Working at Linkcity: Q&A with Manon Smits

January 08th 2021

One of the best things about Linkcity is our people. To celebrate this, we are launching a series of Q&As to showcase our diverse, talented team and the variety of roles available here. First up, we have Manon Smits.

 

Who are you and what is your role?

My name is Manon Smits, and I’m a Senior Development Officer for Linkcity, the property development arm of Bouygues Construction United Kingdom.

 

What do you do in your day to day?

As a Development Officer, I work on defining and managing urban developments at an early stage. My team focuses on residential-led mixed-use projects, whether that’s filling in a single plot with a new building or working over several phases to regenerate an entire neighbourhood. We usually tackle projects early on, working with the landowner and the local authority to define the best use of the site, agree a design, secure planning consent and then fund and deliver the scheme.

Currently, I’m preparing a planning application with a team of colleagues from the development and construction side of the business. So my day is made up of lots of coordination to manage the different workstreams involved, from progressing the design and liaising with our consultant team to preparing the planning application materials, engaging with the local planning authority and checking they are happy with the scheme, discussing the project with local stakeholders and taking their feedback on board to ensure the final result works for everyone. With the current conditions that’s a lot of virtual meetings and emails!

What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

Working in property development means we get involved in projects very early on. While this is really exciting since we can help define what will happen, the development and construction timescales mean the scheme you are working on might not be delivered for several years. Some of the projects I worked on when I joined the company five years ago are only just being built now! So sometimes it’s easy to feel a bit lost in abstraction, and forget we are working to deliver something very real – new homes and spaces for local people.

 

What are you most proud of since starting out at Linkcity?

Last year I negotiated and agreed my first contract with one of our partners, securing a crucial share of the development funding. It was a long and demanding process to get to a position both parties felt happy with, and the whole team was waiting with bated breath for the phone call confirming it had been signed! I’m really proud that we managed to agree a win-win position for both partners and that we successfully ironed out all the practical details of this complex agreement in time.

On a very different note, I’ve been involved in leading Linkcity’s Social Value Committee for the past couple of years and that has been an incredibly rewarding part of the job, working with my colleagues to ensure that we deliver added value in all our projects and support local charities and endeavours.

 

What is a common misconception about your role?

I think a lot of people confuse property development either with construction or working as a high-street estate agent. It’s actually a very flexible project management role where you get to be involved in the design and decision process for new buildings and neighbourhoods. I would say there’s something in the role for everyone, whether you want to focus on the town planning, architecture, legal, finance, or sales angle. It’s definitely good for someone like me who enjoys variety in their tasks!

 

How has 2020 challenged you/affected your role?

Linkcity switched to full-time remote working quite early on in the pandemic. While this was a big change in lifestyle, we had already been working on digital tools facilitating internal communication, so the process was quite smooth and I’ve been able to fulfil my role without problems. 2020 did make me realise how much information I gained just from being in the office and able to bounce ideas or questions off colleagues without having to set up a formal meeting, but throughout the year we have found more ways to replace this successfully.

 

What is your biggest takeaway from 2020?

We can always adapt! 2020 has been a hugely disruptive year for everyone, and our sister company Bouygues UK has been particularly affected, having to close down their construction sites at the beginning of the pandemic while they worked out the necessary measures to keep everyone safe. But this only took a couple of weeks and we have now shown we can keep delivering and winning projects safely and successfully in the new circumstances. It’s given me a lot of confidence in us as a team and as a company.

 

What do you like most about working at Linkcity?

We’ve got a fantastic team at Linkcity, which really makes working there a pleasure. There’s always a good atmosphere in the office and I have a direct line to anyone in the team if I need advice or help with anything. The culture is also very supportive and encourages personal development and learning every aspect of the role.

 

How did the Graduate Scheme benefit your development?

The grad scheme allowed me to gain a broader understanding of the Bouygues business – I got to meet colleagues from all branches of the company and work with them as a team during the first year, and I then got the opportunity to be seconded to a team of my choice for a few months before coming back to my role in Linkcity. This allowed me to work as project manager on a construction site for 6 months, which was a great experience – I got to see one of our projects taking shape in front of me! It gave me a better understanding of how development and construction workstreams interact over the whole lifecycle of a building, as well as very useful contacts in our technical and construction teams.

 

What was the transition like coming off the graduate scheme and into a more permanent role?

I’d worked at Linkcity for two years already before doing my secondments, so it felt very natural coming back. The experience I gained with the other teams I worked in helped me understand the role and the company better, and it also allowed me to see the reasons behind some of our processes that weren’t maybe that obvious at first!

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