An Expert Interview by Sara Micacchioni

Csaba Toth is the author of the book Uncommon Sense in Unusual Times (2020), the founder of ICQ Global and the developer of the multi award-winning Global DISC™. I met him virtually at his place in Brighton that almost incidentally became his new home 16 years ago. Let’s discover together what he does in life and what his approach to interculturality is.

Author's Headshot
Csaba Toth – Author of Uncommon Sense in Unusual Times

If you were to give a pitch of Csaba Toth, how would you best describe him professionally? 

I will be very concise here: I teach uncommon sense. It is a mindset that allows people to see the same situation from different perspectives so they can make better decisions and they can choose to respond instead of just reacting so they can get the best possible outcome. 

In fact, when looking at cultural and personal differences, at the end of the day we’re dealing primarily with clashes of common sense. If you look at it in that way, the whole topic also becomes much more flexible and humane, instead of reducing it to a binary system where one must be right and the other must be wrong. Or where both are fighting in order to have their truth validated although both just hold their tiny version of the truth. 

Let’s move onto what was your journey. In your book you talk quite in detail about how you got to where you are now, but would you mind summarizing your career path for all our readers?

I used to love learning a lot (and I still do). Initially, I didn’t have clarity on where I wanted to get, so I studied Italian and obtained a master’s degree in Italian linguistics – an uncommon and unusual choice for someone who doesn’t know what to do in life (author’s note). As soon as I finished I came to the UK for the summer. That was 16 years ago and I am still here. Three years after arriving, I obtained another Master’s Degree in International Management at the University of Sussex and that was a bit more practical as I specialised in Eastern and Western European joint-ventures. My dissertation was about understanding the differences between Hungarian and Western European managers. Interestingly and against traditional predictions, the data showed that the gap between the old and new generations in Hungary was much bigger than the gap between the same generation in Hungary and Western Europe. This contradicted what we were used to and often are still used to learning in academia, i.e. that culture is country-specific. 

And what happened next?

Then I started my own company. It was about a restaurant listing: someone books a table and you get the money. It grew really really fast. We started with 35 restaurants here in Brighton and one year later we had already 5,500 all over the UK. On paper, everything looked perfect, but in practice I couldn’t stand the other CEO. Not because he was French, but because there was a big clash of common sense between the two of us. That was exactly the topic of my dissertation: I ran the largest and fastest growing restaurant listing business in the UK, I had years of experience, and yet could not make it work. 

But I was really keen on understanding what went wrong and how we could fix it. The final result of all the research I did led to what is now called the Global DISC™.

What was the major learning that you took away from this experience?

Best solutions are born out of frustration and pain. 

And most of us have a choice: do you want to just stay and complain? Or do you want to take responsibility for your growth and work towards finding the best solution? I personally chose the second option. 

In your book “Uncommon Sense in Unusual Times”, which I highly recommend to all our readers, you go deep into the topic and give a lot of details about Cultural Intelligence (ICQ). In your view, what are the difficulties that you encounter most often when you need to convince clients and other stakeholders of the importance of having thoughtful conversations around Cultural Intelligence? 

Book Cover

I think that the biggest obstacle is the perception that people have about ICQ since for the majority culture automatically equals nationality. So basically, if they don’t work in an international environment, they think this is an irrelevant topic. However, if you look at the research published in Management International Review (Kirkman et al., 2016)  where they compare 17 cultural containers, culture, gender and generation were the worst three categories of culture in terms of practicality and range of differences.  It makes sense as even if you don’t choose those specific cultural groups, you learn how to conform to them and you can navigate efficiently in that environment. 

Culture is not who we are, it’s what we’re used to

When you look at the different cultural groups that you choose, like your education, profession, hobby, you’re inclined to opt for the one that matches your personal preferences, because it feels comfortable and the right place where you can put your strengths at use. That’s why, to me, to understand who you are, your profession is a way more powerful clue than your country of origin. This is the biggest obstacle, i.e. that people don’t see that we belong to twenty different cultural groups at the same time and that your national culture is just a tiny container of that.

(If you want to read more about cultural overlaps and the concept of intersectionality, we published a post on the topic). 

Can you also provide us with a more practical and concrete example of these layers of culture, Csaba? 

Sure. Take your family members. Even if you talk with someone in your family, what are the chances that the other person belongs to the same 15-20  cultural groups like you?

Less than zero. That’s why I consider every conversation a cross-cultural dialogue. 

This leads the conversation into another topic of your book that you talk about in detail, cognitive diversity. Can you please tell us more about it? 

Cognitive diversity is about the diverse ways in which people think, behave and process information. The very different values that each of us share give us different perspectives and priorities. Like I write in my book 90 percent of business is interaction between people who think and behave differently. So, even if you have a team constituted 100 percent by Italians you’ll still be able to find cognitive diversity because all these people have different values. 

Just because we learn how to conform to the same norms it doesn’t mean that we are the same. 

If you look at research (Management International Review, 2016), having smart people in a team is no guarantee of success. In fact, 79 percent of potential is generally lost due to interaction gap and clashes of common sense. That’s definitely not good for business. To me the biggest obstacle is to raise the awareness that

intercultural equals interpersonal, not just international.

There’s a topic to which you dedicate an entire chapter in your book, debunking the myths of cultural intelligence, So I’d like to dig a bit deeper there. You specifically address eight of these myths, but do you think they’re equally rooted in people and that the same myths keep being reinforced over and over? Or do you see a gradual increase of awareness?

