The story goes something like this:
Girl gets a phone call. Girl is invited to go out. It’s raining. Girl doesn’t want to melt in the rain. Mom kicks Girl out of the house. Mom orders Girl to go out and have fun. Girl goes out, meets a group from a San Francisco company called Expensify. Apparently, the entire company is working and backpacking for a whole month in Croatia. Girl laughs with fascination and some disbelief but Girl doesn’t dwell on that because Girl is absolutely fascinated with the energy, drive, and passion each person exudes when talking about the company, coworkers, the CEO, and basically just how much they love what they do.
Fast forward to a year later, where the story continues in San Francisco. Girl has just returned from Portugal. What was Girl doing in Portugal? In the past year, she graduated university, moved to San Francisco, and started working at Expensify. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?!
And yes, that’s been my story so far. Kind of crazy, right? Unlike any other employee, I had the opportunity to experience the offshore from two very different perspectives. The first year, I was unofficially part of the offshore in Croatia as a local showing the Expensify team around the city. A year later, I joined the rest of the team in Portugal for the 2014 offshore. With the two very different experiences of the offshore, my perception of it inevitably changed, and this is exactly how:
On Working Full Time on the Offshore
Before Joining Expensify: “So you are saying that you actually work full hours during the offshore? Right, and I have a talking pet unicorn that makes my bed every morning. Now, let’s have another shot of rakija!”
After Joining Expensify: Laugh and roll your eyes all you want, but on the offshore, people work just as much as they would back in San Francisco, and sometimes even more. How is that possible? Imagine being constantly surrounded with brilliant, extremely motivated, and hard-working people. Their drive and passion rubs off on you and makes you work even more passionately and easily to accomplish your work goals. The value of the offshore is that, although it might mess up your sleeping schedule and test your resilience to the whims of various Wi-Fi networks, traveling together provides more opportunities to work even closer together and practically forces you to collaborate more, to exchange ideas, and deliver results.
Ok, Mondays might be a somewhat easier to survive since we don’t to actually have to go to an office but other than that, it’s work, work, and work pretty much as usual. People wake up, show up for a 10AM meeting every morning and stay up late, sometimes very late, to get all the work done. The time difference also doesn’t really help with going to bed early. Partying and mischief are (mostly) reserved for the weekend, which is no different from what we do in San Francisco.
To anyone outside the team, it might seem unlikely that a completely new environment absolutely bursting with exotic places to visit, out of the ordinary things to see and do wouldn’t make you ditch you work responsibilities. But it doesn’t. Everywhere we go, we make that place our office, regardless if it’s a kitchen table at our apartment in Lisbon, the monumental stone-walled hallway of an 13th century monastery in the mountains, or a beach on the cliff-adorn coastline of Lagos. Feel free to be jealous, it’s an amazing office!
With that said, I feel obliged to confess that I never had a pet unicorn.
On Living With The People You Work With
Before Joining Expensify: “There’s no way I could live with the people I work with and not kill someone in their sleep!” or “Living with the people you work with? No thanks!”
After Joining Expensify: Let’s put it this way: the offshore is probably the most intense but also the most effective form of team building I’ve ever seen and been a part of. Forget paintball! We’re talking about an in-sickness-and-in-health degree of bonding here: showing real world teamwork skills like trying to figure out how the laundry machine works, searching for Wi-Fi during a downpour, or offering you shoulder instead of a pillow during a 7 hour train ride. In my opinion, that is the the most incredible thing about the environment and the atmosphere of the offshore.
Exposed to an unfamiliar environment, we learn new ways of working together and create new ties. A big part of it also comes from the fact that you get to spend time with the people you might not interact with regularly due to professionally divergent roles. On the offshore, you might end up working laptop-to-laptop in the same small cafe with terribly slow waiters on Tuesday and go grocery shopping for basic house supplies on Thursday, all while living in the same house for that particular week.
To be fair, I think my previous aversion towards spending more than the necessary hours with coworkers comes from a very different work experience I had before joining Expensify. As soon as I started at Expensify, it became obvious that the way we recruit and pick people to grow the team makes is surprisingly natural and easy to transition from spending most of your time together like we usually do to spending all of your time together.
So, yes, living together with your coworkers is very doable, at least if you happen to work at Expensify.
On Packing for the Offshore
Before Joining Expensify: ”One backpack for an entire month??”
After Joining Expensify: ”One backpack for an entire month.”
Before travelling to Portugal for the offshore, I was notoriously bad at packing. Not that I couldn’t pack, I just packed a ton of stuff. Whether I was going on a weekend trip or a three-week holiday, I would always, without exception, bring more stuff than I could possibly need or have the time to wear (unless my superstar alter ego took over and I started changing outfits as many time a night as a major popstar on tour).
I seriously don’t know what came over me the night I was packing for Portugal. The experience was very much like a black out (no alcohol was involved). The last thing I remember was throwing clothes from my closet onto the bed. The empty backpack I borrowed from my roommate was sitting across the room in blissful oblivion to what awaits. Next thing I know, I was all packed in that one backpack and on my way to the airport. The ridiculous thing is that, after a week, I’d already concluded that I could have packed less stuff. Figures!
The issue of packing might seem very frivolous, because, “it’s just clothing” but if you think about it, it actually teaches you how to:
- keep it simple and practical
- prioritize, don’t stress
- be resourceful and devote more energy to more important stuff.
In my opinion, packing for offshore reflects a good way to go about organizing stuff, space, work and even life. My rule of thumb now is to pack light and focus on the essentials.
And Now, Drum Roll Please…
I’m guessing a conclusion of some sort would be in place. Alright, with the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d say that the offshore is a catalyst that makes the Expensify team grow closer faster and more efficiently than any other team building tool or technique ever could. It enhances our sense of unity and cohesion, because, well, that’s what happens when you find yourself in a new strange, new environment, don’t speak the language (or at least most of you don’t), and face constant challenges that make getting shit done even more challenging (like terrible wi-fi or even the complete lack of it) — all that while trying to deliver a great product.
As someone whose graduate thesis involved researching the principles of team organizations, it was almost uncanny seeing a textbook example of a truly amazing team with such strong cohesion in real life and actually being a part of it.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s all rainbows and butterflies every day, especially if you happen to end up sleeping next door to a very determined snorer or when you get frustrated with bad internet connections that die halfway through important calls. Even with that in mind, the offshore is as close as it gets to a perfect way of strengthening team trust and igniting the creative sparks within it.
Finally, how right or wrong was I about the mystery known as the offshore? I’m very happy to conclude that I was wrong in the best way possible.
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