Friday, May 25, 2012

Why teleconferencing is not de-concentrating the population?

In my last post I wrote how you can use different conferencing tools for multi-location collaboration. It is true that modern telecommunication tools have made it possible to work at home, to work with teams in different countries and different parts of the world. So the location of jobs should become less and less relevant. This should mean that the pressure to move to the nearest growth-city would weaken in time and we should see a trend of people moving to places where nature is closer and housing cheaper. But this is not happening! Why?
We still see jobs and people moving to growth centers - to Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn, rather than Paide and Kärdla.

One explanation for this is that telecommunications and IT enables not only working from distance, but also ruling from distance. You no longer need a local office or locally adjusted services. So paradoxically the better the communications get the more economical it gets to concentrate the jobs in the capital. Or what do you think?

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to use (video)communication tools in international projects

This list of hopefully practical and useful advice is based on my personal experience of running and participating in Nordic and Baltic projects. For five months now I have been working in Sweden and have been involved in projects involving Estonian, Finnish, Polish and Swedish team-members, people who are not only in different countries, but also in different cities, offices and cultures. By now I can state from my experience that it is possible to minimize travelling and run international projects with modern telecommunication tools. It is difficult, but possible. Here are a few subjective hints. I would greatly appreciate any advice and hints for myself and other "teleworkers" in the comments!

The tools.
One should use all the communication tools there are available. For example I use the following:
- Telephone
- E-mail
- Skype (calls, videocalls, desktop sharing)
- MS Live Communicator (calls, desktop sharing)
- Cisco/Tandberg videomeeting
- Telia Telemöte phone-conferencing

Currently there is no one solution that dominates the rest so for different situations and different meetings you should use different tools. In my experience:
- Telephone and Telemöte have the best quality and reliability and should be used if video or desktop sharing is not needed and it is very important that the discussion is not blurred by breaking communication. (Critical timeframe, Information sharing for a team)
- Skype (video)conferencing is very useful for talking to someone whom you know well and want to have a longer conversation. (Face-to-face meetings, longer not nervous discussions, "How are things going" meetings.)
- Cisco/Tandberg has great quality and they are the best option for telemeetings. The downside is that the devices are expensive and there might be difficulties in booking the meetingroom where they are. You also need to be in the meetingroom to use them. (Introductions. Nervous topics. "Creating a solution" teamwork)
- Live Communicator and Skype chatting is good for operative work.

Getting it to work:
- Use a headset for your phone and never leave it at home. If you are afraid of looking weird while "talking to yourself" then visit Stockholm T-bana and see how the whole city is going around talking to themselves.
- Get a good headset for your computer. Indeed Logitech is 5 times more expensive than the cheapest option, but it is 10-100 times less expensive than travelling or getting a confusion in the project team.
- Spend time on reading the instructions, testing it and getting the calls to work.
- Getting the (video)conference to work takes time so agree with the other parties to set up the "call" 15 minutes before the planned meeting. My worst experience was a four-way videoconference that was 45 minutes setting-up and 15 minutes of meeting.
- Agree with your employer about the costs so you would not have to worry about the money. International calls are expensive, but again you should compare it to plane tickets or the project being screwed up because of mis-communication.
- Learn good english and do not be afraid to use it. If there is trouble understanding then do not give up, but change to a higher-quality tool. Like telephone or Cisco/Tandberg.
- ...and last but not least: Be firm on getting things to work without travelling and over telecommunications. It is a skill and therefore requires practice from all parties, but it is possible.