I think that change is slowly happening. What hinders this change is the presence of many established companies that sell international trainings as if they were intercultural ones. In fact, one of the insights of my research was that more than 95 percent of companies buy and sell to people solutions created in the sixties and seventies. You’ll agree with me I guess that there’s nothing wrong with loving our grandparents but we must recognize that we have very different challenges than them. So much has changed since then, just think of the easy access to the internet and international travel. 

Why do we want our doctor to be updated with the latest research but we don’t make sure whether who develops intercultural training has our best interest at heart? To me not being updated in your field should not be allowed and I find it unethical that in some less regulated professions this seems to be optional. 

Thank you Csaba for these insights and for sharing your view with us. Let’s move onto the projects you’re currently working on. Do you want to tell us more about that? 

20 percent of the business we do is training and corporate coaching, while the other 80 percent is certifying coaches and trainers to deliver the Global DISC™ that we created. Because it doesn’t matter how good we are, alone we’re not enough. First of all, we’re smarter together and secondly, our time is limited and so is our potential. That’s why we created a licensing model and that’s why we currently have almost 100 licensed partners in 33 countries. 

We also work with higher education institutions. At the moment, eight universities teach the Global DISC™ and this is amazing to us. It means that in academia too there’s the realization that students need to be prepared with solutions for a world that is constantly changing. 

I actually wish that this topic was taught in high schools though, or starting even earlier, because I believe that it would have a huge impact in people’s life. You could better understand who you are and what you stand for. Imagine if you could even like yourself. You would not need to bully anyone to feel important or hide to feel safe. If you can accept yourself  – and this is where we talk about self-inclusion – it’s much easier to accept others. Instead of depending on external approval, what if you could focus on yourself and who you are? To me this is the super power that I would like to enable others with and it is our final goal.

What would be the benefits for someone who decided to become certified in Global DISC™? 

We want to concretely support the coaches who decide to obtain our license and therefore we offer four gigabytes of training, sales and marketing material, and a portfolio of international accredited solutions. Licensed coaches also become members of a community on an interactive platform where they obtain the support and where they can get inspiration and guidance on how to further expand their businesses. In short, they become part of an environment where they can continuously grow. And it becomes a partnership in which we and our licensed coach give and receive in equal part. 

What about the ICQ Growth Mindset course that you repropose periodically? 

Oh, that’s by far my favourite masterclass. It’s a 4×90 minutes online in-person course through which you understand the underlying root of causes  of why we lose most opportunities, time and energy: friction with people who think and behave differently and friction with ourselves (self-sabotage).   You also gain guidance on how you can achieve more with the same amount of energy and time. The insights and tools that we offer can be immediately applied on an individual and team level. What I especially love about it is the blissfully challenging and psychologically safe environment that we create altogether. This is where the magic happens. And that’s why I’d never miss facilitating this course personally. 

The next one starts on 2 November 2020 and the registration process is already open. 

Is there one last message you would like to leave our readers with? 

Just remember that we all do what we consider right based on what we consider true to get the best outcome we think we can get, but at the end of the day we have no idea what is right and true or what the exact outcome is going to be. That is why we are smarter together. 

Resources

If you want to buy Csaba’s book Uncommon Sense in Uncommon Times, click here

If you want to get more information on how to become a licensed coach of the Global DISC™ get in touch with Csaba directly. You can send him an email (csaba@icq.global) or add him on LinkedIn

If you want to sign up for the next ICQ Growth Mindset course and see what it includes, click here

Last but not least, two books that Csaba would like to recommend:

Goldsmith, M. (2016). Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–becoming the Person You Want to Be. Profile Books.

Chandler, S. (2017). Reinventing Yourself: How to Become the Person You’ve Always Wanted to be. Career.

About Sara Micacchioni

Sara
Sara Micacchioni

Sara Micacchioni is about to complete her internship as an Academic Intern at Global People Transitions, where she is responsible for research and quality assurance projects. She also actively supports the Managing Director and the Social Media Manager. At the beginning of 2020, she graduated from an international English-taught master degree in Intercultural Management at the University of Burgundy, France. In the past, she also carried out several short-term and long-term voluntary work projects in Europe and South America.

Sara lived, studied, and worked in seven European countries and speaks four foreign languages. She considers herself an interculturalist with a real passion for globetrotting. In her mission to travel the world, she has now ticked off 30 countries globally.

Connect with Sara on LinkedIn if you want to talk about Diversity and Inclusion, Intersectionality, Cultural Intelligence (CQ), Bilingualism, Digital Learning, Immigration or Low-Cost Travels.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-micacchioni/

An Expert Interview by Sara Micacchioni

Interviewee's headshot
Petra

Petra lives in Hamburg and if you meet her in person, you’ll probably notice one of her eighteen shades of blue. Born and raised in Germany, one of her qualities is working in-time, which means to take care of customer’s leadership needs as much as possible in the Here and Now – also and especially when it’s complex and challenging.  She is a Global Leadership Coach and with decades of experience across international Business, NGOs and engagement for Women and Black issues, she has become a specialised Transformation Synergist.


Petra’s mission now is to support GLOBAL WOMEN IN/TO LEADERSHIP. 

But how she got there is a very unconventional story. 

