The past twelve months have been a challenging, even stressful, time for most people around the globe, including for the InterNations Team. Here, we’re taking stock and having a look at what has kept us on our toes in 2020.
Working Remotely Full Time
Remote work has been a preeminent issue for the InterNations Team in 2020. We have now been working from home for nine months and will continue to do so until at least March 2021. Fortunately, the switch to working remotely went quite smoothly for us, thanks to our existing remote work policy. Our DevOps Team still put in some extra work to provide us with the necessary infrastructure, such as videoconferencing tools and VPN support. “They’re really doing their best, and the fact that we can continue working and remain connected shows that IT support has been good,” a team member wrote in our yearly employee satisfaction survey.
The survey also shows that most team members feel largely positive about working from home: 80% have few or no difficulties keeping up their motivation. However, many find it harder to get in touch with their colleagues, and they miss the casual interactions at the office. To minimize the impact of remote work on our team spirit, our Feel Good Managers organized two virtual team events. Our Christmas party took place online, with a holiday-themed talent contest, a special recipe for Glühwein (mulled wine), and an interactive game show, while the previous event in June featured a Zoom magician. We have also introduced a Virtual Team Breakfast and Virtual Feierabendbier (After-Work Beers) to offer regular socializing opportunities.
Launching a New Event Format
We weren’t the only ones to go online during the pandemic — so did InterNations members worldwide. Our Community Engagement Team therefore introduced online official events and activities, at first reacting to lockdown measures in various countries and then taking a proactive approach in creating a new event type.
This has resulted in a steep learning curve for the team. It required quite a bit of experimenting with both roles (e.g., creating the position of Online Ambassador) and event formats (e.g., enabling cross-community collaboration). Our colleagues from Community Engagement have gained plenty of experience; they’ve also shared their know-how regarding both organization and technology with our Consuls and Ambassadors, from producing video tutorials for Zoom to collecting ideas for online-friendly activities. Some formats — such as webinars, professional networking events, and creative activities — seem to work particularly well online.
By the end of November, the Community Engagement Team had helped organize 15,500 online events and activities in nearly all communities worldwide. And our Global Living Room is always open, offering our members a live video chat to join spontaneously and interact in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. “We even offered online events in some places where we don’t have Ambassadors or Consuls, thanks to the option to cross-feature any event in all 420 communities. The online world really removed some borders, and all our members can enjoy InterNations Official Online Events and Activities from the comfort of their own living room,” Nichelle, one of our Community Engagement Leads, points out.
Though the exact place of our online events in a post-COVID-19 world hasn’t been defined yet, Community Engagement Specialist Melody is certain that they, too, are here to stay, just like remote work. “They really enrich our community and create new opportunities for our members,” she says. “Online events fulfill some very specific needs, for example, networking in a city you’re planning to move to, and they could be a unique part of InterNations after the pandemic.”
Celebrating Our Anniversary Online
Melody, together with her colleague Alex, was also the driving force behind InterNations Live!, our first-ever Global Online Anniversary Festival. Due to health and safety measures, we were unable to host the usual InterNations birthday parties in September. “Alex and I conceptualized the idea of an online festival,” Melody remembers. “The actual process of organizing it felt quite organic.”
Like any proper festival, InterNations Live! featured several main stages: InterNations Tours, Global Music, Global Creatives, Changemakers (with a special focus on sustainability), and a Surprise Gala to end the celebrations with a bang. In total, more than 1,000 members from 411 (out of 420) communities attended at least one of the events on the five main stages. On top of that, our Consuls and Ambassadors organized more than 235 additional events to celebrate the anniversary.
“For me, the most inspiring part was to watch the members interacting with each other,” Melody says. For example, the Global Creatives stage ended with a spontaneous open-mike night. “The attendees gave the performers some incredibly encouraging feedback. I really enjoyed seeing such a caring and supportive environment.”
Introducing the Sustainability Initiative
As just mentioned, the topic of sustainability was addressed on the Changemakers stage during our anniversary festival. This event started with a speech by the CEO of the Let’s Do It World Organization, which organizes the global social action program World Cleanup Day. But sustainability played a huge role for the InterNations Team throughout the year. With the ongoing Sustainability Initiative, it has become part of our company’s DNA. In the employee satisfaction survey, 80% considered it important for InterNations to take some steps in order to become an eco-friendly employer.
“It’s great that we have decided as a company to make sustainability a priority, instead of treating it as a minor issue,” says Feel Good Manager Denise, who’s in charge of the Sustainability Initiative. “We have started a very important journey. The first step was to calculate and offset our carbon footprint to become a climate-neutral company in 2020. And we’ve also had a great impact on the team, regarding both awareness and involvement.”
