This article is part of a series:
- Reflections on 3 years of (Transfer) Wise | Part I: Mission and Values
- Reflections on 3 years of (Transfer) Wise | Part II: Autonomy in the DNA
- Reflections on 3 years of (Transfer) Wise | Part III: All about People
- Reflections on 3 years of (Transfer) Wise | Part IV: The Engineering Organisation
- Reflections on 3 years of (Transfer) Wise | Part V: Other Strategic Topics
- This Article
- Reflections on 3 years of (Transfer) Wise | Part VII: Closing Thoughts
(^ Bird’s-eye view of Tallinn on a summer day, 2018 ^)
This part is a fun read about my personal experience working at Wise at the time.
I joined Wise way before Covid, which meant there were a lot of travels between the offices. Mostly between London and Tallinn, with Budapest occasionally, and once to Singapore.
It may be an environmentally unfriendly thing to say in 2022, but I enjoyed those travel. I used them for two purposes:
- Get more work done: My typical trip to Tallinn would be Monday to Friday, making use of the spacious and quiet office there (compared to the big open plan space in London) during the daytime (as I wouldn’t have as many familiar faces to bump into) as well as some extra hours after work (as I wouldn’t have family and friend engagements over there, other than dinners with local colleagues). Life was simple on the road.
- Connect with people: Wise always had a good telecommunication setup from the early days because people were geographically distributed, but to me, it was not a replacement for old-school in-person contacts. Equipped with the ability to travel freely between offices, I took full advantage of it. Sometimes it was desperately needed, for instance when a new team member started from a different office, especially so when they were also the first one there in the team; other times it was desirable and an effective way to build relationships. I spent almost half the time of my 3-month probation period away from the London base because a majority of the people I needed to work with were based elsewhere and the quickfire solution for me at the time was to go there and gel with them.
Often on the road, I was infamous for being Mr Delayed, not due to my fault (well, maybe once when I missed the flight after summer days, an understandable mistake ahem and I paid for the next flight out of my pocket) but my bad luck with airline schedule changes. I had my fair share of delays, cancellations and in-flight incidents, the extreme of which was a passenger suffering a heart attack mid-air; because it was also at mid-point between the departure and arrival airports, and thanks to the calm and professional crew, the pilot decided to go ahead so it was one the rare occasions where I was not delayed. With so many stories like that, it got to the point where some colleagues would rather not travel with me to avoid getting delayed, with me.
Kristo was known for taking the Monday 6:30 am Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Tallinn. I always felt guilty not taking that one but other flights from certain flag carriers at more sleep-friendly times. With my excellent flight compensation record (because of being Mr Delayed, which would have been far worse with low-cost airlines), and my ability to grab any fragmented time to get work done, I think it was somewhat justified :)
Before I forget, I did manage once to go from London to Budapest by train (Brussels via Eurostar, Cologne via DB InterCity, Vienna via Nightjet and Budapest via Railjet), but gave up continuing to Tallinn with no obvious onward rail connections. I plan to try the ferries to reach Tallinn if I get to Stockholm by rail next time.
You make friends in any organisation. You make more friends in an organisation where people join and stay for the shared mission, and that was Wise while I was there. There were a diverse group of people too, based out of 4 major offices around the globe. They were also a smart and high-achieving bunch; working with them was intellectually challenging and rewarding.
After I started at London office, I would often bump into people around the small kitchen area in the middle of the open plan office and I made an effort to talk to as many people (I learned it from Jose P.) especially those I didn’t know. Doing that made me realise that Dubar’s number was more or less true: once the headcount went beyond 150, my brain started recycling old contacts with new acquaintances. Joke aside, I enjoyed those watercooler conversations greatly.
(^ London Office, 2018 | Marta on scooter ^)
Travel can be a quickfire way to befriend people too. I once sat with a Wise colleague, unplanned on a 3-hour flight. We had never chatted other than seeing each other coming in and out of the London office. Dave was in finance, at the very back of the company whilst I was in engineering at the very front of Wise product onboarding. The distance couldn’t be any further yet we had a great time chatting away about almost everything. Similar experiences were aplenty.
I am still in touch with a lot of them since I left Wise. On a personal level, it was such a great network of people to tap into for whatever I would need, and I continue to benefit from that.
There was (always) a dark side and how I dealt with it
Rapid growth leaves marks on people. Sometimes you feel like riding an endless wave and swimming in euphoria; other times you drop to rock bottom with seemingly no way up. If you are like me, restless and always giving it 100%, it can be tough to keep engaging and being productive.
My counter-measure was, predictably, exercise and in particular, running while reflecting on past days/weeks/months. It is probably different from run meditation where I intentionally let my mind wander. The physical exhaustion by the end of a run and the relaxation after finishing the run proved the point: By struggling through, it gets better eventually, far better. The exercise regime did not play well with frequent travelling but I made sure to pack a set of running outfits. On the plus side, running outside your home base was a nice way to explore new places. A good example is Margret Island in the middle of the Danube which separates Buda from Pest: a magical place on a foggy wintery morning (as shown below).
I adapted at work too. Related to the point about friendship above, some unscalable approaches such as talking one-to-one in casual encounters can be effective because I realised that not just myself, everybody had their ups and downs; it is better to share and speak openly (that applies to both parties) than suffer in the dark.