In Africa they say, you know people by their name. And yes, Petra’s name already tells a story.  The german part, her father’s name Sorge, had been widely seen as ‘worry’. When starting to work globally Petra used its second meaning ‘taking care of’. Because that’s what she’s used to doing i.e. taking care of others professionals’ success. After her late marriage with an Afrobrazilian she decided to make her surname a bridge between cultures and became Sorge dos Santos, ‘care of the Saints’.

Petra was a pioneer in her field and  throughout her life she developed a certain focus on learning and teaching. At 21, while she was still studying Adult’s Education she also started her career. Funnily enough, she began teaching a class made up by male ex-soldiers only. Coming from the last only female class of a girls’ high school, at university she early noticed the lack of female professors and the absence of awareness about women’s issues.

She felt tremendously the urge to fill this gap and became one of the founders of  the NGO ‘Hamburg Women’s Week’ – where 260 female experts taught 9000 women in just six days, while the only men inside the university building took care of their children. Subsequently, she founded another NGO, ‘Denk-t-räume’, a women’s center for learning and research. Since then she’s never stopped doing what she loves which is empowering women and  changing the narrative around them. Let’s remember that for as much as the gap in gender equality is still a big issue today, addressing this topic thirty years ago must have been a totally different story. 

After finishing her diploma, she went into the field of professional career training. One of her innovations was to implement coaching sessions, at a time (the late 80s) when coaching was nearly unknown in Germany.

In 1992, she had the luck to meet Michael Grinder, NLP founder John Grinder’s brother. Since he specialised in applying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) into teaching,  she was highly motivated to deepen her understanding of Neurolearning and two years later obtained a master’s degree in NLP.

In 1986, Brazil came in and changed her life.
She travelled solo for three months which felt like diving into a fascinating new world. A world which fascinated her with her tradition of music and dance but which also challenged her ‘Germanness’.

When she went back to Germany, she became a member of the first women’s foundation. Having lly get to know in person the power and competence of purposeful female leaders from the Global South. Coming back to her country that typically only saw them as needy migrants and that still considered even German women as inferior was quite a challenge. All this finally turned into her today’s identity of Globalista and it fueled her decision to become self-employed: in 1995 she founded CL!C – Crossculture Linking and Consulting. 

Global Leaders who deal with international teams and customers especially need to understand others and the cultural differences they bring at the table.  And this is where her expertise came in: for more than fifteen years, she trained international leaders and their teams to acquire more cultural competencies. This job opened her eyes to what the difficulties in leading with diversity often are.  It also made her perceive how the majority of Western leaders, on average male and 55 years old (in Germany), carry a serious deficit of cultural intelligence (CQ). 

At the same time, she also realised that well-qualified women who grew up, studied and worked in two or more  cultures/countries are very different in this sense. They can adapt to and navigate different cultures more easily. This is one of the reasons why Petra now focuses on what she calls Global Women and their different needs in becoming successful leaders.

 
Petra’s professional life was eventful and rich in changes. After her overseas consultancy had taken her to support women not only in Brazil, but also in the Caribbean and Angola, she became inspired to work on the radio. She created Radio Triangula where she focussed on Africa-Brazil-Hamburg, played nice-to-dance music and introduced to the public global men and women engaged across cultures. Later on she also hosted a local TV program called ‘Hamburgisch by Culture’ where she regularly held biographical interviews with her Hamburg guests. Bringing diversity into the media was quite a good way to balance her other job as a trainer of German male executives.
A serious health issue finally forced her to think her career over and – like she always tells her coachees –  to start focusing on what she really wanted. And that is to make leadership become more global, diverse and female both in quantity and quality.

Her personal goal is to bring all her expertise together in one project. For her, this means she will do more than  COACHING. Her virtual learning together with her trainer background calls for what is state of the art: ONLINE LEARNING.  This is also true for her target group: women who feel home in more than one culture, who don’t only live in Hamburg or Germany and who are definitely spending part of their working/learning time online. Starting her project  in English enables her to realise her vision of CONNECTING across cultures. Thirty years ago she already connected with one another female leaders from the Global South. Now, she wants to connect women who belong to the young generations. Finally, integrating her passion for media, she will talk about her global participants and expert role models through her podcast ‘Leadership Lights’ as well as her ‘Petra Global TV’ starting as a Facebook Live. 


So for her as well as for her participants it’s about “Leading with GUTS”

Example of tagline

What are the main obstacles in the work that Petra so passionately does?

“The main problem with Global Leaders is their lack of self-awareness.” This characteristic is, in fact, often overlooked and regarded as a merely private aspect of a leader’s life. But knowing yourself and being able to lead oneself is fundamental when it comes to working with others, especially in a globalized environment. Nowadays, with the digitalization of company culture, employees need leadership with personality more than ever.

Are you also attracted by the topic of Leadership and/or do you want to become an Intercultural Trainer? 

Then Petra’s main piece of advice for you is to widen your open-mindedness and nurture your curiosity. Her personal secret to success is, whatever career you decide to embark on, go for something you really want, do not follow the path someone else paved for you.

If you’re a student, you can choose courses in Cross-Cultural Management / Intercultural Communication led by professionals from the field.
If you’re already in international business you should consider taking a professional qualification on top. Aside from that, Petra believes that only by DOING you become an actual coach and trainer.  