Social aspects:
 Working in multi-office and multi-country teams requires some thought on the social aspects. This is true for both separate meetings and the general relation development. Here are a few thoughts:
- When choosing the tools you should think about the dynamics of communication. For example if you have a 1-1 meeting then it is OK to do it over Skype. 4-1 is a quite different situation and for that 1 person to be included in the discussion it is important that the communication line is of the highest quality. So use professional videoconferencing and suitable rooms. For 1-1-1-1 it is again OK to use Skype, because everyone is on equal terms.
- Working in different locations means that the "coffee corner" information does not spread automatically. So you need to put an effort into that. Just call/e-mail/chat people up and ask how are things going. It is OK to do that on company time.
- Cultural, personal and organizational differences and language skills are things to consider. Swedes prefer calling, estonians and finns e-mailing. Learn and practice languages. :-)

For the employer/manager:
- Build "telephone booth" rooms in the office where people can talk over the phone without interfering with others. Rooms where you can walk during calling are especially good, because then an hour long phone-meeting is also an exercise.
- Make sure that money will not become a problem for people when using telecommunications. Your employees travelling or failure due to mis-communications is much more expensive than headsets, international calls, video-conference devices, Skype Professional etc.
- Promote the use of (video)conferencing.
- Involve the distant workers in all the conversations.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to move to Estonia Guide (for IT specialists....but for others also)

In my opinion Estonia is a good place for IT specialists to find a job and work in! Especially in the situation when the (youth) unemployment is rising and in many European countries there is no sign of it easing. I promoted the idea to the Estonian IT companies in one of my recent posts. With this post I want to give my contribution to the exchange of talent inside EU. I hope this helps at least a few people.
 This post is definitely not an official guide, but more of friendly advice. If you have any questions regarding moving or any important information that could help others then please comment this post!

 This post focuses on moving to Tallinn. Tartu, as the second biggest town in Estonia, is also an alternative with Playtech and Webmedia as the biggest IT sector employers there.

The first thing you need is a job. If you are an IT specialist with a university degree there is a good chance you can find a job in Estonia. (Even if you don't speak Estonian). Finding a job is never easy, but if you have a concrete skill - like Java developing for example - Estonia would be one of the first places where to look for work. Estonian economy is picking up a bit now and the unemployment rate is decreasing. The salary levels in IT sector are decent in European standards I would say.
 To find an IT job look at CV-online - the biggest job portal in Estonia. You can also look directly at the pages of the biggest IT employers in Estonia. These include Skype, Webmedia, Playtech, the telecoms: Elion, EMT, the banks: Swedbank, SEB, Danske Bank, LHV and others.
 You can also search for a job in an IT Startup. Estonia (the infamous #Estonianmafia) has a really active startup community with accelerators like Garage48, Wise Guys, Tehnopol and companies like GrabCad, PipeDrive, Erply, Fortumo and many, many others. Contacting someone from the accelerators or visiting a Garage48 event would be a wise thing to do if you are in need of a job and like the action oriented startup environment.
 There are also human resource companies who focus on finding the best talents for companies. These include Fontes, Manpower and Arista.

Why not found your own company? IT sttartups are a big thing in Europe and USA today so why not found your own one. Founding and running a company in Estonia is cheap and easy compared to other EU countries. To register a company go to the Company registration portal of the Justice Department. You don't need to be an Estonian resident to start a company and can do it even over the Internet with electronic authentication from some countries. You need to pay 140,6 euros registration tax (185,34 if you do it electronically)  and pay in 2500 euros as the startup capital. The latter will be your companies money so you get it back in a couple of days to your companies bank account that you have to open at one of the banks. (The main banks are SEB, Swedbank, LHV, Nordea, Danske) There is more information on founding a company at the portal.
 After founding your company it is wise to hire an accountant. For example from IMG or a freelance accountant. Search "raamatupidaja" on the internet. A good accountant will cost you approximately 50-100 euros a month and will take care of the daily accounting, the monthly reporting of taxes if necessary and the yearly report.

Income and social benefits
The salaries for IT specialists in Estonia range quite a bit. The bruto salaries range from a little under 1000 euros for technicians to over 3000 a month for experienced specialist-architect-managers. The income tax rate is 21% for everybody with some small additional taxes for pension-fund and unemployment fund. You can calculate the exact net-salary (the money you actually get) here:
 The social benefits of Estonia are not that big, except for "the mothers salary". The mothers salary means that for 18 months after the child is born the state pays one of the parents, who is at home with the child, a support equal to his or her previous salary. Other social benefits include child birth support paid by the local municipalities, the child benefit for 19 euros/m and help for unemployed and some social benefits. You can read more about them at the following pages:
- Social insurance board
- Health insurance fund
- Tallinn city social support

