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«We are like gear wheels in a machine that work together»

Andrea Schaller and Macarena Concha work for Swiss Prime Site Solutions. As Communications Manager and Head of Construction respectively, they carry a lot of responsibility and are passionate in pursuing their goals. In the following interview, they talk about how they tackle their work and flourish within their team, and how they balance their professional and private lives.

Where are you working from right now?
Andrea Schaller: We’re talking over Teams, but I’m actually in the office.
Macarena Concha: I’m working from home, but I had to do the digital equivalent of running to get to the meeting...

Why are you working from the office and why from home? And why were you in such a hurry?
AS: There are certain parts of my job that are hard to do from home. I often need direct, personal contact with colleagues, which is why I regularly work on site at Prime Tower.
MC: I spend around half my time at home and half in the office. I was just in a lawyer’s meeting – we had to give a project the final legal once-over.

Describe your job in a few sentences.
MC: Essentially, I spend a lot of time on construction sites. I drive our many real estate projects forward and am responsible for keeping them on schedule. My aim as a developer is to bring excellent products to market that will satisfy our customers.
AS: I’m also working with a lot of things that are «under construction» at the moment, but in a more figurative sense [laughs]. I’m responsible for communications at Swiss Prime Site Solutions and the Swiss Prime Investment Foundation. My job covers traditional and digital communications, branding and storytelling.

What’s special about your job?
AS: There’s a lot of variety in what I do. Every day is different and raises new challenges that need mastering. There’s very little in the way of «daily business», and I take care of it on the side. I can get stuck in and make a difference every day.
MC: It’s the same for me when it comes to variety. I also love how flexible my job is. Moreover, at Swiss Prime Site, people listen to you and your opinion matters. I really appreciate that.

Are those just characteristics of your individual role or are they part of the essence of Swiss Prime Site?
MC: I think they are absolutely part of the essence of Swiss Prime Site Group.
AS: The freedom and flexibility Macarena mentioned are especially pronounced at Swiss Prime Site Solutions because we’re a young market player – there is still something of a start-up vibe within the company.

Why have you chosen to do the job you do rather than anything else?
AS: I’m an open, communicative person. I always try and see the bigger picture and understand things from a wider perspective. And that’s exactly what I do in my job.
MC: I love architecture. I need freedom and the opportunity to contribute my ideas and be creative. The same as Andrea, I like to see the wider context and help shape it. That’s why I’m at Swiss Prime Site.

If you could change one thing about your professional environment, what would it be?
AS: The fact that Swiss Prime Site Solutions is still a relatively young company brings a lot of freedom and flexibility with it, as I mentioned. On the other hand, it means we are still in the process of defining and establishing structures and procedures – two things we absolutely need.
MC: I feel the same as Andrea. In addition, it would be nice if we could feel closer as a team – especially in the current context where we have to maintain a physical distance. This would be particularly helpful when it comes to exchanging ideas and being creative. Fortunately this will change by the end of the year, when we will be joining our colleagues on the 33rd floor of Prime Tower.

Have your feelings towards your job changed over the past 12 months?
AS: The pandemic has made my job more difficult and made certain processes more challenging. As a communications specialist, I’m normally at the heart of the action and am always trying to glean key information and input for my work. This requires a lot of in-person contact. When many of my colleagues are working from home, there’s less information being shared and processes are harder to put in place.
MC: I’ve had the opposite experience – lockdown has had very little impact on my work. Although the number of meetings has gone up. Since joining Swiss Prime Site Solutions in autumn 2019, I’ve settled in well and have been able to get several projects off the ground.

At first glance, it seems like working for a real estate company would be quite technical. Would you say that’s the case?
MC: Not really. We don’t just build big boxes made of concrete and glass. We create living spaces. In doing so, our top priority is the needs and desires of our customers. Other stakeholders like neighbours, authorities and competitors also play an important role. Anyone can build a house – we do a lot more than that. 
AS: Before I joined Swiss Prime Site Solutions, I worked for a private equity firm. That was very abstract and highly technical work. I think real estate, on the other hand, is a very emotionally driven industry. Spaces, buildings, neighbourhoods and even whole cities are something people either like or they don’t. Architecture and taste – in other words, emotions – play a major role. Real estate is something people can see, touch and comprehend; you witness the development process and you see the end result. 

Has the pandemic changed the way you feel about work, and if so, why?
MC: The first lockdown was really hard. We didn’t know what would happen to our construction sites and whether we would be able to stick to our schedules. The situation was, of course, completely new for everyone.
AS: My experience was similar. I started working for Swiss Prime Site Solutions during lockdown. It was almost impossible to really get to know my colleagues, and even to get the information I needed. Things that would just have happened incidentally under normal circumstances I now had to work very hard to achieve. However, our employer did use digital events and continual communication to keep us up to date.