Finally, let’s look at Petra’s recommended books: 

  • ‘Das Rebellische Eigentum’ by Peter Martin –the rebellious property. A Study on enslaved Africans, showing their many facets of rebellion, right from the start. 
  • I love myself when I’m laughing by Zora Neale Hurston – An anthology of the intellectual and spiritual foremother of the next generation of black writers.
  • ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brené Brown – a female reframe of Leadership by a famous TED speaker who pleads for starting from vulnerability.

Petra’s whole life has formed her into the global synergist of transformation that she is today. Her breakthrough program for Global women that she is promoting at the moment is called ‘Leading with GUTS’.
While combining a global mindset-work with understanding and including others and transformation with self-Awareness, it covers three parts of online leadership learning in this sequence: 1. Leading Self 2. Global Competence 3. Leading Others
If you are interested, register for her free challenge ‘Smartly Overcoming Leadership Barriers’. If you want to start on a smaller scale her Leading Self Kickoff might be interesting for you.

Example of an Online Challenge

Do you find Petra’s story as interesting and exciting as I did? Do you want to drop her a personal message? You can contact her via email or you can visit her website or podcast Leadership Lights. Or you can listen to Radio Triangular, live stream every fourth Saturday of the month at 5 PM CET. 


In order to support this  B2C-approach she is looking for partnerships which might also extend to a B2B-trainee program inside companies. The best way to contact her is via  LinkedIn.

 

About Sara Micacchioni

Sara
Sara Micacchioni

Sara Micacchioni is currently working as Academic Intern at Global People Transitions, where she is responsible for research and quality assurance projects. At the beginning of 2020, she graduated from an international English-taught master degree in Intercultural Management at the University of Burgundy, France. In the past, she also carried out several short-term and long-term voluntary work projects in Europe and South America.

Sara lived, studied, and worked in seven European countries and speaks four foreign languages. She considers herself an interculturalist with a real passion for globetrotting. In her mission to travel the world, she has now ticked off 30 countries globally.

Connect with Sara on LinkedIn if you want to talk about Diversity and Inclusion, Intersectionality, Cultural Intelligence (CQ), Bilingualism, Digital Learning, Immigration or Low-Cost Travels.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-micacchioni/

I sometimes fear that I am becoming one of those people, who are always the victim. Those who complain all day and then never change anything. Those who say and know that they are overweight or drink too much but then cannot stop eating or drinking when they are stressed. Sometimes I am worried about not looking after myself enough or that I look really old now. And when I feel like that I know it’s time for a “safety stop”, because for me this is usually a sign that I am exhausted. I don’t let myself burn out anymore. I have become wiser but I know that a lot of you suffer from the obligation of working like a slave. You think you have to work 50 to 60 hours to be a good expat. You think you have to see your families during home leave to be a good daughter or son and you think that you have to shoulder all the responsibilities and burdens of the breadwinner.

There might be mornings where you get out of bed feeling like a zombie rather than the energetic superheroine you identified with a few years ago. You also don’t fit into those power outfits any longer that made you feel invisible.

If you can partially or entirely relate to this, or if you know an expat fellow who might do, you will find it worth it to stop and read the following lines.

1 – Why are expats more vulnerable than home country professionals?

You don’t need me to remind you that your life took a totally different turn when you decided to pursue your expat life. And that your responsibilities and worries would be very different if you had decided to remain in your home country.

You’re probably now dealing with more workload than you’ve ever done before, you’re still trying to get adjusted to the ways of doing in your host country and you might need to learn the local language. You’re also trying to expand your circle of friends and don’t want to give up on your social life. You might be feeling overwhelmed but in order to keep up with everything, you might be neglecting your sleep.

You also might have noticed the same things you used to get done very easily in your home country might have become a real burden in the host country and getting that medicine for which you didn’t even need a prescription has proved like a mission impossible.

You need to remember that you’re human. You’re a human who relocated to a place with a different climate, language and cultural code. Accept that this “new you” may be more vulnerable than the “old you.” Allow your mind and body to adapt to the new environment and ways of doing. This transition will require time and you’ll probably start reaping the rewards for your patience after the first year on assignment.

2 – Why do expats burn out more often?

I bet it didn’t take you long to realize that your stress levels increased the moment you decided to embark on this expat adventure. Even before making the actual move, for the first time you found yourself stressing out about issues you had never encountered before: handing over all your work, emptying your office, shipping your house goods to another continent, supporting your spouse, looking for a new school for your children, and whatnot.

Now that you find yourself in the new country things that stress you out are even more numerous: you work crazy hours, you struggle getting things done in a language different than yours, and you don’t have the same social support network you used to and you feel it’s too soon to ask your new friends for personal support. Like many other expats, you probably strongly identify yourself with your work where you want to perform at your best, and this often brings you to set aside your hobbies and interests.

You have obligations towards your spouse and children, no matter whether they relocated with you or remained in your home country, and your parents might be in an age group where they need support. You want to care for all of them and you perhaps forget that you need to take care of yourself too if you don’t want to suffer from a serious burn out with a potentially profoundly negative impact on your personal and professional life.

3 – How can expats overcome feelings of light depression?

If you’re still in your first year of assignment, the likelihood is high that you’ll suffer from culture shock and adjustment issues. Culture adjustment symptoms can be very similar to those of light depression: feeling isolated or helpless, sleeping longer or getting tired more easily, getting irritated over delays and other minor frustrations, suffering from body pains and aches, longing to be back home, etc. On top of that, the considerable amount of stress you are dealing with, will just make things harder to handle.

