Carolyn Desmond, a Skanska development manager from Washington, D.C., is early into her 12-month assignment in Warsaw, Poland, as part of Skanska Stretch, one of our global leadership development programs. We asked her about experiences working with Skanska there – everything from what she’s doing at work to how her Polish language lessons are going.
Why did you decide to participate in this program and move to Poland?
I was fortunate to be nominated for Skanska Stretch. When my manager told me I was a candidate, I was very excited and grateful. I knew it was not going to be easy, but it was a great opportunity for me to increase my global knowledge of Skanska, challenge myself personally and professionally and make worldwide connections.
There were a few reasons why Poland was proposed as my international assignment location. The Commercial Development unit in Poland is very strong and the office market in Warsaw is quite active. In addition, the Skanska Property Poland team is energetic, vibrant and open to an outsider’s perspective on their development process. Also, Mats Johansson, who heads Skanska’s Commercial Development team in the U.S., started our Commercial Development operations in Poland. He was confident the team in Warsaw would be a good fit for me and would welcome me with open arms.
What kinds of projects are you working on in Poland? How are they similar or different from what you worked on in the U.S.?
I am working on a three-phase development project consisting of almost 1 million square feet of office space. My main focus is with the first phase, which includes a 215,000-square-foot office building. This phase is comparable in scale to development projects I have done in the U.S. But the total complex is much greater than any project I have worked on. The second phase is a high-rise building that introduces an entire set of complexities that I have never experienced before, including double-decker elevators and shading impacts on surrounding buildings. Working on this project has broadened my thinking, and has emphasized to me the importance of clear direction and organization.
Are there any innovative technologies or practices you’ve seen in use in Poland?
We use an environment, health and safety (EHS) peer review tool application on our iPhones. It is a great way for me on the development side to make visits to the site and document with photos any EHS issues or highlight good practices. The application then generates a report that is sent to the construction team and development team.
What interesting trends in Poland have you seen in your work?
Like in the U.S., I definitely see a trend for transit-oriented development. Traffic is a huge problem in Warsaw , so tenants really desire to be near metro, tram or bus routes to shorten their commutes. In addition, tenants demand a cafeteria in their office buildings to serve inexpensive hot lunches; unlike in the U.S., quick sandwiches and salads are not common here, and there aren’t as many restaurants on the streets in office districts.
Also, tenants here don’t want fitness centers as a building amenity, as the market doesn’t yet want to pay for it. However, with family such an important part of Polish culture, daycares and childcare facilities are becoming important features in office buildings.
What’s life like for you in Warsaw?
I’m taking a Polish language class. Although this language is very difficult to learn, people in the office are always excited when I say a new phrase in Polish – and I am too! Just the other day I learned, “Wreszcie nadeszla szara, dżdżysta jesień.” (Finally, the cold and rainy autumn came!) But most often I say,“Dzień dobry! Jak się masz?” (Good morning! How are you?) I think it’s really important to at least learn the language basics if you’re going to spend an extended amount of time in a different country. It’s a challenge for sure, but a worthwhile one.
Back to traffic, people seem to park anywhere they want here, including sidewalks, grass and medians. I’ll be at a pub sitting outside and a car will just pull up right onto the sidewalk next to the entrance, and the driver will grab something and drive away ! I have a car during my stay here in Warsaw, which is a challenge in itself. Not only is the car manual – which I’ve never driven before – but motorbikes seem to be immune to traffic rules, road work requires no precautionary signs, and stopping in the middle of the road blocking all other cars is okay.
Despite the crazy driving, I really like Warsaw. It’s already given me new perspectives, which will help me push Skanska forward.