It has changed my life tremendously to be able to work from the location that is well suited to the lifestyle that I want to have, but also helps me be a more productive and successful member of a team.Halley Bennett
Head of Marketing at Lano
Halley is a remote work advocate and the Head of Marketing at Lano. Before fully embracing the remote work dream, she lived and worked in Costa Rica, Spain, the US, and South Africa. Since 2019, she’s been based in Madrid while working with teams around the world. She previously led the UX and Product Marketing teams at a UK-headquartered fintech firm. Since joining Lano, she’s been focused on building a best-in-class marketing team – remotely, of course.
First things first: What is the story behind your name, because I have never heard of another Halley before.
Yeah, it’s an unusual name. My parents are a bit into astronomy and Halley is actually the name of a comet. And the last time it was visible from the US was in 1986, which is the year I was born. It is a nice story, but it never gets pronounced correctly – not in English, in French, in Spanish, in German… So I just respond to everything. But yeah, that is one of the harder parts of working with me I guess.
Alright, now that’s out of the way – Where are you from and what do you do?
I am from the United States, but I have been living in Madrid for the last years. I have recently joined Lano as the head of marketing in a fully remote position. It’s a really cool role for a company at this stage, because I get to look at ways to grow the business and figure out ways to position ourselves as the market leader. I’m thinking a lot about our audience, who they are, how to talk to them, what is compelling about our offering – and how we can translate that into a message that makes the value of Lano super clear..
But I come from a rather non-traditional background. I have worked mostly in product marketing as well as UX, customer experience, and business development. So a few different things that are tangential to marketing. That’s why my approach to marketing is very driven by thinking about a customer’s goals and what makes our product really valuable for users. And that is probably less traditional in the marketing space.
How long have you been working remotely for?
I am in my second remote role now. My role before Lano was also fully remote, and I worked there for about 2 years. But if I look back at my career, I had a lot of jobs that had a hybrid set-up, which was not that typical at that time. So, before remote kind of became “cool” or eventually became a necessity because of the pandemic.
Where is the majority of your team based?
We have a very open work-from-home or work from wherever policy. I would say that people are spending as much time as is reasonable – and also safe given the current circumstances – in the office. But Lano is building a culture where you don’t need to be in the office.
Most of my team is currently based in Berlin, where we have our headquarters. Soon we will have some other folks joining the team from new regions. Next month, for example, we will have someone joining the marketing team who is based in the UK. And we are working with several freelancers who are based in France, different parts of Germany, Spain, and Australia.
So, what do your working hours look like?
I personally enjoy working with a team from a similar time zone, plus minus 2 hours. But that’s just my personal preference. I really enjoy getting on the phone with people and I think synchronised communication can be very beneficial for building relationships. But in terms of working hours, one of the great joys of being remote for me has been to maintain a loose set of working hours, but with a lot of flexibility. I am definitely one of those people who will stop in the middle of the day and go for a walk or run errands in the daytime when shops are open and not crowded, and then come back and work in the evenings. I love that flexibility, that’s a massive win for me.
What were your expectations for joining Lano?
One of the exciting things for me about joining Lano was that this is a company that fully believes in remote work, but it’s still quite small and young. So, the opportunity to influence and shape what a remote culture could look like here is something I am really keen to support and participate in. But because of that, I expected it to be a bit chaotic and that there might not be a “perfect” remote set-up yet. And those expectations have been met. (laughs)
You hear a lot nowadays about remote work and how intentional you need to be when creating your culture. You need to adapt the norms of your organisation if you have a certain percentage of remote workers. And Lano is in the process of making exactly those choices and building that environment. So it is exactly what I expected it to be, but it does mean we’re sort of “building the plane while flying”, at times.
What does an ideal remote culture look like for you?
Probably lots of different things could be ideal, I guess there is not one single answer. But I do think the most important aspect is that you have to make that decision, and then really commit, to being a remote company. That is going to shape your culture. For me, ultimately, it comes down to that. If you don’t make it very clear and apparent to everyone that you are remote-friendly, then I think it is very difficult to get remote right. In those cases, I think a lot of the responsibility shifts down to individual employees to figure out how to work together in a distributed set up. That can work, but I think it is a different proposition than having a truly remote culture.
