26 May 2023

Celebrating people: how Exness culture days came to be

A cool Cyprus evening is filled with the sounds of friendly chatter and grills sizzling, spreading mouthwatering smells as people turn their heads and inhale in anticipation. It’s Smoky Thursday—a long-running Greek and Cypriot tradition that marks the beginning of many carnival events to come, and Exness is all-in on the celebration.

It’s not just a regular corporate get-together or teambuilding event though. Along with hearty meals, the attendants share the local culture with foreigners who have made Cyprus their new home after joining the Exness team.

These celebrations are important to life at Exness, and we have a team – led by Julia Bychkovska, Exness Engagement & Culture Lead – that is responsible for highlighting the company’s rich cultural diversity and making it a source of both knowledge and fun for all employees.

This kind of diversity calls for celebration, not just through admiring the numbers, but by providing our employees with an understanding of the multitude of cultures their colleagues represent, resulting in better cooperation at work and beyond."

Julia Bychkovska Engagement & Culture Lead

A world united

Part of human nature involves sticking to what you know and joining like-minded groups, which are most commonly defined by country of origin, common culture, or language.

But talent has no ethnicity, dedication holds no traditions, and expertise isn’t written in a passport. When your aim is to find the best professionals within their respective industries, you are guaranteed to end up with a very diverse team. In the case of Exness, as of May 2023, we have 88 different nationalities working hand-in-hand on building the best service in the online trading business. For us, this variety of perspectives from all around the world is a superpower – one that we use to build a better product with a better community.

In order to truly feel like a part of one big team, we wanted to highlight the unique aspects of each and every culture in the company—not just within the representatives of said culture, but for every Exnessian."

This kind of diversity calls for celebration not just through admiring the sheer numbers, but by providing our employees with an understanding of the multitude of cultures their colleagues represent, and by teaching them the unique approaches to communication in each culture, resulting in better cooperation at work and beyond. 

With so many, however, it would take years to provide everyone the spotlight they deserve. So we took the experimental approach and decided to try something new. We focused on each region where Exness has an office or a hub, embarking on a creative journey that turned out to be as diverse as our employees’ cultures.

Celebrating Latin America

The seeds of our big Cultural Diversity project were initially sown by our New Markets Business division, which designed and launched an Intercultural Campaign to introduce their new regional teams to colleagues in Cyprus. 

To establish friendly cooperation through understanding, the organizers put an emphasis on the importance of intercultural connections with an almost 3 weeks-long informational campaign involving plenty of educational materials about LATAM region economics, culture, and life. The natural curiosity towards their remote colleagues’ livelihood kept the participants engaged and curious throughout the campaign, and warmed them up for the cherry on top: a Latino-themed rooftop party with traditional music, dances, and cuisine.

The positive energy generated that day didn’t vanish into thin air, but got picked up by the Engagement & Culture team and became the driving force behind the idea of company Culture Days.

Celebrating Middle East and North Africa

If we wanted our Culture Week project debut to turn heads, we couldn’t just spin the globe and pick a spot at random. It had to be a region with broad representation among Exness employees, yet alien and even mysterious to others in the company.

The MENA region includes 20 countries, with 15 of them being the homeland of our fellow Exnessians, making it a great thematic choice to kick off our first official Culture Week.

This time though we decided to go beyond the traditional meet and greet and interesting facts. To host a knowledge session on ‘Exploring the culture of the Middle East’, we invited Cheryl Obal - an external Culture and Communication Training Specialist for Saudi Arabia, UAE, Italy, India, Korea, and USA cultures. This allowed the participants to get a deep dive into the different cultural approaches to communication and discover unique traits of high- and low-context cultures and how to approach each. Our MENA employees also joined the session, providing context to the topics at hand by giving real-life examples.

This was spiced up with a “1001 nights” Cyprus office party where people got to apply their newly gained knowledge through casual and fun live interaction with MENA colleagues.

Celebrating Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa is vast, and we couldn’t continue our journey without exploring the beautiful southern part of the continent, rich with its own cultures and traditions, which we were inspired to highlight in new ways.

Our guide on this trip was Yobdar Bakri, an external expert and Intercultural Consultant who took on the tough challenge of introducing Exnessians to the multitude of South African cultures and their unique communication styles.

Despite the positive reception of educational materials, we felt that some employees didn’t fully engage with external speakers—regardless of how many interesting facts were thrown in. This was where we decided to shift our approach and found the solution almost at arm’s reach—or at least as far as it took us to reach out to our own African colleagues and get them involved in the Sub-Saharan African Culture week.

The hour-long presentation made way for a simpler, more fun and engaging Open Talk activity. Since any acquaintance starts with a greeting, we had our volunteers dress up in their traditional apparel and teach the participants to say ‘Hello’ in different African languages. 