In order to relax, many expats choose the wrong shortcut and start overusing substances such as medications, alcohol and drugs. This is particularly frequent among single expats and those who live in a compound.

If you are over-stressed, I advise you to try out for yourself the following:

  • Exercise regularly. This doesn’t mean that you have to train for the next marathon, but it’s important you are consistent. Take a 20 minute walk every day, possibly without your smartphone.
  • Take a whole weekend off and go offline. It might not be easy to achieve but you will come back with a better focus. If you’re on assignment with your children and partner you could even start an offline challenge together.
  • Try out a relaxation method. You can try listening to classical music or bird music while working, or practicing Feldenkreis breathing exercises by @ryannagy. You could also try working through Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
  • Practice active meditation. I have created a short video to show how to start, and there are many more on YouTube.

It might also help you if you analyse your current situation and lay out concretely the next steps you want to take. Try answering the following questions.

When was I in a difficult situation already? How did I overcome it? Where am I at now? Where do I wanna go? What resources do I have to get there?

How can I adapt my strategies to the new cultural context so I can still be effective and culturally appropriate?

Just because it feels harder than usual doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

4 – What are signs of clinical depression and when is seeking help the best thing to do?

However, those self-help tools don’t necessarily work for everybody, especially if you realise too late that you should have acted before.

If you think you might have developed clinical depression, it’s important to seek the right kind of professional help.

The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely, however, some of them are very common among the majority of people who suffer from this condition. If you’re always in a bad mood, feel tearful, anxious, or irritated, if you have sudden change in appetite and weight or develop disturbed sleep patterns, reach out to a trusted professional without waiting any longer.

5 – What’s the reverse culture shock and why do expats suffer from it?

You might not have yet heard about it, or at least not as much as culture adjustment, but reverse culture shock is a real thing too. Others prefer calling it “re-entry shock” but in substance, we are dealing with the same thing.

If you haven’t gone through it (yet) you may be downplaying its consequences. After all, why should you worry about having to adapt to your home country? You lived there for many years and know well how things work.

Well, you might be wrong. Imagine what it is like to end your assignment and come back, after five years – let’s say – without a proper network of friends, a different management thinking at work, and a partner who can’t find an equally good job in what you called “home” before going on assignment.

If you’re interested in finding out more about reverse culture shock and its stages, I invite you to go through Vanessa Paisley “5-V Repatriation Model”. It will enlighten you on why this topic deserves more attention than it is currently given.

Sometimes, it’s not easy to admit that things aren’t going great. Not even to ourselves. But it’s important to be honest and identify WHAT makes you feel unwell. Without this first step, you won’t be able to work on the issues that bring you down.

If you can relate to any of this, at least you now know that you’re not alone. The challenges you have are the same that many other expats face in their extra busy lives.

At Global People Transitions we are experts in Cultural Transitions. If you’d like to receive advice and support on the topic, feel free to contact angela@globalpeopletransitions.com for a brief chat.

Resources and further reading
Link to Video by Johann Hari

Link to Expat Health Podcasts by Angie Weinberger

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_0tvWF7nrY

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6kKIqoTCG4

Link to Expat Health post on NIZ: https://newinzurich.com/2020/06/expats-and-covid-19-five-steps-to-avoid-burn-out/ 

 -> Zurich International Therapists

4/https://globalpeopletransitions.com/the-passion-games-playing-yourself-through-the-pandemic-part-3/

Expats and COVID 19 – Five Steps To Avoid Burn Out

-> Zurich International Therapists

https://www.angloinfo.com/zurich/directory/zurich-psychologists-therapists-lucerne-zug-714 

https://www.stillpointspaces.com/

Sind Sie Kind, Held, König, Weiser?

https://www.stillpointspaces.com/

My favourite Productivity Hacks – Seven Tips to claim back your Diary

The Rise of Weinberger – Building up Strength during the Pandemic – Part 4

The Passion Games – Playing yourself through the Pandemic – Part 3

Sleepless in Switzerland – Getting Through the Pandemic – Part 2

Angie Alone At Home – Managing Yourself Through the Pandemic – Part 1

Weinberger, A. (2019). The Global Mobility Workbook. Zurich: Global People Transitions.

Link to Global TV Talk Show with Ed Cohen.


Last week, when you could not fall asleep because you felt overwhelmed by the increasing number of items on your to-do list, you had the brilliant idea to buy post-its and start to plan your next four weeks. Then, you also thought about writing down your “Top 25 Priorities”

You already felt a little relieved and fell asleep. But did you actually do what you planned the day after?

I bet you didn’t do it even if you thought it was a great idea.

The good news is that what happened to you last week happens to most of us too. The bad news is that when you do this in your personal life, you are more inclined to do the same in your professional life as well.

We accept a mediocre solution or we try to put a plaster on a process instead of analyzing the root cause of the issue.

According to Schwartz et al (2014), the great majority of companies see this phenomenon as a challenge to productivity and overall performance, but struggles to handle it. According to Deloitte, over half of the organisations say that “their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload and today’s demanding work environment.”

57 percent believe their organizations are “weak” when it comes to helping leaders manage difficult schedules and supporting employees manage information flow.

Have we lost all of our ideals of Total Quality Management? Do you know about Kanban Boards? Do you know how to visualize process flows?

We need to learn how to become more productive and we need to learn it now. If, like me, you are always eager to receive tips on how to increase your productivity, check this podcast out.

