BECOME A PARTNER
Head of Revenue at SafetyWing
If companies want to retain the best talent and attract the best talent, you have to trust that this talent also knows how they want to be treated.
Lona is a remote work advocate and an expert in building remote teams. She is a passionate start-ups advisor, and advisor to the European Union for innovation. Lona will bring her expertise on how insurance works for digital nomads, and how companies can support their employees to work from anywhere in the world.
Work environments have changed tremendously in the past couple of years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has done a fair bit to kickstart a new remote work movement. Today, employers have to rethink their benefit packages to match the new needs of employees - and that’s exactly what Lona Alia, Head of Revenue at Safetywing, is here to talk about today.
She joins host Sandra from a family friendly co-working space in Portugal to discuss how Safetywing chooses which benefits to offer, how to find the right benefit strategy for globally distributed teams, and what companies can do to identify the right and the wrong types of benefits.
with Lona Alia, Head of Revenue at Safetywing
Sandra Redlich 00:53
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. Where are you joining from?
Lona Alia 00:57
Thank you so much, Sandra. I'm joining from Sintra, Portugal, It's a quaint town, about 30 minutes away from Lisbon. I'm here with my family. I have two kids, one is 4 and one is 2, and my husband. We've been doing this nomadic life for the last four years. And we found a company called Boundless Life where they help kind of like work from anywhere families with the logistics, with schooling. So we're in this like community of other families with kids that are living the life of travel exploration around the world.
Sandra Redlich 02:11
That sounds really helpful that you would have someone there that helps you take care of your kids, but also helps you and enables you to do your job and focus on on that part of your life as well.
Lona Alia 02:22
Yes, Sandra 100%. I've been doing this on my own for the last four years. Basically we figure out, you know, the Airbnb, where do we go, the schooling system locally. And then we have to quickly get the kids into the local system, which usually works pretty well. But still, it's very stressful because you don't have a plan. Whereas with boundless, they will give you a home, they will give you cleaning once a week, they have the education center, which is really cool. And they also have all these activities for kids - and also for adults, I had yoga this morning. You have, you know, these things, you can go to the beach, there are so many fun activities planed, and that really brings you like a community that you can kind of like travel around with versus doing it on your own.
Sandra Redlich 03:12
Yeah, that sounds lovely. Well, you're the perfect expert then to talk about the topic we want to talk about today, which is the whole system of offering benefits to people, and especially benefits to people that want to work in a more remote environment. We've seen in the last two years especially that the way people want to work has changed drastically. And people, I think, or a lot of companies see that people are not staying in jobs that they're not 100% happy with. So it's becoming more and more important that you as a company and as an employer offer benefits to people that really help make them happy and make them stay. And yeah, keep those people on board that make your company the place that it is. So what benefits should employers offer to attract top talent in your opinion?
Lona Alia 04:02
Yeah, and I want to just take a step back by saying that at Safetywing, we are a team of 170. And we have zero attrition. So basically, no one wants to leave the company, which is pretty crazy. And that is a direct correlation to what you said, the benefits that we offer at this company, and they're not completely out of this world. There are very, very many benefits that maybe other companies offer as well. But I want to point out that the number one benefit is that freedom and flexibility of working from anywhere and anytime. And I cannot tell you what a life changer this is for most people in the world because it opens the door to living their best life wherever that is, whether it's in a certain country, in a certain city, in a certain place. And then also for parents, having kids, being able to, you know, take them to school, to take them to an activity, to spend quality time with them versus having to drive to an office, because it's telling you to go there. It's really the best. So I talk about a lot about benefits. And really the number one thing that I see is being able to really offer that, you know, freedom and flexibility of work from anywhere.
Sandra Redlich 05:29
And is that something that has come up over the last few years where people see, or especially employers see if we're forced to we can make it happen? Or is this something that has been around for a while now, and people are only more open to it after going through the pandemic?