From ‘Sawubona’ in Zulu to ‘Amchou afe’ in Waddai, the participants learned over 50 simple phrases across 10 South African languages—more than enough to break the ice."

Such a simple concept naturally evolved into a dynamic conversation with the panelists, who happily went deeper into detail about their homelands’ traditions and cultures. Sharing this information with colleagues they’ve seen or interacted with, even if virtually, gave the whole event a much cozier vibe that everyone involved appreciated.

The party format evolved as well, becoming more interactive. It’s one thing to hear about the culture and a whole other to experience it. And we did our best to provide this opportunity in some of our offices, with various activities like “doek” headwear wrapping, face painting, djembe drum, and dancing master classes, tasting traditional African dishes, live music performances and photoshoots for fond memories.

Even those who didn’t attend still had plenty of opportunities to immerse themselves into African culture without leaving their work desk. We’ve encouraged our African employees to publish their local music, videos, and cool facts in a dedicated channel on our communication platform, which helped create a welcoming and accessible environment for the duration of the Culture Days.

This is where the Culture Days format was almost perfected, but it still had some critics among our African employees who had their own vision of portraying their homeland traditions. Seeing this as an opportunity for further improvement, we decided to involve anyone and everyone willing in the next Culture event.

Celebrating Cyprus

As the COVID restrictions finally got lifted, so did the spirits of many Cypriots who were anxious to finally celebrate their beloved Carnival season for the first time since 2020. For a Cyprus-based company that regularly welcomes new expats, what better opportunity to put the local culture under the spotlight than a nationwide festival with traditional meals, costumes, and crowds taking to the streets to partake in collective festivities?

Knowing that many Exnessians uphold the carnival tradition, we left the idea of external speakers and long lectures behind, and instead invited all willing employees to become our Cultural Ambassadors—native carriers of local traditions ready to share them with colleagues in fun ways. 

Way 1. A hearty meal

And that’s how we got here: Smoky Thursday, the day marking the beginning of the celebrations. Better known as Tsiknopempti, it’s the second-to-last Thursday before the fasting season of Lent, which precedes Easter. The event owes its fitting name to all the smoke coming from grills all over Cyprus where the locals cook meat for souvlaki, a popular Greek dish, to enjoy along with other delicious traditional meals.

Under the creative guidance of our volunteers, we added a competitive twist to Tsiknopempti by turning it into a BBQ Battle to define who makes the best souvlaki—with proper tasting, judging, and winners. To somewhat even the odds, Exness provided all 6 contestants with identical grills, and only chicken meat was allowed to be used. The cookout was spiced up by our host, coincidentally a family member of one of our Cypriot employees, who engaged with the contestants, unraveled their unique recipes and cooking methods, shared the tradition’s history with all guests, and explained its importance to the Cypriot community. Some say nothing beats the sweet taste of victory, but they sure never tried souvlaki on a Smoky Thursday!

While the BBQ Battle only took place in Cyprus, we shared the recipes for simple yet delicious ‘loukoumades’ pastries with catering services abroad to share the taste of Cypriot tradition with Exness employees in other locations as well.

Way 2. A happy tradition

This event alone hit the jackpot in getting people interested in the local Cyprus culture, so we didn’t hesitate to capitalize on that. We took a deeper dive into the carnival’s history with a short original documentary starring our own Exness Cypriots and their families who uphold the tradition annually, staying busy with making food, tailoring whimsical costumes and joining in with the crowd. Check it out:

Way 3. A meaningful conversation

While a hearty meal brings people closer together, it’s the conversation that seals the deal. Yet sometimes understanding can be lost when 2 different cultures engage with each other, tripping over small misunderstandings and communication barriers. Our volunteers did their best to lift these barriers with the “Know your Cypriot colleague better” session, where they explained the specifics of their ‘high context culture’ with an open arms approach to social interactions, which initially felt unfamiliar to many relocated Exnessians.

Culture Days for years to come

While each of these events was a success in broadening the Exnessians’ worldview and bringing them closer together through cultural enrichment, we believe our biggest achievement comes from the motivation our employees now have to bring forth and share the highlights of their culture with the whole company. We gladly accept and support even small-scale initiatives to promote dates, holidays, and events important to our employees, no matter which culture they represent.

Our Culture Days journey is far from over, as we seek new creative ways to make our cultural diversity not just a matter of inclusivity, but a source of knowledge and a cause for celebration across all of Exness. We’re planning our next stop in the culturally rich and mesmerizing Asia: a region so vast with history so deep that covering it all properly is bound to become our biggest challenge yet. But a challenge we’re happy to take on nonetheless.

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