 Although the salary level in Estonia is less than in Scandinavia, Germany or UK then so are the costs. You might economically be even better off in Tallinn than in Stockholm or Helsinki.
 You can for example rent a 2 room appartment in the centre of Tallinn for 300 euros/month. Try Põhja-Tallinn, Mustamäe, Õismäe or Lasnamäe for cheaper options. All the rental and on sale appartments and houses can be found here at City24. (Press ENG for english there) City24 is the best portal for real estate offers in Estonia. The rent and real estate market is open and straightforward. There are practically no government appartment programs or any type of limits on rents. You pay to the owner and get the appartment. The more you are ready to pay the better appartment you can get. Bank loans for buying an appartment are relatively easy to get, although after the financial bubble banks again do look at your income and demand probably 20-30% of the value of the real estate to be paid by you. (This is a good thing!)

 There is no car tax in Estonia. So if you bring your car or want to buy one then you only need to pay the registration fee.You can find the information about registering your car or bringing it in here at Maanteeamet (Transportation authorities). Unfortunately they have translated only a part of their webpages so you need to use Google translate to get to the relevant information. Petrol costs ... well they are rising all the time. Look how much for example Neste charges today.

  Public transport is an OK option in Tallinn also. You can find information about the ticket prices here and the travel planners and maps here.

 Food is definitely cheaper in Estonia than in Finland or Sweden. I would say about 1,5-2 times. To get an overview of the prices check the offers on the biggest grocery store chains: Selver, Säästumarket, Rimi, Prisma. 0,5l beer costs about 90 eurosents.
 Tallinn is an important tourist town so there are numerous restaurants especially in the old city. Most of them are oriented on tourists and have therefore premium pricing - a glass of beer can cost 4-5 euros and a meal 20-30 euros. For everyday eating it is possible to find decent places where a meal costs 5 or less euros.

 Firstly, it must be noted that paperwork is easy if you are an EU citizen and difficult if you are not. All the initial paperwork: residency permit, working permit (not necessary for EU citizens), personal code, ID-documents are handled by the Police and Bordercontrol authorities. So start out by going to their webpages here. There you can also find the contact information where to write an E-mail or call and explain your situation and ask for instructions. Probably you can get service also in English and certainly in Russian - don't be scared just call them and see what happens. :-)
 I strongly suggest getting yourself also an ID-card and an ID-card reader for your computer. This will help you a lot with all the business - starting from online banking, tax declaration to buying a prescription medicine. The ID-card and other documents are also handled by the police.
 Health insurance in Estonia is public and is handled by the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa). If you get a job then it is your employers task to insure you and you don't need to do much for that.
 If you move to Tallinn then it is wise to register yourself also as a resident of Tallinn. This will give you some benefits like cheaper public transport. This is also a prerequisite if you want to put your children to kindergarten or school in Tallinn.

Vacation, work legislation and social security.
 The standard vacation in Estonia is 28 days a year. It is more than US, but less than in most of European countries. Estonia has less free days than most European countries. You can find a calendar public holidays here.
 The unions do not have much power in Estonia. Therefore most of the rules of your work-relation are governed by the laws and by your work-contract. This means that the work-contract is an important document and you should read it carefully. It is also relatively easy to lay off people in Estonia so the job market is dynamic. Thanks to that companies are also not afraid to hire people and permanent contracts are much more common than temporary ones. Usually there is a 4 months trial period in the beginning of a job relation. Overall the Estonian jobmarket is open and straightforward. The laws protect the employee and in the IT sector the companies are fare. You don't need to be scared and especially careful, but do ask the employer to explain you all the terms.
 One problem I personally would note here is that if you get sick then usually you don't get compensated for the first 3 days of sickleave. This means 3/21 of your monthly salary. This is a topic that you should discuss with your employer. For example many IT companies allow you to work from home so if you get a flu you don't need to go bankrupt. I personally have also kept a few vacation days just in case to be used when I get sick.