Also, I believe you have to set certain norms around communication, because you just don’t have these other facets like social communication or even body language to rely on. You need to set some rules of play.
Maybe a bit overlooked in my opinion in the conversation about forming remote culture is how to adjust learning and development practices. In a normal setup perhaps you do things like provide management training, send teammates to conferences or bring in a speaker or a coach. All of this is possible remotely, but the relevance to your team shifts slightly and we need to think of new ways to ensure teams are growing and learning.
Is there anything else companies can do to support a remote culture in your opinion?
In my first remote role, I was one of few remote employees. So basically, I just took what I had and figured out how to make it work. But now that I am thinking more consciously about this, there are some things that come to mind. For example, I am quite focused on the quality of a video call. It seems so silly, but it’s pretty massive to me. So I would be surprised to not see companies focus on sourcing, providing and paying for excellent wifi and cell phone coverage for remote employees. The number one thing I rely on is my mobile hotspot. Anytime I am in a situation where my internet is not reliable, this is my number one solution to quickly fix that.
And then the thing I believe is super important is to kind of have an allowance for people to create a remote set-up that is right for them, whether that is home office, a few days a week in a coworking space or putting that towards travel so you can visit the HQ more often. I think a remote set-up fund that gives employees still a lot of choice is a cool way to go about it. Because most people will go a little bit insane if they work from their kitchen table forever.
What are some of the biggest advantages and challenges of working remotely?
Definitely the general freedom of location and the time flexibility is a big advantage for me. It’s a silly example and I always laugh about it with my friends and family, but I am absolutely not a morning person. So asking me to do anything before 9am is death to me. I cannot even function. However, if you ask me to do something at 9pm, I will be highly energised. I am free to shape things in a way that work best for me, so I won’t start my day before 10am unless I absolutely have to. That freedom is amazing.
I actually struggled a bit with that when I first started, and I think a lot of remote employees do, because we are so conditioned to think we need to follow a certain set of rules around how we work, when we work, and where we work. When all of a sudden you are presented with so much freedom, it can be a little bit overwhelming.
I struggled with that a bit. I was working from Madrid, but I was pretending like I was working in the head office in London or Cape Town or wherever the home hub was. It took me a little while to get comfortable with that freedom and to make my own decisions about where and when and how I was going to work. As soon as I got comfortable with setting my own terms, it turned into this massive benefit and feeling of freedom. But your brain definitely needs a bit to catch up to those cool parts, because we are not necessarily used to working in that way.
Do you think that makes unplugging and taking time off more difficult though?
I think especially in the last year and a half it has been taken to the extreme, because even the most normal things that would draw your attention are taken away. I personally have learned to be really disciplined about taking holidays and taking days off, which I have probably learned in my previous high-travel jobs. I block my calendar, I delete work apps off my phone when I am on vacation and my computer gets locked away. I believe you have to be a bit militant about it, otherwise work time and spare time can easily seep into each other.
Do you miss being in an office sometimes? Can you see yourself going back to that?
I am definitely a social person, highly extroverted I would say. So I do love to grab lunch or pop out for a coffee, or simply stop by another desk. I quite enjoy that. I try to replicate a lot of that environment. My personal preference would be to visit the office a few times a year at minimum. So yeah, the social interaction is the one thing I miss.
But as far as seeing myself going back to a strictly office-based job: unequivocally no. I would consider a hybrid situation, but I can’t really envision a scenario where I would be going into the office everyday.
Alright, last question: Any funny stories that happened in your time so far as a remote employee?
Well, as probably many people, I get quite a few things delivered nowadays. And I did have a video call once, talking to a colleague, and the doorbell rings. So, I went to open the door – but I took the computer with me. And then the person I was speaking with started chatting to the delivery person via Zoom. So I am standing there with my computer in my arm and my package, while they are having a whole conversation. That was very weird. And I didn’t want to cut them off! A bit absurd. But lesson learned: I don’t carry my computer to the door with me anymore.
Interview by Sandra Redlich
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