Attracting and Retaining International Talent with Lona Alia

In this episode of Long-Distance Worklife, Wayne sits down with Lona Alia, head of revenue at SafetyWing, a social impact entrepreneur, Y Combinator founder, mentor at 500 Startups, Advisor at EU for Innovation, and an international nomad. 

SafetyWing is building the first global safety net for remote companies, remote workers, and nomads worldwide. It offers medical insurance for nomads and remote companies around the world. It is also developing other insurance products such as pension savings and income insurance. Its products are built and designed by a fully remote team of nomads distributed across three continents.

Question of the Week:

What do organizations need to take into account when recruiting people outside the United States?

Additional Resources:

Want us to answer one of your questions?


Wayne Turmel: Hello, everybody, and welcome to this week's edition of the Long-Distance Worklife podcast, where we look at what it's like to work on remote and hybrid teams. We are examining remote work, technology, leadership, everything it takes to thrive and survive in the new long-distance workplace. Today, I am alone. Marisa's not with me, but I am not flying solo.

We have a really, really good interview with Lona Alia. Lona is the chief revenue officer at SafetyWing, and we are talking about recruiting and retaining employees internationally. And this is not just hiring people in different countries, but digital nomads. And the whole idea of creating a truly international and dispersed workplace. You're really going to enjoy the interview.

We go all over the place and it's really, really good stuff. So here is my interview with Lona Alia.

Hi everybody, this week on the Long-Distance Worklife, we are talking to Lona Alia, who is with SafetyWing. First of all, welcome, but also two sentences quick. What is SafetyWing? What do you do? Why do we care?

Lona Alia: Thank you. Thank you so much, Wayne. Really excited to be here. SafetyWing. We're building this global social safety net. And what that means is that we offer global benefits for remote workers, remote teams and nomads living around the world. The idea is that now we're hiring people from all over the world and they need to be covered somehow.

With remote health insurance, with retirement, with life and disability if something were to happen to them. So how do we cover these team members that are all over the world? So SafetyWing does that. I'm the head of revenue there. I'm also a Y Combinator founder. I'm an advisor to many different startups, and I'm also an original remote worker.

So I just love talking about remote work, hybrid, all of these fun things.

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Wayne: Well, that's why you're here. I mean, SafetyWing is lovely. And there's probably a three beer conversation that you could have about what are the benefits, you know, in different parts of the world, because American companies go, "Hey, we can give you health insurance and we can give you maternity leave." And people in the rest of the world goes, "Yeah."

And so the world is a very diverse place, but you are kind of uniquely positioned to help. So let's start with as we're thinking about digital nomad and hiring people in other countries, if you are thinking about doing that. What are the top three things that employers need to consider in recruiting and just as importantly, keeping people?

Lona: Sure. Absolutely. So I would recommend from my experience, I've grown a team from zero to 14 people in the last year or so, built the B2B sales team from scratch, and I hired people from all over the world. We have also 100% retention. So that tells you that what we're doing maybe is right. So a couple of things that I would say.

One is compensation. Think about that. Are you offering a flat compensation across all countries and cities, or are you doing a location based kind of like salary range? This is a very hot topic right now. Many people don't agree with one or the other. There's really no right way to do this.

Wayne: You can get a sense compensation and stuff is what you do. Very briefly, what we're talking about is if I have a company in New York and so I pay New York salary. But you're in the Philippines, and of course, the cost of living is lower and everything. Do I pay you a good salary from the Philippines or do I pay you a New York salary regardless of where you live?

I mean, that's what we're talking about. Yes. What are the pros and cons?

Lona: So, yeah, last week, I hosted this webinar with 300 people that showed up. So amazing. Like so many people were interested. We had about 70 questions live, and we had companies like Remote that help you hire people all over the world. Carta that which handles your equity does a few different hybrid companies. And we were talking about just this topic, right?

And it's like, what is the right way of doing it? So for example, GitLab, which is a great remote-first company, but also a public company. What they have chosen is to do location-based salary so they will tie your compensation based on what's best in that location that you're in. I'm not sure what happens as you move locations from place to place, which is a problem now as people want to be more free, they want to live all over the world.

Do they do you say like, "Okay, well, because it started in Bali and now you're coming to San Francisco, you're not going to be making $200,000 a year. You're actually going to be making, you know, I don't know, $30,000." I'm not sure what the price is in Bali. Right? So we had this conversation at Safety. We offer flat salaries across the board.

We take a salary that's maybe like in an average city in the US not in San Francisco and not in New York, but something that's in the middle. And we offer that across the board. So we feel but that makes it the, the most kind of competitive but also the fairest.

Do you think it's the right way to do it? We don't know. This is all an experiment that everybody is doing at this time.

Wayne: So and it's happening in the US as well. I mean, I hire you and you're living in San Jose, so I'm paying you commensurate with San Jose and then you decided during COVID that you're going to go move to Montana. Well, am I still paying you what I was paying you in San Jose, or do I pay you the average salary for Bozeman, Montana, which is very different.

