Dare to Explore! Experience: Towards The Same Goal, Beyond The Time Difference

I am Hiromi Waragai, a student doing the Bachelor’s program in Forest Science at Hokkaido University in Japan. Since the beginning of February, I have been working as a Dare to Explore! trainee remotely at International Union of Forest Research Organizations headquarters (IUFRO HQ) in Vienna, Austria. My experience with them has been incredible.

This year’s traineeship is special in that the trainees are working remotely because of the restrictions caused by COVID-19. Which for me means working with a time difference of eight hours (seven hours in April). In this blog, I would like to describe what being a full-time trainee with a considerable time difference is like.

Junaid (South Africa), Janice (Austria) and Hiromi (Japan) in a remote meeting across time zones.

My main duties at IUFRO HQ are currently background research for Global Forest Experts Panels, creating communication plans for World Wood Day and The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and preparing a poster for Forests in Women’s Hands Conference. I also have meetings to update my progress in the duties, to receive feedback from the staff, and to have meetings to find out more about IUFRO and every employee. When I join meetings, they are usually set between 17:00 and 20:00 in my time zone, which is morning hours in Vienna. Therefore, I can feel the bright sunshine even in the evening. When starting a meeting, staff say “good evening” instead of “good morning” to me, which makes me feel welcomed. Truth be told, I am surprised that a simple greeting can create such a reliever positive atmosphere. Also, the co-workers’ kindness enables me to work comfortably. The employee who mainly takes care of trainees informed all the other employees of me being based in the Far East, and they always take it into consideration when working with me. However, when there are deadlines coming up soon, I sometimes work until the midnight or later than that. It is a little bit hard when I have plans in the next day’s morning; therefore, I try to get my work done well before the due date or prioritize particularly important tasks when I am busy.

Regarding my working hours, it is considerably flexible in that some of the duties may be done by myself. This is actually very convenient to me because I can work in Japan working hours as well. Yet, I try to stay online in Vienna working hours as much as possible so I can check feedbacks and updates from the staff and start revising my work when needed. Also, I try to keep my work schedule as regular as possible in order to focus on my work. This has actually changed my mindset towards work; regularity is different from being not flexible in schedule and keeps me motivated and focused especially when I work by myself at home. I am sure that this lesson will be useful in the future as well.

Another thing to mention about long-distance work is that having a good relationship with colleagues is incredibly helpful. IUFRO HQ has another trainee at the same time with me and I often communicate with him online. We can ask each other for help without hesitation even when we are not very sure about something small but related to the work. Even with differences in time zones and schedules, virtual communication allows us to leave massages to each other any time we wish to, which is very convenient. In addition, good relationships help me learn more about co-workers and stay inspired and motivated.

To summarize, I am very satisfied with my work environment in the sense of the warm atmosphere, the flexibility in working hours, opportunities to learn how to stay focused, and having great colleagues.