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A visibly clearer, cleaner Beijing – no more stingy eyes or respirating!

Hi all!

Today, a brief interlude to my ongoing lux-adventure-tourism series – from Beijing! I was there the other week, and came over all nostalgic since I hadn’t been there since… September 2019 – nearly four years ago!…

The first thing I noticed was that the Chinese capital had freshened up: the air quality seemed much better – so much so that you can walk the streets without a respirator. And the photos taken from my hotel room (almost) showed the distant horizon! ->

In the past, the smog would get so bad that buildings just a few kilometers away couldn’t be made out. Here’s proof!

Read on: A visibly clearer, cleaner Beijing – no more stingy eyes or respirating!

Sao Paulo: our office on a Brazil World-Cup match day!

My series of posts from both the Egyptian and Jordanian sides turned out to last longer than the trips themselves! As a result, there’s been a delay in my starting a new series from a different continent, which took place as far back as late November. And that continent is… South America. And the countries? Brazil and Chile!…

// Perhaps I should stop writing a sentence like the next one in my posts, as what it describes seems to go without saying for every business trip! The work portion of the trip was busy bust-a-gut intense! That is – lots of: meetings, presentations, speeches, interviews, new acquaintances, hand-shakes, and a lot more besides! Perhaps I need to also stop writing sentences like this one: After the work was all done, it was time for some rest-and-relaxation/tourism time – of both a quantity and tempo of similarly bust-a-gut intensity!… So in future, perhaps I’ll just link back to this blogpost and avoid the repetition! No that won’t work; I’ll just try and be briefer somehow…

But before that “tourism till you drop”, a quick breather: some intro-photos and a few intro-words too…

I’ll start, logically, from the beginning: with the flight. Flying from Moscow to Brazil these days takes about as long as it does from Moscow to Australia (Sydney) – 19 hours up in the air – which is four hours longer than what it used to take. Before, for example, the first leg of the journey was Moscow to Paris (3.5 hours), and the second: Paris to Sao Paulo (+11 hours) = 15 hours. Now it’s 5 hours – to Doha – then +14 hours to Sao Paulo, which makes 19 hours.

But it is what it is. We just have to get used to living in the new geopolitical-transportational reality.

Read on…

Red Karpet, naturally, for Grandmaster Karpov.

Greetings folks!

It’s been a while, I know. My last dispatch was the one on our B-day bash mid-July! How time flies when you’re having summer fun…

The main reason I’ve been quiet of late was my month-long summer expedition to my favorite part of Russia – Kamchatka. As per tradition, I’ve plenty to tell – and show (in hi-res photos) – from that adventure, which is coming up soon in a series of travelogue-blogposts.

But, before I could even begin editing my pics and putting fingers to keyboard for the Kamchatka-2021 write-up – in fact, while still in ‘deep decompression’ mode after the month of euphoric exhilaration on the expedition – as soon as I was back home (as if to help with my decompression attempts) we were honored to be visited by a very special guest to HQ. And I mean really special. Yes, none other than former world champion chess player Anatoly Evgenyevich Karpov dropped by!

Yes – really! That Anatoly Karpov – the legendary Soviet-Russian three-times world champion, three-times FIDE champion, international grandmaster with scores of honors and awards to his name!

As already stated in the title – the red carpet was (just in case: literally:) rolled out, which we reserve for visiting ministers and other dignitaries, and, now, world-champ grandmeisters! ->

Read on…

Easing back to (a new) normal.

We’d just started getting used to – even comfortable with – working from home every day and to ‘social’ distancing (wouldn’t ‘physical’ distancing have been a better term?:). Our partner conferences and other events had only just got back up to pre-lockdown scale in terms of the number of folks taking part – albeit online. I’d just gotten used to 10/15/20 kilometers of running of a morning before breakfast. In short, everything was going in one direction. But then the other day, out of the blue, suddenly things seemed to slam into reverse when I was asked, via the good K folks in our PR department, to do an interview – ‘on camera, in the office – tomorrow please!’. Well, well. All righty!…

Indeed, it looks like were heading back, slowly, to ~normality, despite the masks and sanitizer, after months without normal daily social interaction in person. Part of me thinks: ‘Good’ – let’s get back to work‘ (a fave phrase of mine). Another part of me recalls: ‘But, we have been working – as normal – throughout the whole of lockdown!’. Still, I do miss the office – seeing people, being among people, talking to people in person, as I’m sure many do, despite some of the upsides to working from home which surprisingly became apparent.