Lona Alia 05:47
Yeah, this is a really good question. Because I accidentally discovered remote work back in the late 2000s. I really wanted to see the world at the time. And there wasn't such a thing as work from anywhere. It was like you either work from home, you know, if you're in sales, for example, or you have to come to the office. Because I was doing quite well, I convinced my boss to let me work from Paris for the summers. And back then it was seen as like this totally crazy idea, Oh, my God, how are you going to be able to do your work? It's a six hour difference with the East Coast of the US. But I really wanted to do it. So I was like, No, I'm going, so we have to make this work. And I went, and I can't tell you how happy I was being able to, you know, do the things I wanted in Paris, go to cafes, you know, eat really great food, go to the museums. But then also in the evening, I would pickup my work and put in the eight hours and really show that it was possible. And back then, internet wasn't the best. But I was able to do this. So if I was able to do it in the late 2000s, in 2022, it should be so much easier. And really, it's a question that, you know, the tools are there. So something is possible, it's actually very possible. And the pandemic, you know, forced everyone to try it. And we saw that not only is this more efficient, and people are getting a lot more work done. But also it is better for many people. But I do want to stress that working from home is not the same as working from anywhere. So many people equate the two. And that's incorrect, because working from home cannot be that much fun if you do it all the time. So you have to divide the two and say that you should be able to work from anywhere you want. So whether that's an office, a co-working space, a place in Bali, in Portugal, wherever makes you happy. That should be the norm.
Sandra Redlich 07:59
What about people that are maybe not 100% interested in fully working remotely, or maybe more interested in other benefits, such as flexibility of choosing the time when to work? Or maybe also, obviously, when we're talking about benefits, a big part of that is also financial benefits. And we've seen benefits change in terms of you know, being an office and the old, 'Oh you've got a fruit basket, and you're getting the newest technology', it's not really that attractive to a lot of people anymore, because we're not fully in the office. But we may not be fully remote either. So what are other benefits that we can offer to make sure that we keep the best talent that we have, and we attract the top talent that we want?
Lona Alia 08:48
That's a great question and actually what I've seen from surveys is that the number one benefit that it's kind of like almost a baseline, is obviously health insurance, just to make sure that you are taken care of if something goes wrong, you're not stressed out if you have all these bills. In the US, we offer this benefit quite a bit. However, internationally, it's not common. So a lot of people that are hiring through Lano let's say, they might not think about health insurance, but it is a benefit that people are leaving their jobs over because another company is offering those types of benefits. So for startups and scale ups, I will stress that instead of you know, your talent leaving for maybe the bigger companies because they offer those bigger benefits. Make sure to check out you know, health insurance first because that's something that has to be a baseline. And then from there, there's so many fun third benefits. Another one that we have at Safetywing that's amazing is theseyearly team retreats. We do them four times a year. The last few ones were in Slovenia, Mexico, Costa Rica and we're coming up to go to Bali in October. So these are really fun. And they're almost like half a vacation half working. And it really allows teammates to get to know each other better, to co-work, to bond so that the rest of the quarter they can carry on that connection, and do really great work. And it's worked out really well for us. But then there's so many fun benefits out there. There's like, you know, plan subscriptions, which we also have. There's obviously unlimited vacations, and I will stress that you should have minimum vacation at least, because unlimited vacation could turn to no vacation in some cases. So yes, that would be great. We have a 20 minimum day a year, which is four weeks. And obviously, the rest you can take whenever and like you said, working any time. What we recommend is being in the European and the Americas time zones, just because that works for everyone on the team. The Asian time zones are a bit hard, like I see with yourself being in Melbourne. Because you'd have to be up at night. And it's not very conducive to especially, you know, families with kids. But yet, so many fun things like, you know, ergonomic equipment. Can you provide the equipment at home, so people are comfortable? Could it be access to learning platforms? Or maybe a budget that you can improve yourself? Mental health, workout classes, childcare benefits, food and beverage, home delivery, marriage counseling. So many things.
Sandra Redlich 11:51
In all of these things, how do you identify what the best benefits are to offer to the people that you have? Or maybe also to a new hire that you want to attract?
Lona Alia 12:02
We have figured out something that works quite well for us. What we do is that certain Thursdays, which we have a strategy team meeting, we will problem solve one thing that is top of mind. So let's say benefits is something that's coming up, and people would like to review them and vote on what would be the best benefits. What we do is we create a spreadsheet, we break into groups, we brainstorm kind of like on our own, but we share it with others. And then we kind of list all the benefits, and it could be 100 of them on the spreadsheets. And then we independently vote on all of them from a 1 to 9 scale. And then we rank them and we see okay, Which one were the top three benefits that people are asking for in September 2022 for example? And then we review them every six months. So let's say we have all these amazing benefits. We see, Okay, we can't obviously offer all of them. But what are the most important ones for most people at the company? And that way, it's kind of voted from like a bottom up approach versus a top down. And this is something that's been working very well at our company and people are very happy with the benefits were chosen.