In 2020, the people behind the Sustainability Initiative have hosted four themed months, organized ten virtual activities, invited five guest speakers, and provided one opportunity for the team members to get active in person, with a clean-up session in the center of Munich. Hopefully, it will be easier for us to join a sustainable in-person activity together in 2021 — the survey participants have made quite a few interesting suggestions, from attending vegan cooking classes to planting trees.
Publishing Two In-Depth Survey Reports
Sustainability was also part of our PR outreach this year. In October, we published the Environment & Sustainability Ranking, probably the first report of its kind from an expat perspective. For some, choosing a destination that allows for a sustainable lifestyle is an ethical consideration, but it’s also a practical matter for most. The local quality of the environment has a huge impact on personal health and general quality of life.
Our report is based on data from the Expat Insider survey, with 15,000 respondents representing 173 nationalities and living in 181 countries or territories worldwide. It ranks 60 destinations with regard to sustainability, with the Nordic countries dominating the global top 3.
The Expat City Ranking, on the other hand, is a traditional expat ranking that has been published annually since 2017. This year, it features 66 cities, and its results are rather different from the Environment & Sustainability Ranking. Here, several Spanish cities take the lead.
However, it remains to be seen which destinations will emerge as the most popular in a post-COVID-19 world. To shed some light on this issue, we’re currently preparing a new survey to explore the effects of the pandemic on life abroad.
Updating and Improving the User Experience
It has also been a busy 2020 for our Product Experience Teams (PXTs). In order to integrate our new online events as fast and as frictionless as possible into our platform, a lot of support was needed from Product Development and Engineering. Online events had to find a new home in our events calendar, Zoom was integrated as the new videoconferencing tool of choice, and the Global Living Room was set up — to name just a few of their tasks.
Of course, the Product Experience Teams have been in charge of other projects as well, such as the new registration process. This project began in March with some extensive brainstorming for the entire registration flow. “We changed our understanding of where the registration process for new InterNations members starts and ends,” Junior Product Manager Laura explains. “We now define it as the entire flow from the very first registration screen — the field where you fill in your name, email, and password — to what you see when logging in after your application has been approved.”
Their aim was to update the entire design to be more consistent, more modern, and more mobile-friendly. “We tried to get the content to fit the size of a mobile screen as much as possible, with more emphasis on what a user can see without scrolling,” says Laura. “We also wanted to make the process look fun and showcase the InterNations brand.”
After two successful experiments in August and October, these changes are now live for all newly registered members. “We have a few more improvements planned for next year, though,” Laura adds. “For example, we’d like to build the registration process into a so-called single-page application, which should also significantly improve loading times.”
“Single-page application” is a technical term that describes a specific way of loading webpages in a browser. Websites based on an SPA architecture load just one page — for every page browsed after that, only the parts that are different from the first page need reloading. Introducing SPA across the entire InterNations website is the main task of another Project Experience Team.
“There are two main reasons why we are doing this,” Senior Product Manager Tom says. “First, faster loading times will make the user experience on the website similar to an app. And second, the pages are faster to build and easier to maintain for our frontend engineers.”
The team has already started rebuilding the subpages that provide information on our official events and activities, including guest lists. This update is now live for 100% of our member base, and Tom’s team is busy continuing with the webpages for the InterNations Groups.
“Together with the SPA architecture, we will also be introducing the InterNations Design System, a cleaner and more consistent design for our pages. So far, we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do with the single-page application and the new design. I can’t wait to see the ideas from our prototypes come to life across the InterNations platform in 2021!” says Tom.
Navigating the Challenges for the Relocation Industry
Last but not least, the InterNations GO! Team in Porto has had a very eventful year too. At first, 2020 was off to a promising start: in January, they recorded their highest-ever number of both website visits and requests for relocation services. But then, only two months later, the COVID-19 crisis struck — and most of the global relocation industry came to a standstill as borders were closed and international travel was curtailed. The InterNations GO! Team has also been severely affected — not only were they unable to move into their brand-new offices, but they also had to restructure and downsize their organization.
Fortunately, with news about the first COVID-19 immunization campaigns making headlines around the world, things are looking up for 2021. The InterNations GO! Team has also made good use of the involuntary break during lockdown. For instance, they have developed their first very own service, successfully launching relocation consulting calls for expats-to-be — including one for a customer planning a move to Micronesia. Customers in general seem very satisfied with their new product, giving it an average rating of 8.94 out of 10 points. On top of that, InterNations GO! has about 30 partners waiting in the wings to go live with a new direct-to-consumer model for relocation services.
Though 2020 has been tough at times, the team is highly motivated to tackle the challenges that 2021 may bring.
All team members really deserve a break right now and are looking forward to recharging during their winter vacation. Happy holidays, Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it, and a Happy (and Healthy) New Year 2021!
Image credit: InterNations / Pexels / Shutterstock
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