Anyway, the other day, I gave my first physically face-to-face interview in over three months. It was about one of our (cloud-related) business partnerships. Hmm – actually, it wasn’t quite ‘face-to-face’; it was ‘mask-to-mask’ – for practically the whole film crew and interviewer, of course, were masked up. I suggested to them that I join in and put one on, but they didn’t fancy that idea much. Still, as you can see, the ‘social distancing’ (even ‘distant socializing’ might be a better phrase:) rules were strictly followed.

Read on…

Empty, but with a heart that’s still beating.

It’s been a month now since my last flight – Sydney-Doha-Moscow – after my travel companion, OA, and I completed our drive around Tasmania. Since we’d been traveling far and wide, we hunkered down for a two-week self-isolation stint as per recommendations at the time. But before those two weeks were up, as you all know, full-on lockdown kicked-in. Ouch!

As I’ve already mentioned on this blog, by early April practically our whole company switched to working remotely. Everyone at home working at full-speed-ahead with the help of the cutting edge technology. Incredible really. Even more incredible: it turns out that, according to a report on our usage of corporate video-conferencing tech, we’ve been having ~2,500 online meetings every day!

But just recently I needed to get myself to the office (taking all the necessary distancing and hygiene precautions, of course). I needed to be there in person for something: alas, not everything can be done remotely it seems (but perhaps it will soon if things carry on like they are now for much longer). Anyway, after completing the few formalities that needed to be done, I decided to have a stroll around the office. I was planning on all floors of all three buildings. But I only managed a few floors of building 2 before things got too repetitive – there was absolutely no one anywhere. Empty. Bare Vacant. Desolate. 45,000 square meters of office space deserted!…

It was all a bit eerie really. As if everyone had just gotten up and left without taking anything with them. And you can read into the ‘signs’ left as much as you like and how you like: whatever you seek, be it post-apocalyptical hints or romantic connotations – you’ll find it! Me personally I rather thought of the thousands of K-folks efficiently working from home remotely, safely – thank goodness.

Read on…

All in the same boat – staying remote.

Hi folks!

You’ll know how I normally write here about fun stuff like far-away travel, but today I think I really do need to touch on a business topic. Not doing so would be like… not noticing the huge (green) elephant in the room. And we don’t want any of that…

Here’s what I mean:

The company that coincidentally has the same name as moi is now working almost completely remotely. Not that this affects anything negatively: all processes are functioning fine as usual, we’re still going after – and catching – the cyber-scum, our products all over the globe on home computers and at businesses are providing protection round-the-clock as always, and updates are being sent out as regularly as ever. In other words – it’s business as usual, only… with a difference ).

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting things to go as smoothly as they have. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the 4000+ of our K-folks all around the world were able to swiftly and painlessly switch from office-based working to home-based, and carry on with all their job duties without any loss of productivity with increased productivity. So, to all our K’ers – but especially our IT, R&D, and HR folks – major kudos + applause standing ovation!

Of course, there were – and still are – a few difficulties here and there, mostly of a psychological nature: our guys and girls getting used to working remotely. Not everyone has been able to move to this unusual working format easily. Working from home every day (if never/rarely done before) means totally new daily routines and planning that require a certain acclimatization period – especially if at home there are children and/or pets (actually, being at home alone every single day I’m sure also takes some getting used to). Faced with these trickinesses, we’ve been sharing accumulated experiences and lifehacks on how to manage better given the new reality on our blogs. Have a look there: practically every day there are new interesting, useful and unexpected must-read posts.

You may ask how I am getting along with this ‘new’ remote working thing.