Sandra Redlich 13:28
So does that mean you regularly have check ins with your staff and with the team to see, what do you think about this benefit that we added? How do you feel? Is there anything else that you would want?
Lona Alia 13:42
Yeah, as I mentioned, we do this at least twice a year, so we review them. But we also solve in many different ways. So like, for example, meetings, you know, how long should meetings be? Should there be an agenda? Should they be sync or async? There's a lot of things that we decide together as a company versus being told what to do. And that's something that we have to stress that if companies want to retain the best talent and attract the best talent, you have to trust that this talent also knows how they want to be treated. So listening to them in whichever way possible, whether it's through the surveys, whether it's through this type of like braking and prioritization exercise, you have to do that regularly to make sure and keep a pulse on your team.
Sandra Redlich 14:35
Are there any false benefits that maybe talking about, you know, you've had the example of we give unlimited vacation days, but you also kind of have to make sure that people not go in the other direction and don't take any vacation at all. Or maybe a company that only focuses on financial benefits, and doesn't fully focus on other benefits that might support an employee's well being and understanding that building a culture is important, culture of the company that where people want to stay and where they feel valued. And while they get a financial value out of it down the road, in the long run, this might not be enough to keep them around. So companies only focusing on one type of benefit is that maybe a mistake that they could make?
Lona Alia 15:25
Absolutely. And like you said, the first one, I lived in Silicon Valley, for a while. I started my company there, I raised money. So I know the culture quite well. And it was popular for quite some time to have unlimited vacation. But what I noticed is that no one was taking any vacation because the CEO or the higher ups were not having any vacation. That sends a signal to the rest of the company that sure, we have this unlimited vacation policy, but really no one is supposed to take it. So that's absolutely a false benefit. And I would advise to be very careful with that. What we do in our company is that we make sure that if someone hasn't taken our vacation by the end of the year that someone talks to them, and says, Hey, you know, you need to do this, it is actually a benefit to you and the company, because you will come back much more relaxed, calm, full of ideas, when you have the proper rest and recharge. So it's definitely one of them. Another one is options. So we've seen with companies kind of like ballooning their evaluations, and then not really meeting those evaluations, let's say a company has worked out $10 billion of what we saw in 2021, when we saw these extremely high evaluations, and, you know, the stock options were really not worth much after they didn't meet those revenue targets. So the expectations were that, okay, the company's worth a billion dollars, they should be making $800 million a year. But now, in 2022, we're seeing that many of them are not meeting those targets. So their evaluations are going down. And if you had stock options, I believe that you'd have to pay a certain tax amount, even though you haven't exercised them. It's a little bit messy. So I'd say to have like real shares in the company versus certain, I think they're called options to exercise, certain things, especially the ones that are not public companies.
Sandra Redlich 17:36
If you are a company just starting out, what can you do to start and set up your benefit program? So obviously, there's a lot of, I want to call them old benefits that people, you know, divert back to, and there's certain minimum standards as well, that depending on where you're based, you have to include, you've mentioned health insurance, there's, you know, in the US, it's not mandated, but there's other areas, other countries where it is mandated. So it's a bit complicated to pick and choose, where do you start?
Lona Alia 18:11
Yeah, it's a good question. You know, there's a lot of literature about this, blogs, helpful places you can look into but like as your founder, like, I founded myself, it's pretty easy to kind of like ask around and see, okay, what are other peers doing because we want to be on par with what other companies are offering, you know, being a vacuum. So we can just like start, you know, this benefits program with what we think should be there in our own head, because it is a competitive global market. As we mentioned, you have to make sure that you're competitive in whatever country you're hiring. And I think a lot of companies like Lano, obviously hosting this podcast, they have a lot of guidance around this so it's not an issue but like I said, you know, you'll see in certain job postings, you'll see okay, here's the benefits that we offer. It's pretty easy to kind of like gauge and see okay, if this company is similar to mine, they're offering these benefits. I need to have similar benefits to be able to attract talent. And yes, health insurance is something that's almost like a given in many places. Some countries do require it to have it so you'd have to check obviously with the local different countries but then seeing companies like Lano as well as all the partners. You can kind of see okay, so Lano partners with Safetywing, okay, so health insurance I should get. Lano partners with maybe a home equipment company that can get you really good stuff. Oh, Lano partners with XYZ. And you'll see it makes it very easy for you because of the marketplaces that companies have upon their websites, you will see their partners and you will understand the ecosystem and the tools, technologies and benefits that you need to have for your company.
