Office life, but not quite as I knew it

At the end of a strange week with a public holiday in the middle of it (which would never happen in the UK!), I think the time has come to write about work – what’s the same as I’m used to, what’s different and what I put down to the change of company versus country.

On the face of it, a lot is the same. I’m still a commercial-focussed transport consultancy for a market-leading company working on high-profile projects in a major world city. I work in a team of smart, switched-on, interesting people in a fun, friendly and non-hierarchical environment, and I enjoy a beer with them as much as working with them. This is a blessing and a relief, having come from a company and team where the culture was fantastic, which made it a real wrench to leave. I expected the smart, but wondered if the fun side was too much to ask in the “Big 4” (four biggest worldwide professional services firms: EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte), but delighted to report not – or at least not in our Infrastructure Advisory team.

But there are definitely differences, and challenges. There would be some anywhere after eight years in one place where I’d become very established and a go-to person for various things. We have a slightly different role on projects than my previous company, the transport market is very different here, and probably the hardest thing is moving to a new market where I don’t have any client contacts or track record, especially at a senior-ish level. That means it’s taken me a while to have much chargeable work to do, and I’ve either been super quiet or super busy with bids/proposals with very little in between. But that’s changing now, which I’m pleased about.

Joining a big (and I mean really big – think a couple of hundred thousand people worldwide) company has pros and cons. There are a zillion IT systems that you’d think would talk to each other but don’t, a faffy “raise a ticket” requirement to get any IT support (and the request goes via a team in India) rather than phoning a guy you know by name and personality, many somewhat tedious mandatory web learning courses for new starters – some relevant, some not so much – and strict rules around what I can invest in as we are also an audit firm. But on the plus side, I work in a seriously swanky building overlooking the harbour, where the lift to the 17th floor is automatically called for me when I swipe in, there’s a subsidised and decent staff café, and if hosting a meeting on the client floors (with a really amazing harbour view), I can push a button for someone to come and take an order for barista-standard coffee. Hotdesking has taken some getting used to, but it’s made me a lot tidier and ruthless throwing paperwork away and helped me get to know more people, and given an incentive to get into the office earlier. I have a favourite spot at a height-adjustable desk (so I can spend part of the day standing) in a corner with a view of the Opera House. Not bad!

As for the Australian differences, I think being here makes the atmosphere slightly more relaxed. Put it this way, I’m still not used to the prolific use of “mate” to address colleagues, let alone very senior ones. People work hard – very hard it when it’s called for, and there will always be times in consultancy when it is – but the office definitely clears out earlier than I’m used to. On average maybe we start earlier here too, but not by much. I was interested to see my contracted hours start at 8.45 not 9am, and finish at 5.15. The worst thing about working in Australia? Definitely the annual leave provisions – 20 days a year is categorically not enough, especially as I have to take seven of them when the office shuts down over Christmas. Thankfully, I can buy leave twice a year and I certainly plan to!

The other things I miss, I don’t know if they are functions of Australia or the Big 4. They are the really serious things – no tea rounds (each for him/herself) and no tradition of people bringing in cakes on their birthday!

The verdict? So far, so good. But in particular I’m very glad to be experiencing something new and slightly different – albeit not overwhelmingly so. And it would only have got harder to adapt had I left it any longer. And, most importantly, I’ve entirely landed on my feet in the team I’ve joined – which is just as well as I’m not going anywhere any time soon!

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