Dale Connor: Flexible Arrangements Can Work Beyond Office Teams

Dale Connor, CEO of Lendlease Australia

There’s a lot of discussion around hybrid work for so-called knowledge workers, but progressive leaders are looking to expand flexibility beyond the office. “Amid conversation of how do we get people back into the office, we have a lot of people who never left,” Dale Connor, CEO of Lendlease Australia, told the crowd at Qantas magazine’s final Think. event for 2022, held at St Kilda’s Stokehouse in association with LSH Auto Australia.

“At Lendlease, we had two-thirds of our people dealing with the struggle of keeping the business going forward on construction sites, while everybody else was at home.”

Even before COVID hit, Connor was engaged in bringing more flexibility to those construction teams. Granted, when you’ve got concrete to be poured or scaffolding to be rigged, flexibility requires more planning than for people working on laptops, but Lendlease is showing by example that it can be done.

Dale Connor, CEO of Lendlease Australia

“It’s not about presenteeism – for everybody to be there when the gates are open, it’s about empowering a team to make decisions,” says Connor, even though that site might be running 24/7. “We’re looking for people to work five days in seven. You can have a foreman who takes the kids to school on Wednesdays, or a site engineer whose team sport training is on a Thursday afternoon. The team decides the roster and how to focus their efforts on getting a project done. We are working with stakeholders and union representatives – everybody’s aligned on the wellbeing of people in our industry.”

While years of intense focus on physical workplace safety in construction “has done wonders in the industry”, they are now dealing with a mental health crisis.

“In the construction industry, you’re six times more likely to take your life in suicide on a construction site, than getting injured. Now it’s about psychological safety. We’ve got a whole range of programs – 800 people in our business have gone through the Mental Health First Aid course to be able to identify those who need help and also be able to have a listening conversation. Leaders need to listen and engage and respond in a positive way.”

A Lendlease initiative for corporate staff is Clear Space Wednesdays. “We encourage and empower people to block out 3-5pm every Wednesday with no meetings,” says Connor, for people to spend time thinking or going for a walk – or do both at once.

“People say, ‘I have no time to progress my career, or think about learning and development or think about my people, because I’m only thinking about the project at hand.’ If we can free up some time for them to have clear space to think, it will do wonders to them – and wonders for our organisation.”

Dale Connor, CEO of Lendlease Australia

Connor is passionate about communicating the company’s vision to its people, constantly reinforcing it through town halls, team events and emails. “We need to make sure there’s a clear understanding of purpose, which turns into a strategy, and turns into a business plan. I feel strongly that everyone in the organisation needs to understand what the business is doing.”

He says purpose and connection to communities is at the heart of the company he leads, and he’s happy to wear that on his sleeve. “Unless you have an opinion around the real social issues of the day for Australia, I don’t think you’re being a leader as a person, or as an organisation.”

Think. is a thought-leadership event and content series, presented by Qantas magazine and in association with LSH Auto Australia – the country’s leading Mercedes-Benz dealer group. Find out more about LSH Auto Australia.

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