Yes. So this is something all organizations are dealing with as people become more mobile.

Lona: Yes. The good thing to keep in mind about that is to stay flexible, to stay flexible with your team, with the best people that you have because you don't want to be in a situation where you lose that talent in the great era of great resignation. So that's because you decided that they moved around. Now they're going to get a lower salary, right?

You don't want to lose a great engineer, that head of people or that head of something just because they would like to be more mobile. And global mobility is the next thing, right? Like people want to be more mobile globally so that they can take advantage of things like a geo arbitrage, like what is geo arbitrage? It's like you can live in a lower cost country and keep that extra money that you will be spending on rent and insurance and all those things to yourself.

So a lot of people are waking up and saying like, "Wait a second, I don't have to live in the most expensive city in the world. I can go live in Colombia, pay $400 a month in rent, and then save the rest and invest it are like retire early." You know, things like that.

Wayne: Yeah. Oh man. The possibilities are so endless, as are the challenges associated with it, right? Yes. This is great. Unless you're trying to hire people in New York or San Francisco. Yes, you know that as well as anybody. So compensation is the first thing. A couple of other things that.

Lona: Yes, benefits is the other. So benefits is huge. What are you bringing to the table for the best talent in the world to join your company? Are you offering great benefits starting with health insurance, obviously, which is great in the US, but also worldwide. They do want to have some type of private health insurance, even though some countries do have good health care.

It's nice to have a private health insurance they can get in front of the line. So, for example, in the UK, there's the public health system has long lines if you want to get a surgery. But if you have private insurance, you don't have to go to the public hospital. You can go get that surgery done sooner. So things like that are great.

Some great benefits that I love that we offer where we're at doing location. Independence is a big one. So a lot of companies are trying to figure out what do they do with a young generation that wants to live and work abroad? Do they allow them to be location independent, which means that they don't have to be based in, you know, New York, if that's where the job is, can they be based in, you know, Bali for three months in Italy for another four, in Paris for another five?

How could they be living this life that they want to live? And this is huge. I think a lot of young people want this benefits. So when they look at a company that is hiring, they will ask like, okay, is this remote? But also is it location independent means do I have freedom to live wherever I want? Or are you going to take me down to a location?

Wayne: Well, and what's interesting is more and more, because we're remote location really means time zone. Yeah, right. You can live in a village in Spain somewhere, right? Or you can live it in Hamburg because it's the same time zone. It makes no difference. 9:00 in the morning. It's 9:00 in the morning. Right. If you're trying to do work between Thailand and Spain, that's a different set of challenges.

Lona: Yes. But also I want to mention there are tax implications and a few things that you have to consider there to make sure that you're fully compliant. But there is a lot of companies solving for these things, though, not to worry. So if there's a heads of operations or heads of people person listening to this, like, "Oh my God, this is a problem I have, how do I solve this?"

And if you want to give your people this global mobility policy, there are solutions out there to help you give people what they want. Therefore, they can stay in your companies.

Wayne: Okay, so we've recruited people. We've somehow lured them into our evil trap, and they're now working with us as somebody who's done this multiple times yourself, what are the biggest mistakes people make when onboarding international team members do you think?

Lona: So, the biggest mistakes that I see that I've seen actually lately we've been talking about this is like the onboarding kind of wave of you on board people. A lot of new hires are falling off after onboarding because many companies are not taking this seriously. So, for example, when you're being onboarded in a company that's physical or you have an office, you might have like a body that helps you show you around you might have someone that's checking in day in and day out with you and you might have a training program in place.

So now that everything is remote, that onboarding has kind of went back to the back burner and not in the front lines so that people are not really paying that much attention, but we should pay a lot of attention to that because we want to make sure that if I hire women, I want the way to succeed. And for when to succeed is for him to understand my organization, to know the mission and values the culture, and to see it's firsthand to have this body that is assigned once a week.

You have a check in and you talk for an hour and answer any questions. Maybe you have notion as an internal knowledge database so that everything is written on there. So very good communication. Having someone to kind of like hold your hand for the first month or so is very important in the onboarding.

Wayne: And there's a couple of things about onboarding that you just said there. One is, you know, in the old days you would have a mentor or a buddy when you're working dispersed. What we might want to do is take that job of mentor and break it up between multiple people so that you're hearing multiple voices in your learning different parts of the organization rather than just following Bob around the office for a couple of days.

Lona: Well, I'm very thankful because I had one of the co-founders be my buddy, and basically we had weekly calls, and I cannot tell you how helpful that it was to parlay the culture of the company to me. And I was able to build the team with the culture that we want. And that's another thing. It's culture I like.

Mistakes that people make, especially in remote, is letting culture kind of take its own shape versus making an effort to really set the culture that you want and then making sure that steps are taken to, to to ensure that that culture is the one that you want.

