Working abroad – how the right company culture can make all the difference

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When I first moved to Vancouver with my wife back in the summer of 2014, we had no idea how long our stay in Canada would be. The Work/Holiday Visa granted us an open two years, with the ability to travel to a variety of countries. While we had already decided on living in Vancouver for at least six months, we had considered little else. We showed up with just a backpack each, a bit like the stereotype of the Aussie backpacker who just comes “to visit” for the weekend.

There are typical things you will hear as an Aussie when visiting Canada, such as, “There are a lot of Aussies in Whistler”; “Every Aussie snowboarder who goes to Whistler, breaks a bone”; “You sure have a lot of dangerous animals down there” and “I hate snakes/spiders”.

Allow me to quickly address these:

  1. Compared to the snow (ice) we have in Australia, Whistler is amazing. In fact, all of the resorts on the west-coast of North America are due to the soft powdery nature and long seasons.
  2. Yes, most animals in Australia have some form of defence, but rest assured, the only time you hear of an animal incident is when someone enters the animals’ habitat.

Discovering Tasktop

When starting at Tasktop another frequently asked question I heard was, “Did you come here (Tasktop) for work?” This was pretty amazing to hear. The thought that a small tech start-up would reach across the Pacific Ocean to employ the correct person is not usually the case. But turns out in some ways it’s true – Tasktop will literally scour the world for right person who meets our values and goals.

After watching a few “what do they do?” videos for Tasktop when initially searching for a job in Vancouver, I knew Tasktop was somewhere exciting to work based solely on one of the company’s main products at the time, Tasktop Sync – a platform to connect the tools used for building, planning and delivering software. I was delighted to be invited for an interview.

Canada’s soft powdery snow and long seasons trumps Australia’s ski offering

Back then, Tasktop was just over 50 employees (it’s now getting close to 200!) and the interview process was short – very short compared to the typical months it takes for a job application in Canberra, Australia. After the first interview (the more technical natured one), it struck me that I had the abilities required for the role.

The second interview was the one that caught me off-guard. Not because I didn’t know how to answer questions, but because it appeared that the main purpose was finding out how well you fit into the company on a personal and cultural dynamic. This is a common start-up mentality, and at odds with larger, older enterprises that often favor expertise. Right from the beginning, I felt included as a Tasktopian.

The Challenges Of Living Abroad

If you do choose to live in another country, you must try to embrace the cultural differences – but be prepared for homesickness. Pubs as they exist in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia, don’t really appear to exist in North America. Granted there are some, but your typical venue is a seated one where you are waited upon (owing to the culture of tipping).

Embracing the local culture is key to a smooth migration

What does this mean for expats? Firstly, you realize you’ve moved to a place where you’ve lost your friend and support network – something that you really miss when starting out in a new city.  Christmas, a suitable lonely time of year when you’re the only people from your family in the whole hemisphere, is compounded by constantly dripping sky.

What does this have to do with the culture at Tasktop? A lot! The company as a whole shows empathy to all of their employees’ situations, and really do come together to assist in whatever they can. The outcome of the diverse backgrounds ensures that for most cases, there is someone who has already had the similar experience and can help guide you through the more challenging times.

Homesickness did happen for me, especially in my second year when I broke my arm while snowboarding. What helped me through this time was the support from others at Tasktop who’d suffered similar breakages that stopped them from doing the things they loved. I found great solace in the social aspect of Tasktop, which always served as a welcome distraction from my broken arm.

In true Aussie form, I had my wrist set in the beer-holding position to support my recovery.

Tasktop’s Culture

When you select people to fit into a company based on culture, you do get the obvious work-related benefits. However there is something far greater that happens. The employees are empowered to create and fit their own culture into the company.

Some examples within Tasktop include:

  • Office decorations to celebrate the holidays  (all decorations manually cut from paper and cardboard rather than store-brought)
A handmade touch to Tasktop’s Christmas decorations
  • Movie nights (the equipment is already in the office), allowing for partners to also attend (something that helped my wife out too)
  • Geo-Guesser at lunch times, this is particularly useful as a basis to include people from different geographical locations from across the world
  • Suit-Up Friday (like most start-ups, T-shirt and jeans are standard)
  • The array of finished and ‘in progress’ jigsaw puzzles that can be found in the office
  • Taking upon oneself to welcome new staff and find something to bond over

While the array of above examples could be instigated at the human resources level, at Tasktop they appear from everyone.

My Canadian experience could have been just a long six-month holiday, but ended up being closer to a two year adventure because I was able to create and find a home through working at Tasktop. My only regret about my time in Vancouver working for Tasktop was leaving. However, it was necessary to find my current role – still with the company! – but now as a remote employee back Down Under. Despite the distance, I still feel every inch a Tasktopian.

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