In 2009, at the height of the global financial meltdown, 42 property development companies across the world made it on to one of the Great Place to Work Institute's lists of "best companies to work for".
This is no small feat, given that the methodology for inclusion on these lists involves an employee opinion survey that accounts for two-thirds of the final score, and that most firms in the industry were shedding jobs at a high rate.
How did they do it and what can property developers in the UAE learn from these organisations?
The Institute researches and identifies the best workplaces and employers in over 40 countries, making it the biggest annual survey of workplace cultures and its lists, the gold standard of employers. Companies self-nominate and undertake a culture audit along with an employee survey.
The Institute then uses a proven methodology which focuses on the employee experience as its determining factor.
Speak to anyone working in property 12 months ago and they'd be fairly downcast about their job — if they still had one that is. So what did those 42 companies do differently?
While the firms varied in size, location, strategy and workplace culture, four consistent practices have helped propel them to the top.
It starts at the top. Leaders go to extraordinary lengths to respect the needs of employees. Take for example, Rob Burton, the CEO of property developer Hoar Construction. He offers: "I can remember one leader who worked here previously who was an outstanding builder.
"He had been around for many years. I asked him one day, ‘How do you justify having a company airplane?' He said, ‘It's none of your business!"
Aligning management around a core set of values is fundamental. Leaders in these firms do what they say and say what they do.
The top 42 property firms were also clear about what should be communicated, to whom and how often. The position they take is that everyone needs information about the firm's vision, strategy, and work process.
Such information is provided throughout the organisation down to the day labourers. Employees in these firms benefit from quick and streamlined communications such as stand up meetings and huddles that focus on progress, recognition of good work and key priorities.
It may seem that basing business development decisions on current staffing could hinder the organisation's growth, but among these top firms there is a strong push in recruitment and internal training.
They tend to have successful internship programmes, all with the objective of "bringing in new talent that's a good cultural fit".
This approach is proactive, living out from the philosophy that "the project managers of the future are already on our payroll." It is a much faster process to train people internally rather than seeking out new employees.
A fourth consistent trend we find in the best property development workplaces is a focus on continuous improvement, both in terms of operational excellence and workplace excellence.
These firms seek out best practice for leading and managing people — sometimes using best practice from other industries.
It provides them a competitive edge in terms of workplace practices as well as business strategy.
The writer is partner and director of Great Place to Work Institute UAE.