over there? What about security? Will the shared reception be run well? And, very importantly, do we keep our tea lady? Funnily enough, employees were less concerned about the overall concept of coworking and more concerned about moving from permanent desks (their very own desks) to hot desks (agile working). The circulating questions and concerns caused the Lendlease team to make quick yet well-thought-out decisions.

By March of 2017, the initial 12-option list had been shortlisted to three options: two coworking and one serviced office. Of the three options, The Work Project was about to begin fit-out and would be completed that coming June. Because the space had not yet been fitted out, Lendlease had room to customize the space to ensure it aligned with their mission and branding. (Lendlease’s identity is closely allied with sustainability and the environment.) Overall, the timing was ideal for Lendlease’s situation, and the location of the coworking space worked for employees. The selected coworking space was a stone’s throw to their then-current headquarters on Anson Road.

Experience In The Space

Moving into the ‘lifestyle, wellness and technology’ space, Lendlease found it difficult to break free from the conventions and conceptions of the traditional office. The company first gravitated towards creating an office within an office. They wanted their own reception, meeting rooms, etc… pretty much everything that makes up an office. The problem was that they weren’t in their own office. Rather, they were in a coworking space. After a while, they stood back to look at the bigger picture and realized that they needed to truly embrace the coworking experience, otherwise they weren’t changing the way they worked at all nor experiencing coworking.

To help the team become accustomed to the new workspace, Lendlease created five neighborhoods, with each neighborhood housing teams that 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. The teams, of course, still have the flexibility to move around and work where they would like, but this structure gives them the ease of being able to find colleagues who they need to communicate or work with.

Reflecting on the first day at their coworking space, Justin recalls the team’s adjustment:

Day one was really funny. At 8:00 am, everyone was there, chope-ing their desks and making sure they didn’t miss out on anything. After a week, they realized that there actually was enough space for everybody, and they didn’t need to do reserve seats. Eventually, they started adjusting back to coming in at 9:00 am.

Lendlease Asia now operates an agile office, one in which employees determine where, when, and how they work, with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. To promote flexible and collaborative working, Lendlease set up both individual desks and collaborative spaces. There are team tables, breakout areas, meeting rooms, touchdown areas, and social spaces, all designed to allow teams and individuals to work flexibly.

One of Lendlease’s most meaningful takeaways from moving to a coworking space has been the improvement in company culture. The coworking layout has created more team interaction. Justin explained how in their previous offices, workspaces were broken up by meeting rooms and therefore caused some separation among employees. At this coworking space, however, meeting rooms are at one end of the space and workspaces are at the other. This makes it almost impossible for you not to see your colleagues. The layout brings people together and promotes collaborative work.

Lendlease’s Overall Journey

The adjustment to coworking in its entirety has exceeded Lendlease’s expectations. Surveys were sent a couple months out from the move, and results came in positively. In addition, although Lendlease’s goal going into the project was not to cut costs, savings were recognized in both reduced rental as well as unexpected reduction in utilities and pantry costs.

This pilot experiment that Lendlease has undergone has enabled the company to experience coworking firsthand, the ins and outs of it all; this is particularly relevant as Lendlease works to set up their own mixed-use development, PLQ. From this experience, Lendlease as a team can now better understand the benefits and limitations of coworking. Justin explained, “It’s about putting your money where your mouth is.”

Enjoyed this overview of Lendlease Asia’s coworking experience? Check out the full case study here to learn more about the benefits of corporate coworking. Check out GorillaSpace for more case studies, exclusive deals, and amazing spaces in Singapore!

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