People and habits
Roughly 2/3 of the inhabitants of Estonia are estonian and the rest are mostly russian. The immigration to Estonia since 1990 has been smallish so the ethnic diversity is not that big compared to other European capitals. Sushi and kebab in Tallinn's restaurants are made by Estonians or Russians. :-) Here are some random facts about culture and habits. As always these things are very relative and do not take them very seriously:
- In official situations you should approach people by using the multiple form. Like Sie in German not Du.
- Using titles like mister, miss etc. is not common.
- Equality between genders is a work in progress in Estonia. This also means that as a gentlemen you must open the door and let the lady's in first.
- drinking is not a tabu. Like all the northen nations Estonians drink as much as the French, but focus it all on one day in a week :-)
- E-mail is an important communication method. Estonians do not like to call, they e-mail and use the e-service. This means also that "not answering" to e-mails (in a couple of days) is considered unpolite. You should read your e-mail and can also trust that other Estonians read the mail you sent.
...please feel free to add important habits a foreigner must know to the comments. As a native Estonian it is a bit hard for me to detect them.

Kindergartens and schools
This might be a tricky part when moving so you should put some effort into it. Things might work out fine easily or they might take some time. First you must decide what language your children should study in.

...if it is English
- The international kindergarten is one of the options, but ask them how much does it cost and if they have vacancies.
- The International School of Estonia is an IB School and provides education in English for all ages. It is a private school and therefore has tuition fees. See their pages for more information.
- Audentes private school has an IB diploma program in English. You can find out more about it and other Audentes's programs here. Audentes is a private school so studying there costs, see their webpage for exact prices.
- Tallinn English Colledge will open classes teaching in english in the year 2012/2013. Ask them about possibilities to send your kid there. This is also not free and it might be a challenge to find a place there.
- High-school/grammar school equivalent at EBS.

...if anyone knows any other alternatives for English education then please write in comments.

...if it is Estonian or Russian
Municipal (free) kindergartens and schools teach children in Estonian or Russian. The best advice here is to find a kindergarten or school closer to where you live. Contact the chosen establishment directly or ask advice from the Tallinn Education Department (Tallinna Haridusamet). Here is a list of Tallinn's educational establishments. There is a lack of kindergarten places in some areas of Tallinn - especially the center, Nõmme and Pirita. There should not be any problems in finding a place at a school if you don't want to go for the "elite schools". There are 4-6 schools in Tallinn where all the parents want to put their children. These are The English College, Reaalkool, French lyceum, Gustav Adolf College, Tallinn 21 school and Westholm Gymnasium. These schools are considered to be better than the others and in 2011 there were 21 (yes, twenty-one) children applying for one vacancy in the English College and others. The 6-7 year olds take tests that decide who are the lucky ones.

...if it is Finnish
Then there is a Finnish school in Tallinn that you can choose.

..other alternatives
If you and your children are used to a more personal approach and Scandinavian "free upbringing" then I suggest looking at Waldorf schools as an option. I myself and my children have experienced both Finnish/Swedish schools and Estonian education and I would say it is easy to go from Estonia to Scandinavia, but demands some discipline to go vice versa. It is nothing serious, but the habits are a bit different. Therefore you can consider Waldorf School as an option. It is not free, but also not that expensive and maybe your children might get help with language there also.

University degrees
There are many possibilities to learn higher education in English in Estonia. The main universities providing education both in Estonian and English are:
- University of Tartu (They also have a course for IT Product and Business development tought in Tallinn)
- Tallinn Technical University
- Tallinn University
- Estonian Business School
- ...and others

You can manage in Estonia by using English. However if you plan to stay for a longer period it would be good to at least try to learn some Estonian. It is possible. :-) Although in the beginning might seem difficult. Estonian is only similar to Finnish and has very little similarities with anglic or slavic languages.
 Russian is spoken by 1/3 of the population so knowing or learning russian does help you to get along with many people. However in official and work situations russian is rarely used and unfortunately the young estonians do not often speak russian.
 Many Estonians speak....well understand at least... finnish. And in the Old Town of Tallinn you can pretty much get a meal in any language.