In March 2023, the entire Voys South Africa crew decamped to the coolest tech city you’ve never heard of, aka Groningen in the Netherlands, to spend a week with our Dutch colleagues at the global Voys HQ.
It was a tremendously rewarding experience in every respect: professionally, socially, culturally and technologically, we all returned with our over-stimulated hearts and minds brimming with inspiration.
However, it was still business as usual. While in Groningen, we proved that, with a peerless business telephony platform like Freedom from Voys, you can be 13,000 kilometres away from your office and still speak to your customers in Mzansi as if you were right around the corner.
What began as a single word – “Voystival” – rapidly took on a life of its own.
As the ambitious plan to gather the global Voys team took shape, home affairs and visa application bureaux suddenly became urgent ports of call as all the admin and bureaucracy required of international travel kicked into high gear. The Slack channel #temp_voyssa_amsterdam-trip broke several laws of physics as it was updated faster than Eskom can announce new levels of loadshedding.
Since its founding in the Netherlands in 2006, Voys has grown and expanded to include many colleagues in many countries and many divisions, many of whom have only seen each other on a screen, or not at all. Furthermore, in 2023 Voys Netherlands celebrated its seventeenth birthday and Voys South Africa its tenth, so the decision to gather everyone under one big Voys umbrella practically made itself.
But this wasn’t one of those Silicon Valley ayahuasca retreats where everyone takes hallucinogenics to discover their spirit animals. At 7am on Monday March 13 we woke up and went to work. Except we weren’t in Cape Town, South Africa but Groningen, the Netherlands. And it wasn’t a balmy 26℃ but 0℃. And raining. And we didn’t drive to work. We walked.
Walking to work in the cold, wet dark was a slight culture shock for the South African delegation. However, no matter how much our marrow was chilled, it was quickly aglow once more upon being wrapped in the overwhelming warmth of our hosts.
When encountering people in real life with whom you have only engaged via pixels on a screen for the past few years, you might expect a moment of unreality. Yet, whatever momentary disconnect there might have been was instantly evaporated by the energy and excitement generated by being together in the flesh.
From a vocational perspective it also proved tremendously valuable. Linda, Voys SA tech trouble-shooter, made the most of the opportunity. “You can simply walk up to colleagues and discuss work issues without having to schedule meetings,” enthused the trained engineer and soon-to-be-certified IT geek who delighted in lifting the hood and seeing the engine in action.
It was essentially an intensive one-week workshop.Linda
“So many people in the same room are working on so many different things,” she recalls. “And they’re all happy to show you. I had so many ‘a-ha’ moments. Whether it was people working on front-end website development or software development, I was truly inspired and challenged by everything that I saw.”
One element of the experience that made a lasting impression upon all of us was that, as Linda put it, “the office was forever buzzing”. That it most certainly was. The phrase “hive of activity” doesn’t even begin to do justice to the ceaseless wave of professional, social and recreational activity that engulfed us. As Linda says, “it was essentially an intensive one-week workshop.”
For customer experience expert Krisanne, a major highlight was the mutual immersion of the South African and Dutch cultures. “Hybrid working makes us focus on the mechanical nature of our roles whereas working side-by-side made us see each other as people. As much as I appreciated the Dutch culture, it was so exciting to see our hosts reciprocate this by appreciating our culture. It was a fast-paced two-way street – they loved our gees as much as we loved theirs and I was left with the lasting impression that we are one company. The diversity and difference among us is so energising but transcending it all was the abiding feeling that we are all lekker mense.”
Natalie, the official Mama Bear of Voys SA, echoed this sentiment. “The whole experience left me feeling that these are my people. The passion and enthusiasm with which everyone showed up created a profound and lasting impact in terms of drawing us closer and creating a common company culture,” she says. “And, as much as I enjoyed the bitterballe and eierballe, my hosts loved the bobotie and biryani I made, so the flag of South African cuisine is flying high in Groningen.”
Something else we all noticed is how fit living in a Dutch city makes you as the primary modes of transport are by foot or by bicycle. And even by boat: like many historic cities in the Netherlands, Groningen is designed around a latticework of canals, with several of our Dutch colleagues swapping their apartments for the boat life. After an intensely edifying two-hour walking tour of the thousand-year-old city, we were all exhausted and only too happy to flop into the excellent Lebanese restaurant Semsom and gorge ourselves on exquisite Middle Eastern streetfood.
We are all lekker mense.Krisanne
This too reflected the astonishing hospitality of our hosts. As Shihaam, our own Miss Moneypenny, said: “It warmed my heart and truly embodied the Voys values that our colleagues went the extra mile to accommodate my dietary needs and requirements. From (Voys founder) Mark specially selecting a Lebanese restaurant to a floor-to-ceiling fridge of halaal food in the company restaurant just for me – that level of mindfulness just blew me away.”
As Helen, Voys SA’s wellness champion and customer success sharpshooter, said: “The whole undertaking was also tremendously valuable from a basic business point of view. We were literally experiencing what we sell. Our message to customers is always: ‘Liberate your business and determine your optimal availability with the best comprehensive VoIP PABX in the country’. Well, the proof of the pudding was certainly in the eating: we’re a business located in Cape Town, South Africa, yet we seamlessly maintained crystal clear comms with our Mzansi customers throughout our time in the Netherlands.”
That’s precisely why the Voys business cloud telephony solution is called “Freedom”. The idea of an office being hundreds of tons of cement and bricks rooted to a fixed physical address is a thing of the past. Today’s office, thanks to the harnessing of VoIP technology, is geographically agnostic. It is now a fluid, flexible and mobile operational base station that moves with you.
Your office is wherever you want it to be.
Whether on app, webphone or softphone, with a decent internet connection you’ve just made wherever you are your HQ. If you’ve just finished a late morning dive in the Maldives and have a video meeting with your customer in Cape Town, no problem. With Freedom, your office is wherever you lay your snorkel.
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