«I’m an open, communicative person. I always try and see the bigger picture and understand things from a wider perspective. And that’s exactly what I do in my job.»

You both have children. How have you handled things in terms of your home life?
AS: It was – and in some ways still is – a very unusual situation. I’m a single mother and so it took a bit of manoeuvring to make sure both I and my school-age daughter could continue doing what we needed to do. Fortunately I have family and friends who helped as much as they could. To be honest, I was delighted when we were able to return to work more or less as normal last summer, and I was able to see my colleagues on a more regular basis. This became more difficult again over the last few months. But you get used to things and get better at dealing with the situation. Sometimes I feel like there need to be four of me just to be able to get everything done and give everyone around me what they need. Sometimes someone or something gets a little short-changed. But I’ve learned to deal with that.
MC: Andrea is right. It was a difficult time. My husband and I had to organise our lives and our children around our work. We don’t have any family nearby who can help us with the kids, which makes things harder. We have encountered a few issues, especially when they get sick. The flexibility of my job really helps, though. I’ve sometimes spent the afternoon looking after the children and then done my work later in the evening.

Do you feel valued in the work that you do?
MC: I get a lot of recognition from both my manager and my colleagues – which is especially important when you work in small teams like we do. Everyone is open and gives other people praise, but also offers constructive criticism when appropriate. This is what enables us to work in a targeted way and implement things rapidly.
AS: I completely agree with Macarena. We’re like gear wheels in a machine that work together to make things happen. Sometimes there’s a bit of friction between those gear wheels, which is why they need to be kept well oiled. Trust and an open communication culture act as our grease.

Do you get support with your targets and in your work?
AS: Absolutely. As professionals, we know what our work entails and what is expected of us, of course. We can always contribute new ideas, pick them apart and – where appropriate – implement them and integrate them into our processes. We have a lot of options open to us.
MC: Definitely. In addition, I would add that support isn’t a one-way street that runs from the manager to the employee. I think there’s an important interplay between employees doing more than is asked of them under their own steam and, on the other hand, managers offering them flexibility and support to enable them to do so.

Have there been moments when you just felt like giving up?
AS: Oh yes, I’ve definitely had moments like that. But I think that’s fairly normal. Whenever there are people working together, there’s bound to be tension at some point. But as long as people can talk to each other and put their differences aside, everything is okay again the next day – or in a few days’ time.
MC: I suppose I’ve been lucky, as I’ve never had a major falling out. Maybe because when people are inflexible or stubborn I tend to brood about it in silence. But it always passes quite quickly.

«I love architecture. I need freedom and the opportunity to contribute my ideas and be creative.»

What’s the best thing and the worst thing about your day-to-day work?
MC: What I like most about my job is that I almost always get to start with a blank canvas. This flexibility is a huge source of energy and creativity. What I really hate are long meetings without a clearly defined goal. 
AS: Absolutely. Since we’ve had to move to digital meetings, there have been more of them and they take considerably longer, because you need a lot more coordination. What I love about my job is the fact that I can bring a lot of creativity into my reporting, and into my general communications work. Nothing’s off the table as long as it adds value and you can justify it.

Have you had any personal triumphs since starting at Swiss Prime Site Solutions?
AS: Definitely. We were able to «insource» all of our reporting, which had previously been handled by external service providers. This has saved a whole lot of money, but more importantly, we’ve increased efficiency and process security. Another milestone for me was the new Swiss Prime Investment Foundation website, which just went live. I really value those moments of achievement.
MC: I was able to successfully get two major real estate projects off the ground in the areas of residential property and eco-living in Zurich and commercial property in Lucerne. I was put in charge of an investment of almost CHF 80 million.

When you tell people what you do, what are you particularly proud of?
MC: Swiss Prime Site is a major market player. I normally just have to say where I work and people are really impressed. That in itself gives me a sense of pride.
AS: Most people are pretty impressed when I tell them I work at Prime Tower. I’m still a little awed by it myself sometimes [laughs].

What song comes to mind when you think of your work?
AS: For me, definitely «I’m Still Standing» by Elton John! Just to clarify, that’s because I started my job in lockdown, which meant a lot of things were very hard work to begin with. But in the end, it’s all okay!
MC: I hear the song «Try» by Pink in my head. In many ways, it’s a song about holding onto your dreams and desires, even though many things in life aren’t easy and it means taking certain risks in order to achieve what you want to achieve.

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