Over the years, Amphinicy has grown significantly. It runs several projects of various sizes; some of these projects are in-house while others are done in collaboration with other companies, mainly European companies involved with the space industry. When we joined Amphinicy, it was to join a long-running collaboration with a company headquartered in Belgium. That included us regularly travelling to Belgium to work locally for several weeks at a time, and in this post we would like to talk a bit about that experience.
Working from here and from abroad
The project we joined is decently sized and included quite a few people from Belgium as well as from Croatia. Our Belgian collaborators always treat us no different than their local colleagues. It includes regular communication with many individuals from both locations, so we can not simply have weekly or monthly reports. Our main channel of electronic communication is Skype; with email a distinct second and documentation kept in collaboration tools like Atlassian Confluence and JIRA. Working from Croatia for us only means you do not have a luxury of live meetings, but this is not a huge disadvantage. Even while in Belgium, often Skype is used rather than a live meeting. Still, some things are easier live, especially the larger meetings.
Our involvement with the project stipulates that our visits are frequent and long; multiple times a year for several weeks a stretch. Of course, both the timing and lengths can be adjusted to our needs, but still, it is a long time to be away from home on a regular basis. Our Belgian hosts provide us with a car and a place to stay; currently, all Amphinicy visitors stay at a very nice bed&breakfast not too far from the company we visit. Our lodgings are comfortable and although located in a small village, having a car means we can easily visit one of the three major Belgian cities that are nearby (Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp).
Bruges (Brugge), Belgium
The stability of our location also provides us with some familiarity - the proprietors are a very nice couple and the place quickly becomes almost a home away from home. Of course, friends and family do not come with us, but the Internet makes such visits less of a burden that it once was. That also makes the time back in Croatia more precious to us. The long visits have some benefits for us as well; time away is also a time when some of our regular duties simply do not need to be met, and we find ourselves with more time to devote to resting or pursuits that otherwise we may not have had the time to do. Also, given that we work in Belgium also provides us with plenty of nearby options to visit, especially during weekends when we have nothing to do but rest and explore. Belgium itself, Netherlands, northeastern France, Western Germany and even UK are all within day-trip or weekend-trip distances with plenty of places to visit and sights to see.
Personal Perspective: Goran
I have been working on our Belgian project for a year and a half now.
I visit Belgium 5 times a year; each visit usually not-quite-4-weeks long. While the frequent change of location is inconvenient, I also found it quite fun. I have made a lot of friends, both professional and personal with our Belgian colleagues. However, I did not limit myself to my professional colleagues; one of the first things I did once I knew how long my visits would be was to find some people who share my interests. I checked the online forums for games I play, and by now I have several friends and a large circle of acquaintances in Belgium unrelated to our work.
Personal Perspective: Matko
I visit Belgium four times a year, with the duration of approximately three weeks. We always try to schedule our on-site visits during the period of product feature design and planning phases, when meetings and brainstorming sessions are frequent. Strict implementation tasks are allocated at a time when we are in Croatia.
For me, spare time is usually spent on sightseeing and sports. This year I found myself in Belgium just in time for the European Football Championship 2016 in France. Croatia played quarter-finals match against Portugal, in Lens, the city very close to the Belgian border. Two days before the game (with lots of luck), I managed to buy tickets online. Already on Saturday morning I met with my fellow Croatians, spent the day having fun in Lens and went to the stadium to cheer in the evening. Unfortunately, Croatia lost that game, and Ronaldo led his teammates to Portugal's first European title.
Few times a week I visit Brussels, the capital of Belgium, to train in the local wrestling club. Doing sports during a business trip is a great way to relax and break otherwise not-so-active "hotel" lifestyle.
Domburg, The Netherlands
Best way to work?
While our experiences have been quite positive, there are disadvantages as we mention. Indeed, the frequent travel can sometimes be annoying; scheduling your life around multi-week absences can cause problems seeing everyone you want to see or making sure everything is finished on time. It can also be hard on someone who has a family, especially young children; you will miss them and they will miss you. So, while this way of working has its advantages, after a few years you’ll probably want a less nomadic way of life.
Domburg, The Netherlands