The Multicultural Workplace: Valamis

A visit to the Valamis Head Office opens our new series of art­icles about mul­ti­cul­tural work­places in the Joensuu region.

Doors open to reveal the well-kept and sleek main office of Valamis, calm as most of the staff is work­ing remotely.  Jussi Hurskainen, the company’s CEO comes to greet us and we settle in his office after a quick pho­toshoot. Hurskainen appears relaxed and jovial, as he explains more about him­self and Valamis. He has been with the com­pany since its found­ing. 

Valamis con­ducts busi­ness on two fronts. It offers online learn­ing plat­forms to both busi­nesses and the pub­lic sec­tor. Valamis also devel­ops other online data sys­tems for private busi­nesses and gov­ern­mental organ­isa­tions. The com­pany enjoys wide inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. Its main office sits at the heart of Joensuu, but Valamis also has offices in Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, India and the Netherlands. All in all the com­pany employs some 240 people.

“I was just think­ing how many Finnish speak­ers we have. I think we have around 110 nat­ive Finnish speak­ers”, says Hurskainen.

According to Hurskainen, Valamis has been very inter­na­tional since its con­cep­tion. Many of its cli­ents are global enter­prises with people and branches across the world. 

“The first non-Finnish speaker came to us in 2006, three years after we began. Pretty soon after that we star­ted using English as our work­ing lan­guage. The first for­eign branch was foun­ded in Petrozavodsk in 2010. Nowadays we oper­ate in seven coun­tries.”

Multiculturalism and inter­na­tion­al­ity appear as built-in fea­tures of Valamis. “It would be hard to con­ceive of this busi­ness oth­er­wise”, Hurskainen chuckles. Hurskainen estim­ates that the Joensuu main office staff alone must con­sist of ten or so dif­fer­ent nation­al­it­ies. Altogether, the com­pany employs people from more than twenty nation­al­it­ies. Branch offices under­stand­ably mainly employ local labour, but each office has people from dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and Valamis’ routinely moves tal­ent between offices, allow­ing its employ­ees to mingle without the hassle of deal­ing with time zones, and allow­ing its employ­ees to take in dif­fer­ent cul­tures. 

It’s hard not to see the bene­fits of this cul­tural plur­al­ity, when you browse company’s web­site and see the immense back­log of industry awards and cli­ent stor­ies from com­pan­ies and organ­isa­tions such as the global travel tech­no­logy com­pany Amadeus, the city of Joensuu and – cer­tainly not last nor the least – NASA. 

“As for the con­crete bene­fits besides the obvi­ous added tal­ent, inter­na­tional hires bring with them the expert­ise needed to con­duct busi­ness with dif­fer­ent coun­tries.”

- Jussi Hurskainen / Valamis Group

Valamis invests a great deal in its employ­ees, and even helps migrant hires to settle in and to get a handle on deal­ing with Finnish banks and bur­eau­cracy. When asked how their migrant work­ers have acclimated to the work­place, Hurskainen tells that while there are cul­tural dif­fer­ences when it comes to, for example, work­place hier­arch­ies, people have got­ten along well, and the for­eign new­comers have also been flex­ible. 

“In Joensuu Finns still form the biggest group, and when there are people from many dif­fer­ent coun­tries, no cliques have formed, and when inter­na­tional people have come here over the course of years, they have made the effort to get used to how work is done in Finland.”

The biggest source for inter­na­tional tal­ent by far is, of course, the local uni­ver­sity cam­pus. 

“A lot of the applic­ants are migrants already liv­ing in Finland, and we haven’t had other applic­ants from abroad for a while. Covid has of course added restric­tions. About half of our interns come from the uni­ver­sity or Karelia UAS.”

When asked, what com­pan­ies in Finland could do bet­ter to be more mul­ti­cul­tural in prac­tice, Hurskainen offers the fol­low­ing:

“The first step is the hard­est: hir­ing that first employee who doesn’t speak Finnish. It leads to using more English at the work­place. In the long run, you’ll be more pre­pared to con­duct busi­ness inter­na­tion­ally. I’ve been pretty open-minded. People are hard­work­ing around the globe. I’ve never felt that Finns are any­thing spe­cial in that regard.”

Text: Lauri Vuori Picture: Stefan De Batselier