Celebrating three years of our Varna office

This August saw the celebration of the third year of our presence in Varna, Bulgaria. Back in 2016, we started the process of setting up an office in a city and a country that was previously unknown to us. As talent in our industry is sometimes hard to find, we knew we had to look beyond our traditional home markets of the UK and the Nordic countries to continue our growth.

Varna became an obvious choice after our initial visit. This Black Sea resort is popular with tourists in the summer, but dies down somewhat in the winter. It’s brimming with a local, young and motivated workforce, but it’s not so large as to feel impersonal. It struck a good balance for us as a company.

Anu Carnegie-BrownWe’d heard success stories from another UK-based language service provider who’d set up shop in Varna, and this partnership was crucial in the early days. STP’s Managing Director, Anu Carnegie Brown, says: “We saw that they’d built a successful branch there, and they certainly seemed to have great team spirit and staff morale. In fact they helped us immensely to get started.”

Our expansion into Bulgaria represented a turning point in STP’s history. Until then, we’d only ever had a physical presence in the UK or the Nordic countries. As our no-nonsense culture is a crucial part of our DNA, we were worried about how that would come over in a new country. What we found was that our Bulgarian colleagues shared our open, purposeful communication style, which has long been a defining feature of STP and a key to its success.

Anu concludes, “What a journey it’s been: a steep learning curve with exponential team growth, plenty of trial and error from the management team and heroic personal contributions from our Bulgarian colleagues who joined us at the start. I remember going to Varna in March 2016 to interview the first PM applicants, and I see what a long way we’ve come already. We have a thriving PM team as well as HR, admin and tech staff in Varna. These are motivated, smart people, who get the STP ethos, our work ethic and our Nordic casual dress code.”

Employee office exchange

With just under half of our employees working remotely and the rest spread across our offices in the UK, Sweden and Bulgaria, we think it’s vital to try and find ways for our employees to form relationships with each other and gain an understanding of their colleagues’ work – no matter where they’re based.

One of the ways we try and foster internal connections is to offer our staff the chance to go and work in our Varna office for a week at a time. With the bulk of our project managers based in this location, many of our translators and UK-based employees will never have met their Bulgarian colleagues in person.

Turning what can be impersonal digital relationships into friendly, personal ones through face-to-face meetings improves colleagues’ mutual respect, understanding of their roles and responsibilities, and means we get to know each other better as people, rather than just workmates.

Anna LenartowksaAnna Lenartowska is one of our remote project managers, based in Devon. She recently went to work in Bulgaria for a week, and greatly enjoyed the experience: “Spending a week in the Varna office was a lot of fun. Working remotely full time, it’s very easy to get stuck in a bubble of your own small team and certain way of doing stuff.”

Anna got to know her fellow project managers in person and learned new ways of working too: “Spending time with other teams not only allowed me to finally put faces to the names, but also pick up some new tips and tricks.”

Another plus was the chance to share her knowledge and experience. Anna continues, “I also spent some time shadowing junior PMs, offering advice on things that may be obvious to more experienced PMs but not necessarily to newbies, such as translator selection, CAT tool troubleshooting, etc.”

Of course, a trip to the resort town of Varna wasn’t all about the work – there were some secondary benefits for the soul to boot: “It was also really nice to enjoy some proper summer weather for a bit!” Anna concludes.

About Sandberg, Company news, Icebreaker September 2019