Building a better workplace

Tim Price, founder and director of Time & Place Property (which took home Employer of the Year at the 2018 Executive PA Awards) talks career development, employee engagement and the role of an EA.

Can you give me some background on your career? What was the path that led you to start Time & Place?

I studied commerce before transferring to Melbourne University to complete a Bachelor of Planning & Design and a Bachelor of Building. I initially spent two years working with AVJennings in their home building business learning the full life cycle of the industry including design, marketing, project procurement, site supervision and customer liaisons.

I then joined Multiplex Constructions and worked for a number of years in commercial construction. Between AVJ and Multiplex, I gained an extensive construction knowledge base with a focus on the residential sector.

In 1999, I moved to a project management business and learned the ropes on the developer side. I worked on prisons, laboratories, schools, churches, warehouses, banks, and even a marina and shipyard development. All of this taught me communication skills, diversity of sectors, process requirements and, above all else, it enabled me to develop an instinctive knowledge of how to deal with people.

In 2004 I co-founded a business called Sinclair Brook that developed real estate projects and worked alongside other developers. This experience taught me about the value of equity, finance, sales, leasing and the importance of managing risk. It also gave me a strong introduction to offshore capital and international client relations. The business grew quickly to about 45 staff. I sold my business share in March 2015 and started Time & Place.

What was your motivation for starting Time & Place? Was there a gap in the market that you identified, or was it simply a passion for the industry that drove you?

Through my 20 years of experience I saw an opportunity to focus on a boutique-sized business that could compete with large-scale developers.

I love the opportunity to influence the creativity, foundation and vision of a project. I embrace independence. I’m building a business that I’d like to be renowned for creating projects of lasting value, that leave a legacy; projects that are design-led and influential—not necessarily from a fashion perspective—more transcending and multi-generational in quality.

What have been some of the key challenges in developing Time & Place, and how have you and the team overcome them?

Not only has building a business and supporting a young and driven team been really rewarding, but it has also been a challenge as we get to know each other. Our technical strengths and weaknesses (as well as our emotional and social strengths and weaknesses) have taken some time to understand better and we’ve had to find ways to work together towards common goals.

We have worked out how to establish a rich and supported culture along the way. We found that as you start out, there are often people who will join the business who may not align with your visions and goals as you are forming them, but these individuals have been paramount to the evolution of our business.

We look at every opportunity—good and bad—as an avenue for growth and development. We have clarity on what a positive workplace culture is and reinforce this every day to ensure we don’t lose it.

Speaking of workplace culture, what’s your strategy for developing your staff and keeping them engaged?

Our staff are our business and represent our future capacity to be effective, grow and fulfil our aspirations. They’re also the fabric that determines our culture. I feel it’s important that we give our team a very clear understanding of their roles and their opportunities for growth in the business. This creates some clarity on the professional development and on-the-job training that staff need.

An article by Abigail Hess published earlier this year, found that 94 percent of employees say that they would stay with an employer if the business invested in helping them learn. With young people now planning for up to five career moves throughout their lifetime and average job tenure at approximately three years, retaining staff—especially high performers—is key to our business objectives.

We have to recognise that learning and development is a key criteria for workplace satisfaction and that learning and development isn’t just about sending staff off to expensive and time-consuming courses every other week, it’s also about on the job training, shadowing and secondment opportunities and using our industry experts as well as our own team to upskill our group.

We are constantly looking for opportunities to share our internal knowledge with the team; the introduction of internal training—known as ‘lunch and learn’—has provided an avenue to continually update staff on internal processes and also bring industry experts to the table.

There is a lot of buzz around flexible work options at the moment. As a relatively young business, what’s your opinion on them? How do you offer flexibility while ensuring accountability and productivity?

I am entirely comfortable with flexible working on the basis that individuals understand their accountabilities and they manage them effectively. Connectedness within the team is very important to our business, we actively encourage our team to collaborate and consult as we feel that time in the office is important to harness this internal knowledge sharing.

But, we also appreciate that open plan working—like we have in our office—also doesn’t suit all work modes. I encourage staff in ‘report writing’ modes to work more flexibly, for example.

The key for us is being able to support staff in order to work most effectively, but also to provide more structure to how we socialise and gather as a team and continue to support and grow our workplace culture and social capital.

As I understand it, Claire Mulgrew started as an EA at Time & Place and after a year was developed into an Operations Manager and is now responsible for overseeing processes across multiple branches of the business. I would like to know what prompted this role development, and your opinion on the modern EA role.

EAs are often in the distinct position of being the eyes and ears of the executives they support, good EAs are intuitive and more than just do-ers. They are strategic partners; they’re seeing ways for improvement, feeling staff satisfaction and resolving issues before they are felt by others.

EAs often come from very intensive and diverse backgrounds. One day they are supporting HR, the next they are supporting marketing, the next they are supporting finance, whilst continuing to support the executive team—this leads them to have a broad range of transferable skills and the ability to support the business holistically.

Gone are the days of an EA sitting outside the office of an executive, handling phones and diaries. The more we can develop and empower EAs to be frontline lateral thinkers, problem solvers, motivators and leaders in their own right, the more we as executives can do the critical business thinking and strategic objective work.

Having someone that I can trust explicitly, who understands my values and shares my vision for the business is paramount to ensuring the success of strategic objectives as well as ensuring I have a sounding board in order to maintain my practice of authenticity.

Time & Place Property
Time & Place are experts at identifying site opportunities and developing them into property assets that deliver the needs of contemporary living. Time & Place endeavours to create properties that empower people to feel valued, assured, and energised by the places they live and work. www.timeplace.com.au

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