Kanban 

Kanban is a lean method which originated in lean manufacturing. Lean was inspired by the Toyota Production System. It aims at managing work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of system-level bottlenecks. 

In knowledge work and in software development, the aim is to provide a visual process management system which facilitates decision-making about what, when, and how much to produce.

Among the most important characteristics is that work items are visualized to provide a view of progress and process, from start to finish, usually through a Kanban board. Indeed, in Japanese, kanban means “signboard” or “billboard.” So, we will just use Kanban going forward.

Kanban 

A colorful, tidy and good-looking kanban is one of the most effective tools in project management. It can be used to plan and work through any project. Try to visualize your next move to Singapore on a Kanban too. 

Kanban boards visually display a certain process in its various stages using cards to represent work items and columns to represent each phase of the process. Cards are moved from left to right to show progress and to help coordinate teams performing the work. 

Simple boards have vertical columns for the “to-do”, “doing”, and “done” work.  Alternatively, they may be labelled “waiting”, “in progress” and “completed”.

Complex Kanban boards can also be divided into horizontal “swim lanes” representing different types of work or different teams performing the work. Additionally, it can subdivide the “in progress” work into multiple columns to visualise the flow of work across a whole value stream map.

Seven Core Practices for Kanban

We suggest six core practices for you to become a master of Kanban. We still practice this in our team so don’t assume you have to be perfect from the start.

  1. Visualize the flow of work. You cannot work on a Kanban, either physical or electronic, if you cannot visualize the process steps needed to deliver your work. Depending on the complexity of your process and your work-mix, your Kanban can be very simple or very elaborate. Once you visualize your process, then you can visualize the current work that you and your team are doing.
  2. Use colors. Use post-its in different colors for different types of projects. Or, if you decide to use this tool for personal life projects, consider using different colors for different kinds of activities (orange for the projects you wish to complete at home, yellow for your children’s requests, and so on).
  3. Limit WIP (Work in Progress). It’s important to reduce WIP to a minimum to encourage yourself and your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. Work currently in progress must be completed and marked done. This creates capacity in the system, so that you can focus on new tasks. Limiting WIP helps you finish what they are doing already before taking up new stuff. This practice is also useful because it communicates to the customer and other stakeholders that there is limited capacity to do work, and they need to plan carefully what work they ask you or your team to do.
  4. Manage Flow. A Kanban helps you manage flow by highlighting the various phases of the workflow and the status of work in every single phase. Based on how well you defined the workflow and set the limits to WIP, you will observe either a smooth flow of processes or work piling up as a bottleneck. Kanban helps you analyze the system and adjust their work accordingly to improve flow. In this way, you will manage to reduce the time it takes to complete each task. By improving flow, your delivery of work becomes smoother and more predictable, making it easier to communicate to your customer when you will manage to get any work done. You will also automatically increase your reliability to your customers’ eyes.
  5. Make Process Policies Explicit. Visualize explicitly your policies, process rules or guidelines for how you do your work. In this way, you create common ground for all those involved in the process to understand how to work in the system. The various policies can be at the board level or at a “swim lane” level or for each column. Examples of explicit policies are: what defines a task complete, what describes individual “swim lanes” or columns, who pulls when, etc. 
  6. Implement Feedback Loops. This practice is an essential part of any good system. Kanban encourages and helps you implement different types of feedback loops. If you want to deliver the right work in the shortest possible time, it’s crucial to get feedback early, especially if you ended up on the wrong track.
  7. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using the scientific method). The Kanban helps you implement small changes and improve gradually in a way that is sustainable for you and your team. It encourages you to form a hypothesis, test it and make changes according to the results you obtain. In a few words, it aims at tackling issues through a scientific method. As an individual or team who aims at being agile, it’s fundamental that you evaluate your process continuously and improve as much as needed.

Notable tools

This is a list of tools that implement the Kanban method. You can test some of them for free.

  • Asana, with boards.
  • Azure DevOps Server, an integrated ALM-platform for managing work in and across multiple teams.
  • CA Technologies Rally, provides teams with the option of managing pull-based, lean software development projects.
  • Unicom Focal Point, a portfolio management and product management tool.
  • Jira (software), provides kanban boards.
  • Microsoft Planner, a planning application available on the Microsoft Office 365 platform.
  • Pivotal Tracker provides kanban boards.
  • Projektron BCS, project management tool, provides kanban boards for tickets and tasks.
  • Trello, cards-based project management.
  • Tuleap, an agile open source tool for development teams: customize board columns, set WIP (Work In Progress), connect board with Issue Trackers, Git, Documents.
  • Twproject (formerly Teamwork), project and groupware management tool.
  • Wrike, an Agile Collaborative Work Management Platform.

Resources

If you want to learn more about Kanban: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development)

If you want to learn more about Kanban implementations and Kanban boards:

If you want to know why you should use Kanban in marketing https://business901.com/blog1/why-you-should-use-kanban-in-marketing/

If you think your lack of digital competencies is affecting your productivity:

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. 

DIgital Nomads

Contrary to what many might think, the term Digital Nomad isn’t an invention of the 21st century. The word, in fact, was first introduced in the homonym book “Digital Nomad” published by Wiley in 1997.

