Our marketing colleague Sina Burghardt worked remotely from Canada for two and a half weeks. What arrangements she made, what experiences she had and what conclusions she drew can be read in her blog series “Working from Canada – A Personal Report.”
In summer, I had the chance to stay in Canada for a few weeks after my vacation and work remotely. As we offer tools that enable digital collaboration, I quickly had my colleagues on my side. My boss was also convinced that an ocean between us would not change the quality of our (team)work. In the first part of my report, I described how my preparations for the project “Working from Canada” went. How exactly the realization looked like can be read in the second part.
In fact, working from Canada didn’t mean a major adjustment – in terms of work itself. Of course, I couldn’t just come to the office every day. From time to time I also work from home in Germany, but in Canada I would now work from “home” for more than two weeks. Meanwhile I had decided to work in a big city rather than in the middle of nowhere. On the one hand, because there would be different options for work locations for me personally, on the other hand, because this ensured that I would definitely have an Internet connection. Thus, my office was in Toronto.
The biggest challenge I faced, however, was the 6-hour time difference between Cologne and Amsterdam and Toronto. At least I thought so. It turned out that 6 hours is not all that much when you consider that I actually like getting up and start working early. In Germany, I go for a run before work, which my colleagues regularly take note of with shaking their head and a wink of the eye. I had renounced this in Canada and instead started working at 7 in the morning, 1 p.m. in Germany.
From Canada, I virtually joined after lunch. That left us with enough time to work simultaneously from all countries: 7 a.m. to 11 or 12 for me, 1 to 5 or 6 p.m. for my colleagues who stayed behind in Cologne. We therefore had at least 4 or 5 hours which overlapped and in which we were online and available to everyone. Hence, appointments for meetings were no problem, requiring only a little more coordinating effort than usual.
I was also able to attend our weekly team meeting without any problems – however, only because my colleagues were kind enough to postpone it. At 4 a.m. (10 a.m. in Germany) I was still quite tired and sleepy. But in the first week, to everyone’s surprise, I actually got up in the middle of the night.
Working together online is our daily routine – we from the German team in Cologne work closely together with our colleagues in Amsterdam. And we are also in constant online contact with some colleagues who work remotely on a regular basis and are in the office only once a week or even once a month. So, I didn’t have to make a lot of changes here.
Working transparently in our Social Intranet, where everyone openly communicates their current projects and new ideas, is a habit. We work together on documents, give feedback, and distribute tasks. Everything we share here is available for everyone to read. For us, this is an important basis for cooperation: Together, we can achieve more than if each person works on their own.
Of course, we use also use other tools for digital collaboration, such as telephone, video calls or chat. However, our Social Intranet is the centre and daily meeting point for the team – easy for everyone to access and clearly structured thanks to various groups. For example, there is our marketing group, in which we work together on projects, event planning, and texts. On the other hand, however, there is also a group for a relaxed “coffee break” among colleagues, where we also share pictures or private news. Just like in real office life.
When I’m in Germany, I usually work in our office in Cologne. Of course, this also means that I see most of my German colleagues every day. Over a coffee in the morning, we talk about our current projects and there is a lively exchange between colleagues from all departments. And our weekly telephone conference with the entire team in the morning – no matter where we are – as well as our “Meeting Tuesday” are also important components of the week. In Germany, I only work remotely from home from time to time. Sometimes I need peace and quiet, e.g. to finish a text, then it is a great advantage to have the opportunity to withdraw within my own four walls and focus entirely on writing.
But now in Canada, I spent two and a half weeks working remotely from “home”. From my perspective and for my usual agenda this has been quite some change. Instead of looking across the screen and asking for a quick feedback, I had to type a short message every time – and then maybe make a phone call. I also received more chat messages during my time abroad. There still were some coffee breaks, but they were not as social and interactive. The short-term casual updates and the spontaneous discussion of minor points were things that I actually missed a little. And of course, the joint lunch break. Nevertheless, at no time did I feel like I was no longer part of the team or felt that I missed anything important.
The 6-hour time difference between Canada and Germany was probably the biggest change during my experiment. Of course, this was accompanied by more flexible working hours in the afternoon. While my colleagues were already enjoying their free time after work in the evening, I continued working. Either directly or I took a longer lunch break with a change of location and only continued working in the (late) evening. In the morning, I worked from my accommodation, but in the afternoon, I also sat in the sun in the park or turned one of the many cafés into my office. I did not go to a shared office space in the short time I spent in Canada. For a longer stay, it would certainly have been a good way to make new contacts. In my opinion, this flexibility in terms of location and working hours is clearly a benefit of new work.
A project like “Working from Canada” requires a lot of mutual trust on the part of both employers and employees. The fact that we work together digitally anyway and attach great importance to transparency with regard to daily tasks and other upcoming projects was certainly a great advantage for the success of my project. The most important point, however, is and remains internal communication: If we talk openly and honestly, then cooperation is a complete success, even with great distances and different time zones.
I can definitely conclude that working from Canada is an experience I do not want to miss. I am grateful that the necessary trust was given to me, that my colleagues supported me and adapted to the time difference. Nevertheless, I am happy to be able to talk to my colleagues in the kitchen in person over a cup of coffee again. But who knows where I’ll be heading next year?