Sandra Redlich 20:11
When we're looking at a distributed and remote workforce, how do you come up with a benefit system that caters to everyone's needs, because, you know, if you have a distributed team and people moving around, or even just working from home or working remotely in different parts of the world, obviously their needs are quite different to each other. So if you have a team member that's based in the US, and you have a team member that's based in Germany, there's two different needs that need to be fulfilled. Should you come up with an individually based benefits program? Or is it important to think about these things beforehand and make sure that everyone gets the same things?
Lona Alia 20:51
That's a really good question. And the best way to answer these things is to experience. That's why, you know, I'm glad that I can speak from experience and having a team of 170 in 52 countries. So we're distributed in 52+ countries, we can say for sure that it's working for us. Or that we have, you know, 100% retention, is that we are offering the same benefits across, we're not doing like a stipend, which a lot of companies do for health insurance, because a stipend is not equal, you know, $100 for everyone is not going to be the same for that person that lives in the US versus a person that lives in Italy. So that's why offering something like Safetywing, or having this type of like health insurance allows you to give the same benefit to everyone, no matter where they live. And that's the beauty of it, because then we feel equal when that's happening. Another thing that we have is all of the other benefits, they're all equal, they have a certain amount or a certain stipend, say like your educational budgets, you know, it's X amount a year, and it doesn't go up and down depending on where you live. Your salary is the same for all of the strategy team members and doesn't go up or down depending on where you live. So a lot of these things, the founders put that baseline at the start of the company, which actually has made their life very easy as we scale. Because if you're doing a lot of customization and doing it per location, you can end up with a logistical nightmare to figure out all of the different things that they have to manage based on location. So I think the way that we've done it, has worked out pretty well for us so far. Obviously, I don't know how it is going to work out in five years. But I would recommend making things as easy as possible onyou. So you don't have to manage as much, you don't have to spend so many hours and have a bunch of HR leaders and people's ops or head of operations, dealing with things that are not necessarily going to bring value.
Sandra Redlich 23:03
Talking about the next five years or looking into the future is a good segue into my last question, which is, how can you future proof your benefit systems? And are there any benefits that you see, from your experience and what's happening around you, that you think it's gonna pop up more, and it's gonna become more important to include that in your package?
Lona Alia 23:25
That's a really good question. And I'm a bit of a futurist myself, I love looking into it. I can't guess the future. I like really being at the edge of what's coming. And really, a lot of that is we take it in through everything that we read. So we look at data or look at stats, we look at reports, and see, okay, what's happening in the workforce? Why are people leaving? Why are they saying what's important to them? Let's say like 10 years ago, or 12 years ago, I was talking about fertility benefits for women, right, so enable women to freeze their eggs. When I was talking about this, it wasn't a popular topic. And it was only amongst founders or female founders in San Francisco. And we discussed these things. And that's where those things start, you know, like you sow a seed from very forward thinking companies or leaders or founders, or employees that are talking through the grapevine, through discord, through certain channels. And you're seeing like, Oh, we're doing this thing in our company, where a side hustle is okay, you know. Oh, the 4 hour or the 4 day workweek versus a 5 day workweek. So these are things that come from the bottom up. And as you see more, you know, people adopting them or people talking about them, you want to bring those to the table to your team and have them vote on them. So we as a team voted months ago on the 4 day workweek, we had that on the table. And so certain things like that you want to be able to figure out, to come into your universe and your sphere of influence, and then bring them to the table to your team and say, is this important to you? And that's how you stay in the forefront. You can't really get your proof today with what's going to happen in 5 years. But you can do what's good for today, maybe even better for today, so that you can attract the best because you have such great benefits. And then you stay on top of that by being able to bring in all of the best practices, the best things that are working for others.
Sandra Redlich 25:39
That's an exciting time ahead for us. Thanks for giving us that insight into your world and your work that you do at Safetywing. And enjoy the rest of your time in Sintra.
Lona Alia 25:50
Yeah, thank you so much. It was a pleasure. And if anyone wants to connect with me has any questions, just go on LinkedIn.
Sandra Redlich 25:58
We'll have those links for you in the show notes as well. Awesome. Thank you, Lona.
© Lano Software GmbH 2023