Well, actually, it’s nothing new to me. I’ve been working remotely for the last 15 years almost as much as I’ve been in the office, since nearly half of my working year is spent on business trips. What is new to me is certain technical wizardry that makes ‘telecommuting’ a lot more convenient and interesting; for example – video conferencing. I never bothered with it before as there was always the possibility of meeting with customers, partners, journalists, ministers, rock stars, and so on in person. So, at least that’s one positive, for me at least, to come out of this dreadful virus-and-lockdown situation. I’ve now started taking part in the weekly live online broadcasts given by our senior management in which we update all the K-folks about the developing situation and answer their questions. Just last week I took part in two such online broadcasts:

So yes: all in all everything’s ok. The crossover to the new daily reality has been completed. Well done everyone!

Wishing you all the robustest of health, here’s hoping you continue to act wisely given the current extraordinary, unprecedented situation, and to use your time in isolation at home as best you can: time to dust off those projects on the rainy-day shelf and get on with them!…

PS: This post is part of the crypto-quest across my social media accounts. What? Well, this is just a teaser; I won’t say more. Ok, I will say more – but just two words: shamir secret. Come on then – on with the quest!…

K FR = 15!

The celebrations to mark the 15th anniversary of our French office in Paris were lots of fun! But we start this story with a picture of the birthday cake from the 10th anniversary of our French office:

Why? To jog the memory – by going through my archives and photos I recalled all sorts of various stories. Like this hilarious one, which is probably hard to believe now. This is what happened.

It was back in the days when online banking was just getting started and serious cybercrime was only beginning to raise its ugly head; when people still had push-button Nokias and Sony Ericssons in their pockets and plane tickets were printed on paper (long sheets stitched together). It was November 2002, and me and a group of like-minded folks were about to head off to an important event in the Cote d’Azur area of France. It was late afternoon on Friday and we were due to fly on the Monday… Suddenly a letter falls into my box. // When an owl delivers a message it always means unexpected or sudden changes to plans, you know.

The letter contained a proposal for cooperation from the former director of one of our esteemed competitors. It turned out that this competitor of ours had rather blatantly broken their promises and basically dumped their local director who had built up their business in France. And, well, this director was now offering to go down the same path all over again and start a business with us.

It was a bit of a surprise to say the least! Fate doesn’t dish out opportunities like that very often. And we were already heading to France anyway! We absolutely had to meet! But to do so, we had to stay in Paris for an extra day and change our return tickets.

Nowadays you can change planes or hotels as much as you like, whenever you like. But back then it was a very different story because no one worked on weekends. The airline tickets had to be changed physically, not just in the database. Of course, it was all quite doable – you just had to go to an airlines office. And there just happened to be one on the way – we were flying via Paris and then onwards to Nice. And so, sometime in the middle of the day I arrived at the airline’s office on the Champs-Elysées. I got there literally 10-15 minutes before the lunch break(!) – yes, yes, then – and to this day – it was/is customary in France to close for lunch.

Lunch is sacred! Nobody in the office wanted to mess about with customers right before their break. They frowned a bit, but after realizing that I wasn’t going to leave and wait outside, they took my passport, credit card (I had to pay extra), tapped a few buttons on the keyboard and gave me a new ticket. I didn’t look too closely at the ticket (unfortunately), immediately jumped in a taxi and zoomed off to the station, because my Paris-Nice train was already panting and whistling and raring to go.

After that it was all business and press stuff. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there were a few of us. For example, my good old travelling buddy D.Z. was with us, and the former director of my company, my namesake N.K., all flew to the event. For some reason (I don’t remember why) we flew together, but then she flew somewhere else, and I went to the coast by train.

We got everything done that we needed to, all the meetings were successful, I was flying home in the morning, and N.K. had some other things to do and decided to take another flight later that day. I arrived at the airport check-in desk and handed over my passport and ticket. The employee at the desk read everything very attentively, then looked up at me and asked in surprise: “Natalya?”

Oops… – I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t a coincidence. I called N.K. and her ticket was correct – in her own name. Turns out those Mayan drummers at the Paris office had hurriedly (almost lunchtime!) printed off a ticket for me using N.K.’s name. I was in such a hurry to catch my train that I failed to notice the mistake.

It all ended well though. There was a bit of fussing around, some conferring and they eventually agreed it was their fault – and led me by the hand to the plane with a “dodgy” ticket. I’ve no idea how much fainting and confusion there was in our accounting department when they had to account for two “Natalyas” flying from Paris to Moscow just a few hours apart.

That’s just one of the many stories.

Read on…