René Popik: You need that chemistry – people with an ethos of innovation

Through this article, we are starting a series of interviews with our clients and partners. In them, we will together explore the insights and experiences from our previous projects. Let’s start with a quick overview of our first project in the series. Afterwards, we will continue to the interview itself.

What was this project about?

What are the conditions and environments that enable high performance teams?

One of our clients, an internationally renowned real-estate developer HB Reavis, made this question a top priority for their leaders. The company’s strategic shift towards designing user-centric buildings required an integrated development approach: a highly-diverse team would need to work intensely together over a period of many years, integrating a multitude of internal and external stakeholders along the entire project journey.

HB Reavis Project Islands Enabling Spaces
Project Islands: team spaces created by theLivingcore and HB Reavis in their Bratislava office.

In order to achieve this, theLivingCore supported HB Reavis in three domains: 

  • We re-designed the development process, taking care that processes, structures, work flows, people’s mindsets and skills as well as work environments were integrated.
  • We created a handbook to guide the development teams through the re-designed development process. The handbook was co-written with approx. 50 employees from across the entire company, to make sure that it would be understood and accepted by the target audience.
  • We co-designed team spaces (project islands) together with around 30 employees, which are now the homebase of the project development teams. The goal of these spaces was to foster immediate problem-solving, enable quick information flow, support cross-project learning and inspire team work.

Interview: René Popik, CEO of HB Reavis Slovakia

Let’s dive into the interview with René Popik, CEO of HB Reavis Slovakia, a European real estate development company focusing on office and retail spaces. He was also the “father” and sponsor of this project.

René Popik
René Popik, CEO of HB Reavis Slovakia

René joined the company in 2007 and contributed to its success in multiple landmark projects like Varso Place in Warsaw and One Waterloo in London. He is currently leading the Slovak office to deliver one of the biggest developments in Europe – New Nivy, including flagship retail scheme Nivy Mall combining bus terminal, shopping mall and freshfood market, all roofed by generous greenery.

Oliver Lukitsch: Welcome René, let’s start with a fundamental question. What makes a good team for you? 

René Popik: For me, it’s a group of people with a common goal. They need to understand each other – each other’s roles, duties and deliverables. But overall, they must understand the big picture, the common goal. And all this is very much on both an individual and a team level.

Oliver: And now, looking specifically at the project journey handbook we did together, what was this project really about? What triggered the project? 

René: It was a move to set that common goal in stone. The handbook is a set of rules; a modus operandi for the teams. We weren’t reinventing the wheel – but rather smoothing its movement, creating the best practices we should aim for with our projects.

Oliver: And why was a physical handbook important for the purpose? 

René: To create a common understanding, we had to first understand each other and align ourselves on each stage of the project. So we interviewed different stakeholders because we have very complex projects at HB Reavis, with lots of people involved.

Another outcome of these interviews was Project Islands – our move to create a new workspace environment tailored to enhance collaboration. It’s a setup where core members of a team can work together within one space, with everything they need for their project. The Islands are the physical space for a project, and the Project Journey Handbook is a description of how the team should use it.

The challenge of changes

Oliver: How did the team deal with these changes? Did they accept them right away or was there some kind of turning point later on?

René: Of course, it didn’t happen automatically. We first piloted the space, co-creating the design of the furniture with the people who’ll use it, to give them a sense of ownership. We chose the most progressive colleagues for the pilot. You need that chemistry – people with an ethos of innovation.

And as they explored and thrived with the Islands, other colleagues saw the pilot team working a little bit differently, enjoying a better chemistry not just in work, but on a personal level. Next, we selected ambassadors, four from each department, to champion the Islands’ usefulness, and implement the idea.

Oliver: So just to understand this, you wouldn’t say that people naturally gravitate towards such a working environment, but rather that you need influencers that draw people in? 

René: Right. 

Oliver: And who are these influencers? What allows them to play their role as influencers? 

René: I think it’s in their nature. They’re more open-minded, or sometimes frustrated with the way they currently work. You have to look for people with an innovative mindset.

Initially, you have to spend more energy to get things going, to convince people. But then, it’s like a snowball. Actually, we made sure there was someone a little less crazy about the idea in the pilot team. And as they used the new setup, they slowly changed their mindset – proving to us that the Islands could help everyone.

Oliver: How do you find out who is or can be an influencer? Are they very much in view or hidden? Do they emerge almost automatically, does one recognize them right away or does one have to look very closely and be attentive to identify them?

René: It’s about knowing your people. It’s about team leaders getting creating the right forums for people to be themselves and offer proper feedback. You might expect them to shine anyway; but it’s important to recognize who your influencers are, so you can give them the opportunity to be a positive influence on the team.

I think it’s very important to have this visual contact.

Teams over Distance

Oliver: Let’s change the topic a little bit, and talk about the future, especially the future post-Corona. Obviously, the Corona-crisis has pushed us all into remote working. How did this affect teamwork in your development teams? 

René: On the one hand we became more effective. Because once you are online, people focus on the task at hand: meetings are scheduled, there’s very little chit chat, and everyone focuses on work.

On the other hand some people don’t participate meetings. I try to encourage people to have their cameras on as much as possible, because when you have a meeting of 10 or more people, some people can hide. You can’t see their emotions either – and I think it’s very important to have this visual contact.

Of course, there are the other downsides too. We’re losing social interaction and physical activity. You sit in your flat, behind your desk and move between the kitchen and the toilet. That’s not very good for your health or for your mind.

Our business is to rent offices, deliver buildings. So we see the trends: there will be a new standard. It will be some kind of hybrid mode of working. And there are many positives to working remotely and having meetings this way now. I can multitask a bit more. I can have a meeting while driving. Or go pick up my son from school.

So this new standard will bring positives to my personal life. But it depends on the nature of your work, or the products and services you are creating as to how positive it is professionally.

My vision regarding the physical space is that we’ll need more social spaces where people can meet, talk and have informal meetings. But overall, companies will probably need less space thanks to the hybrid model.

HB Reavis Project Islands Enabling Spaces
Project Islands: team spaces created by theLivingcore and HB Reavis in their Bratislava office.

Oliver: The reason for the idea that office spaces will be more about social interaction and value social interaction, is because that is the thing that cannot be done remotely, right?

René: Yeah. I can tell you about my colleague’s brother. He’s working for a big international company. He is very happy to be at home because he does his whole job in Excel. But even he needs to interact. So he’s still going into the office for meetings.

Also, because of Corona, some people will be afraid to share desks. They’ll rather use their own laptops, their own accessories and will want to work within a space where they can be safe in terms of hygiene.

Oliver: So to wrap things up, you think that the world after Corona will be a different world.

René: For sure. Many changes are speeding up. There’ll be more demand for flexible contracts with landlords. I think the demand for coworking and flexible offices will increase too, as businesses looks to be more agile, so they can react to uncertainties around the economy or even if something like this happened again.

Oliver: Now to our final question, going back to high-performing teams. Thinking ahead, what will your teams need to do next in order to grow as high-performance teams?

René: We have to be more open-minded and we have to be prepared for the variety of ways that Corona has affected young people.

They might be more reliant on the internet, on electronics. We’ll have to find a way to work on their social skills, so that they’re interested in each other, so that they are more empathetic and calm.

Also, we need to help organisations give these people the support they need to thrive – because their generation will soon be entering the world of work.

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Cover Picture: Ramón Salinero on Unsplash

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