Young Leaders: An interview with 2023 CoreNet Global Australia Young Leader Award winner, Yen Dao

25 October 2023 — Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As part of the organisation’s wider strategy, Spaceful recognises and celebrates young leaders in the Corporate Real Estate community. From excellence in innovation to diversity of thought, these young professionals are leading the charge. 

As part of this mission, Spaceful recently attended the 2023 CoreNet REawards at the NSW State Library, to sponsor and present the CoreNet Global Australia Young Leader Award. This award recognises a Young Leader member (<35) who shows dedication and enthusiasm for their work, exemplifies excellence, and is considered ‘one to watch’ in the field of corporate real estate. An award that Spaceful’s own Workplace Strategy Director, Tica Masuku won in 2021.

Photo above: (from left to right) Spaceful Workplace Strategy Director Tica Masuku, CoreNet Young Leader Award recipient Yen Dao, Spaceful Marketing Director Roxy Kilroy.

2023 CoreNet Young Leader Award Winner

The winner of this year’s CoreNet Global Australia Young Leader Award is the inspiring and talented, Workplace Strategy and Design Consultant, Yen Dao.

Yen began her impressive career by earning a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Sydney.

“My favourite aspect of architecture, and why this field of study felt right for me, was that it encompasses the perfect balance between practicality and creativity, as well as art and science,” says Yen.  

Since then, Yen has held many roles throughout her career, including Interior Designer, Place Strategist, University Architectural Design Tutor, and Architectural Designer. Her most recent position is as a Workplace Strategy Consultant for the global integrated real estate group, Lendlease.

Yen says that what intrigued her most about workplace strategy was, “the desire to better understand where the driving force of the design came from, before the concept phase.”

Having been involved in over 150 projects, Yen’s curiosity in the subject never waivers, “It is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to workplace strategy and design. There is constant learning and evolution, which keeps it very intriguing and exciting.”

Yen is continuously looking to broadly incorporate progress in commercial and corporate real-estate into precinct and placemaking applying socially inclusive and sustainable models. In this, she admires the storytelling aspect of workplace strategy.

“It’s such a wonderful part of the profession, creating and painting a beautiful picture of the future for thousands of people.”

How can industry groups like CoreNet Global help young leaders?

Yen has been an active member of the CoreNet Global Australia Young Leaders Committee for nearly three years. The purpose of this committee is to provide CoreNet Global members, 35 years and under, with access to the knowledge and experience of CRE professionals by means of establishing relationships, promoting continued education, fostering peer networking, and encouraging volunteer and leadership opportunities – Source.

“Finding a community of practice that you feel so aligned with is the most beautiful thing.” Yen says of her experience with the committee so far, “It has brought so many meaningful connections and friendships. The ability to problem-solve and collaborate with others, including those across different sectors, means that everyone brings their own learnings and expertise to the table. It’s very inspiring.”

When discussing what the well-deserved win of the Young Leaders Award means to her as such a motivated go-getter in the industry, Yen says that she is most appreciative of the platform it has provided her to inspire others.

“I think the greatest thing it has given me, is a louder voice and a larger platform, like with this conversation here today; to have a bigger influence and, with it, a greater ability to make an impact within an industry that everyone has their eyes on right now.”

What’s your advice for young professionals?

In part of using this platform to make an impact on the industry, Yen also aims to use it to inspire other young professionals.

“It’s difficult for young professionals these days. My advice is that it’s just not true that you need to be everything and know everyone. It’s more important that you focus on building meaningful connections; it should never be about hitting a certain number of connections on LinkedIn or creating a large network of empty acquaintances.”

When it comes to career journeys and discovering one’s rightful career path, Yen is first to admit that no career is a linear one.

“It is essential that you stay curious and show up face-to-face, meet people and ask questions. It’s a big part of how you can build and nourish relationships.”

Lastly, Yen encourages young professionals to stand up and use their voice. “If you truly feel passionate about something and care about driving change in the world, you should put a case forward and push for that change to happen.”

What emerging trends are you seeing in Workplace Design?

Yen has now been driving change within workplace strategy and design for nearly a decade and is seeing some interesting emerging trends within the industry. 

“First and foremost, it is important to note that people aren’t going to change that much in how they perform at their best. It’s more about discovering how the world is going to change around us and how we create flexibility in all of that.”

So, what are the three major trends that Yen has her eye on?

“The first is elastic workplaces. It’s about listening to feedback, testing, and experimenting with solutions; ultimately adapting the workspace to the rapidly changing needs of today’s workforce. It’s this beautiful unison we are seeing that people need to be stimulated and nowadays, with more voices and opinions on what a workspace should look like, there are always new challenges to overcome, which is a really inviting thing to take on.”

The second trend is a sense of well-being and care from the employer to the employee, from teams to their teammates and the need for leadership teams to be more empathetic (enhanced EQ).

“This needs to be reflected in the design of workspaces. For example, designing out loneliness is a big part of workplace design, and it needs to be intuitive. How can communal spaces get people to realistically sit together, rather than just creating vast large spaces where everyone feels alone even though they are together?”

The last of the three trends she says is access to amenities that cannot be found at home.

“A workplace is such a big destination that if an employee is making the journey in, you can no longer just give them a desk and call it a day. [We ask] what is incentivising employees to work from the office rather than from the comfort of their own home? What spaces or tools does the office provide to individuals and their teams?”

How do you think the workplace can foster and promote DE&I?

Yen also shared her thoughts with us on how workplaces can foster and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).  

“Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are crucial for the innovation and success of every business. Yen shares, “The workplace is an equaliser that should promote a free exchange of ideas, that enriches problem solving and provides psychological safety for a sense of belonging for every employee.” 

By design, the workplace needs to be agile and while it is difficult to cater to every individual specifically, it is crucial that we give people the agency to adapt their environment to suit how they prefer to work. On this, Yen explains, “Employees should be able to make choices and adjust their workspace based on individual work style. Spaces need to work harder to provide 2 or 3 modes for people to come together in different ways.”

What’s next for you?

“The most wonderful thing about looking into the future five to ten years from now, with the kind of principle that I have around discovery and curiosity in the workplace, is that I would love to share my expertise in how humans perform at their best on a broader scale; to cities and globally, because different cultures impact how people interact and how they work in different environments.

I have a deep understanding of the transformative power of well-designed spaces and aim to be a go-to industry professional for thought leadership. I hope to contribute to the evolution of the corporate real estate landscape, property and placemaking with meaningful discussion and the promotion of innovative ideas to do better and be better.”

With an undeniably bright future ahead of her, Yen Dao certainly is, one to watch!

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