However, up until recently, people tended to connect this denomination with names of fancy Facebook groups where a small number of privileged and tech professionals were allowed. This is because until ten years ago, the typical graduate who entered the workplace would be shown their desk and be tied to it thereafter. If on the one hand, a few digital-first companies were already offering the possibility to work flexible hours and/or from home, on the other hand most employees could not even dream of working from a paradisiac location ten thousands miles away from the company’s office.

Nowadays, digital nomads are becoming a trend. In Global Mobility we speak of “Virtual Assignees” and “Digital Nomads” now as new assignment types. Millennials, are going to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, according to Inc.

In fact, in 2015, flexible remote work was already the top priority for Millennials and 85 percent expressed their preference for telecommuting 100 percent of the time (Flexjobs survey).

With this data at hand, it’s easy to see that we’re dealing here with a real new breed and not anymore a restricted circle of tech-savvy gurus. And at this point, it’s also easy to predict that the rise of this category of workers will obviously also have a strong impact on Global Mobility policies. 

The Six Points You Need to Make Sure to Check

Fatima is a young and determined woman who works as a freelancer. She has recently moved to Switzerland from where she continues to work, and she calls herself a Digital Nomad. If, like her, you too are a Digital Nomad and you’re about to or have just moved to Switzerland, this article might enlighten you on some fundamental technical issues that you need to be aware of in the Helvetic Confederation.

Despite this article being Swiss-specific, these points are worth considering wherever in the world you’re dreaming to live, either temporarily or permanently.  

This is an offer an overview of risks we see frequently. For deeper advice on your personal situation I recommend that you seek advice from specialists in the individual areas. I’m happy to introduce you to these specialists in Switzerland.

1 – Labor Law 

The labor law that applies to your case changes significantly whether you are classified as self-employed or employed. In Switzerland, being self-employed means that you work on your behalf, you are independent, and you assume the financial risk. You may decide on the type of company you build.

You will need your own infrastructure, you draw up invoices in your own name, you assume the risk of collection and you work out your taxes. Additionally, you decide on your organization and your method of working. You may outsource work to third parties and you work for more than one client. Based on this employed/self-employed differentiation, the aspects concerning your work permit vary as well.

It is as well possible that, due to different legislations across countries, the Swiss labor inspection authorities could qualify you as an employee of your current “employer” or “client”. This can happen even when in your country of origin your status is of self-employed or freelancer. If this should happen to you, you will need to provide various further documents to the competent authorities. 

Based on your host country you really need to familiarize yourself with the local employment law as well especially if you are planning to hire other people into your business.

2 – Immigration Law

If you share with Fatima the typical Digital Nomad spirit, you will probably travel often. Even during Corona-times, you will most likely travel more frequently than a traditionally employed person. For this reason, it’s important that you have the correct permits to enter the countries and actually work there. 

If you’re an EU / EFTA national not yet residing in Switzerland and working there over eight days per calendar year, you will need both a residence and work permit. If you only work here up to 90 days per calendar year your employer will have to register you via the online registration procedure. Usually, the permission will be given. However, you can then really only work here for 90 days in a calendar year. 

As a “third-country national”, you have to be aware that work visas are limited to quotas and they are therefore not so easy to obtain.  You are not allowed to work in Switzerland while on a tourist visa. You don’t want to get into trouble with the Swiss authorities.

The permits that allow you to work in Switzerland are L, B, C, and G. They have different purposes and durations. If you want to read more details about the characteristics of each permit, check our resources at the bottom. As an expat spouse you generally have the approval when you receive a B-permit. With the L-permit there is often a restriction.

Do you feel confused? Trust me, it’s normal. That’s why it’s always best to get advice from an Immigration Specialist. I suggest you contact Sonia Meier  of BecomeLocal

Special Digital Nomad Visas

You might be up-to-date already, but in case you didn’t know it, some forward-thinking countries have already introduced specific visas for Digital Nomads!

These visas are not for any Digital Nomads and every country has listed its own requirements and benefits, but it is worth it to check them out. Up to today, the countries that offer this opportunity are Barbados, Georgia, Estonia, Bermuda and Thailand, while Croatia is next in line. Check out our resources below if you want to find out more about the topic! 

With the Digital Nomad trend on the rise, Fatima wishes that Switzerland too will have this specific type of visa in the future, simplifying the bureaucratic burden she needs to go through.

3 – Personal Tax

Based on the Swiss federal tax law, you become a tax resident after living and working in Switzerland for a continuous period of 30 days, or after 90 days without earning any income. 

In Switzerland, you are responsible for paying your taxes. You are taxed only on the income generated in Switzerland and not on your worldwide income. This is regardless of whether you’re self-employed or not and it does not depend on whether you receive a one-time payment or a regular salary. 

It’s important that you learn to differentiate between your turnover and a potential salary that you are paying out to yourself. My most important advice is that you either find a good accountant like Joerg Blaettler of Winston Wolf or you learn accounting with a basic software such as Bexio.

4 – Corporate Tax

If you work for an international company without an office in Switzerland, be aware that your presence could create a “Permanent Establishment” for the company. This means that the company might have to pay corporate tax. If you decide that you want to keep  working from Switzerland, you should discuss this with them beforehand. 

If you own your own company and this is registered outside Switzerland, corporate tax issues could become even trickier, and you might incur in double taxation. Depending on the countries involved, treaties have their own specific clauses and you will have to look at your particular situation. 

5 – Social Security

For Digital Nomads like you and Fatima, it can become challenging to ensure at least basic insurance for retirement, disability or unemployment because social security is generally connected to the country of employment. 