Wayne: Yeah, just as a really simple example, and I'd love to hear something specific that you do at Safety, but what we do when somebody joins the team is their very first assignment is they have to set up a half hour face-to-face video call with every member of the team. It's not like, "Hey, everybody, joined the team."

Everybody says, "Hi, John," and then you never talk to John for a month, right? It jumpstarts that getting to know people and creating relationships and something as simple as that can make a big difference. What are some of the things maybe that you do very specifically that people can steal shamelessly?

Lona: Sure. Absolutely. So one thing is exactly what you said. Having this maybe half an hour or one hour, one on ones that you book with everybody in the team to get to know them. We do give a stipend of you know, you can do a lunch for free at each month so you get $30 per month to spend and have lunch with anybody that you want on the team continuously.

So that's nice that you can get a free lunch, you know, once a month. We have an internal NPS score that the CEO actually reports on each month. So there you can find out that NPS is Net Promoter Score, which is a very specific terminology, but it's basically a way of keeping track.

You can call it friends all you want, but you're monitoring the stuff you're monitoring to seeing. Are your people happy? Is the culture something that they love being in? And also, are they speaking their mind and being taken seriously? So this is something that we place a lot of effort in is being authentic, speaking your mind? That's a big part of our culture. Another great thing that the founders do is that they lead by example.

So for example, they take four days off like every quarter. They will take a week off. They will be off of Slack, off of email, off of everything. So you cannot reach them. Now, this sends a great signal to the rest of the team that, "Hey, this is our culture. You are it's okay to take days off because we want you to be healthy and we want you to be creative and we don't want you to burnout."

So these are signals that company leaders can give to their employees so that they can create the culture that they want.

Wayne: I love what you just said. And if you listen carefully, you can hear heads exploding all over North America at the notion of the management taking a week, a quarter and just disappearing. Yeah, people are having aneurysms listening to us right now. We have created a health crisis I think that that's important. And I, I love that you're taking your experience elsewhere and bringing it here as well as us just importing our dysfunction.

Lona: And something I mean, I grew up in, you know, New York and San Francisco. I saw my working years were in Silicon Valley, right? So I was distilled with this toxic culture of working 12 to 16 hours a day, of sleeping 4 hours a day. And that was heroic. And this is the culture that I grew up with. And I'm just like this is wrong.

And this this cannot be healthy. People are going to die. They're going to get cancer by being, you know, worked to death. And then who profits is the companies that are making millions and billions and trillions. Right. See, the Googles, the Apples, the Facebooks and the people, if they get cancer, who looks after them? Like what happens to them?

So this is serious stuff. This is, you know, the whole population waking up and the consciousness, the rising and now the new generation wants to have a life that is better than their previous ancestors has. So we need to wake up and people that are having an aneurysm need to wake up and say, okay, Gen Z is not going to work 14 hour days or 12 hour days.

They need work life integration. They need that balance. They don't want to be just working and not doing anything else. So what we have is.

Wayne: That is so, so important. And we're already coming up on the end of our time, which I knew would happen. And the giant list of questions that I provided are kind of irrelevant because this has been a great conversation. If there is one thing that if I'm a manager and I've got people in different countries and, you know, I'm trying to herd the cats and keep things organized, if there is one piece of advice that you would give them from your own experience, one practical tip or something that they can do, what should we leave them with, won't it?

Lona: Sure. That's something very simple. I as a founder, we are told, especially at the Y Combinator, that you should build things that people want. And when it comes to management, you should do things that people want. So you should listen to your people who are your people, your team members, your employees, your contractors? They are your people. What do they want?

Just ask them if they're leaving and they're getting another job. Please have an exit interview. Why are they leaving? Is it the benefits? Is it the working hours? Is it the burning out? Is it I don't know. Something else. What is it like? Just ask your people. It's that simple. Keep track. Make sure that they're healthy and they're doing well.

Lona: Be empathetic, take steps. But really just ask their people, is that simple and keep tabs on it.

Wayne: Thank you so, so much. I knew that you were the right person to ask about this. We will have links to SafetyWing in the show notes. Thank you so much. I so enjoyed our time together.

Lona: Thank you. I really appreciate you doing all the best.

Wayne: I had such a good time talking to her today. I hope that you enjoyed and got great value from the conversation. If you are enjoying the Long-Distance Worklife, you've listened to podcasts before, here's where I beg and plead for you to like and subscribe. And please, for heaven's sake, tell your friends.

If you would like links to much of what we discuss today very thorough show notes you can find those at, and if you have read Long-Distance Leader or Long-Distance Teammate and you want more information on how to develop long-distance work skills for either yourself or your organization, reach out to us at or

We will talk to you next week. My name is Wayne Turmel. Thank you for joining us. Hope we've helped kept the weasels at bay and I look forward to seeing you next time. On the Long-Distance Worklife.

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