The first thing you need to know is that Swiss social security is based on three pillars that I am going to briefly explain here. The first pillar is the basic insurance (old-age, survivors’, disability, and unemployment insurance): this is mandatory if you are a resident and earning an income in Switzerland.

If you are self-employed, you need to pay the full contribution through a self-declaration made to the authorities. If you don’t do this, the authorities will estimate and claim the contribution, and you incur a fine. 

Let’s focus on the pension scheme. When you reach the official retirement age, and if you’ve contributed for at least one year, you gain the right to claim the retirement annuity. Please keep in mind that the annuity is limited and calculated based on the years of contributions.

The second pillar is the employee’s pension scheme. This is mandatory and it covers the same risks as the first pillar, but it’s provided by the employer instead of the State. 

The third pillar is additional, private savings that you’re free to undertake or not, depending on your preferences.

And if you have a foreign employer? 

If you have a foreign employer who has the rights to apply for a certificate of coverage, they might be exempted from Swiss social security. If not, the foreign employer might have the obligation to register in Switzerland and seek for a first and second pillar solution for you while you’re based in Switzerland. 

6 – Health and Accident Insurance

As a Swiss resident, Fatima needs to have mandatory health insurance in Switzerland. She’s entering her third month in the country and her time to stipulate one is almost over. You have, in fact, up to 90 days to sign your health insurance contract from the moment you set foot in the country.

All health insurers in Switzerland provide the same benefits under basic insurance. However, if you want to be covered for other needs such as better hospital accommodation, legal assistance and so on, you need to add a voluntary supplemental insurance. 

In Switzerland, each person must pay health insurance premiums. The premiums are independent of the individual’s income but vary depending on age, residence and health insurer, so you are free to choose the health insurance company with which you wish to take out basic insurance.

If you move to Switzerland but still work in an EU/EFTA country, you must be insured in the country where your employer is based. This also applies if you are self-employed. In this case, it is not possible for you to purchase health insurance in Switzerland. If you feel lost and need guidance in making the right choice for yourself, we personally advise that you contact Ralph Endres of ExpatPartners or Domenico Bilotta at Helsana

As you figured out already, there’s a lot on the list of items that you need to take into account when deciding to work as a Digital Nomad for Switzerland. Having a clear vision of how everything works isn’t easy, especially if you need to understand bureaucracy in a language that you don’t speak well. This is why we always recommend that you reach out to a trusted expert in the field. If Fatima worked it out, you can certainly do it too! And remember it will be worth it, Switzerland ranks number 1 in the world for quality of life! 

Kind regards 

Angie Weinberger

Definitions

Digital Nomad

Online dictionaries such as Investopedia.com or Urbandictionary.com define Digital Nomads as individuals who are independent from their location by performing their work using “new” technologies, i.e. deriving their income by working remotely. A Digital Nomad is not required to commute to the employers’ office / headquarters to be physically present, as telecommuting is their preferred way of working. The typical digital nomad can be found in a myriad of locations, including using public co-working spaces, a home office or travelling around the globe.

Permanent Establishment (PE)

According to the OECD, it is a fixed place of business through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on. The term includes a place of management: a branch, an office, a factory, a workshop, a mine, an oil or gas well, a quarry or any other place of extraction of natural resources. A building site or construction site could also be a Permanent Establishment. However, tax authorities are adapting beyond this traditional definition. Overseas contractors, International Business Travelers (IBT), warehouse space, digital activities and so on could also create a PE.

Resources 

Giving back
Working from this hotel in Dubai? A dream coming true for us digital nomads.

If you need to make a self-employment declaration and you don’t know where to start from,  you can check these resources out: 

Social Security in Switzerland

https://www.ahv-iv.ch/p/2.02.d

https://www.svazurich.ch/pdf/Checkliste_se.pdf

https://www.svazurich.ch/internet/de/home/private/arbeitssituation/selbstaendig.html

How to Develop Your Business

Here is a lot of general business advice from us. We can discuss this further. Please email Angie for a first consultation.

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/growme/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/solopreneur/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/global-entrepreneurs

World-Class Copywriting Courses

Ash Ambirge – The Middle Finger Project

Best Course on Building Digital Courses

Amy Porterfield

Best Podcast on Building a Global Expat Lifestyle

Sundae Schneider Bean

Dominic’s Advice for Swiss Compliance for Digital Nomads

https://feibv.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Dominic-Suter-MasterCourse-Human-Resources-and-Global-Mobility-Master-Paper-FINAL.pdf 

Details about the characteristics of the various Swiss work permits: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/work-permits/29191706 

More about Digital Nomads and immigration into Switzerland: https://newlandchase.com/digital-nomads-is-immigration-law-keeping-up-to-the-hype/ 

The guidelines published by the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME)

 

Other Countries

More information on the application procedure, supporting documents and the requirements to obtain a Digital Nomad visa in the countries that offer this: 

Barbados: 

https://www.fragomen.com/insights/alerts/12-month-remote-work-visa-introduced

Georgia: 

The application process is not yet up and running yet but the government is updating their website

Estonia:

https://e-resident.gov.ee/nomadvisa/ 

Thailand:

The SMART visa program is not only but also for Digital Nomads.

Bermuda:

Apply for their Work from Bermuda visa visit https://forms.gov.bm/work-from-bermuda/Apply