Remote work will boost the number of women in entrepreneurship and the workforce. Remote work is life-changing for women. A 2013 Catalyst study of people in MBA programs found that when women didn’t have access to flexible work arrangements, they were twice as likely as men to downsize their career aspirations. Remote work enables women who wish to be mothers and entrepreneurs to do both.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Lona Alia.

Lona is a social impact entrepreneur, Y Combinator founder, Advisor at EU for Innovation, Head of Revenue at SafetyWing, and a digital nomad.

SafetyWing is the first truly global health insurance company that equips distributed companies and digital nomads with benefits wherever they go, so companies can build a great team from anywhere in the world.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

I come from a country that doesn’t have a great passport that affords easy movement or provides its citizens a strong social security net in terms of benefits. This is probably the reason I place such a high value on freedom, and it is my motivation for almost everything. Freedom to move around, while feeling safe and secure. So joining SafetyWing for me was about an alignment of values. I see our mission to equip nomads and remote teams with health insurance as solving a real problem, which is a lot of people currently don’t have the freedom to live and work where they want because their benefits are locked to a specific region.

My second formative experience is from my time as a founder in Silicon Valley. I was burnt out from working 12+ hours a day and I faced a decision many female entrepreneurs have to make — do I want to have a human child or do I make the startup my baby? I dealt a lot with anxious leadership and I was determined to be part of building a healthy work culture. Silicon Valley is a place where the word “culture” is thrown around, but it’s not always executed behind the scenes. At SafetyWing we consciously build a culture centered around trust, flexibility, and freedom. We see those tenets as integral to our employees’ health and well-being, and we trust that by giving people their freedom, that we will boost overall productivity and happiness.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

There will always be the need for human connection, but how that happens will look different. Remote work is not about completely eliminating in-person interactions but reducing the number of unnecessary synchronous interactions so that we preserve our energy for the ones that matter.

As remote work becomes more prevalent, the power dynamic will be flipped as companies will have to compete for employees instead of the other way around. A company will no longer be seen as just a place to work, but as a representation of values.

A remote workforce means a more inclusive, diversified one. It will level the playing field as it gives international applicants, stay-at-home parents, and people with physical disabilities a chance to work. Gig workers and contractors will also multiply, increasing the need for compliant hiring. At SafetyWing, we are proud to be the first truly global health insurance platform that employees/contractors/freelancers can use truly anywhere.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Listen to what your employees want. Just as companies exist to solve a problem and give consumers something they want, they also need to pay heed to what their workers want.

A Pew Research Center survey found 54% of US employees prefer to continue working from home after the pandemic is over.

Everything points towards a remote future, and organizations can do several things to set themselves up for success. Provide ergonomic home office equipment, insure employees with benefits and health insurance that are borderless, offer a childcare stipend, and invest in tech software to make online communication seamless.

Finally, remember that becoming remote doesn’t have to be an overnight thing. It can backfire if not managed properly. Any time there is innovation and change there will be a period when things are a little messy and mistakes are made, but that is not a reason to not innovate at all. So allow for it to be a journey.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

There are some bosses who are married to the idea of having an office. They fear not having control over their employees or not being able to monitor productivity. What they need to remember is that the pandemic proved not only is remote working doable, but it is more efficient. When you trust your workers, they are more likely to be loyal and more motivated.

We also need to not underestimate our ability to stay connected online. We’ve all been connecting online since Facebook. Trends are driven by innovation in technology, not changes in human nature. The need for flexibility and freedom has been perennial, but our access to it has changed. We now have the tools like high speed internet, communication apps, and a skilled global workforce to make remote work happen successfully.

In 2022, remote jobs received 50% of all applications on Linkedin, despite being less than 20% of all jobs posted. This is significant. Because it’s getting easier to find remote jobs, you risk losing your talent to competitors because they offer better benefits. In fact it’s already happening, and it’s called the Great Resignation.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

Remote work has been greatly beneficial for some companies, so much so that they will remain 100% remote even after the pandemic. Other offices want to reap the benefits of both in-office and remote, so they will adopt a hybrid approach. There will be those who mandate a return to office and will experience a brain drain as a result.

Regardless of which path is taken, one thing’s for sure: everybody is talking about remote work and how we can move forward. As companies recalibrate and share their learnings from the past two years, we will all have more ideas about how to refine our approach to working remotely.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

We have to stop seeing “This is how it’s always been done” as a reason to continue doing something. The 9–5 going into an office is over 100 years old and in dire need of innovation. Humans have innovated in all industries and the pandemic proved that an innovation on how we work and where we work was long overdue.

Society is shifting towards the notion that we should build work around our life, not the other way around. We need to sever the association between burnout and success and encourage being truly offline when taking time off. Portugal recently went as far as placing a ban on sending emails after business hours. Other European countries are following suit. We need to reframe our definition of productivity. Right now productivity is still tied to hours logged and measured by input, not output.

Our society also favors being extroverted. Our schools and workplaces are built around social interaction, e.g. open office floor plans, desks grouped together instead of separate. The other half of the population which is introverted needs alone time and quiet spaces to do their best thinking. Remote and asynchronous work takes extroversion off its pedestal and gives introverts a chance to do their best work, because they have more autonomy over their space.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

For too long working nomads had to figure it all out on their own — visas, healthcare, housing, childcare, etc. Now there is no shortage of resources on how to be a digital nomad. Service providers like SafetyWing make it possible for everyone to achieve their best life, by eradicating the conventional restraints that tie a person to a place.

I’m optimistic about the opportunity the Internet creates for us. It gives us the chance to have an incredible career regardless of the circumstances or country we’re born into. Remote work also allows families to take advantage of Geo arbitrage, which is when you move to another country with a lower cost of living, so you have a high quality of life at a fraction of the cost. For the first time, people feel like they don’t have to have an exit to lead a rich life. They don’t have to quit their job to travel the world, and they don’t have to stop their life to have a family.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Employee wellness is integral to company performance. Companies can support their employees’ mental health by supporting access to counseling, meditation apps, and exercise programs.

Asynchronous work is a gamechanger. Companies can be remote without being asynchronous or location-independent. If a job is remote but employees can’t go to a counseling session in the middle of the day, or if they can’t move cities to take care of a loved one, then they’re not really getting the full benefit of remote work.

Work-life balance is another big one. When you work at home, it can be more difficult to unplug. Overworking is so embedded in our culture that when employees are given unlimited PTO, they will actually take fewer days off because they don’t want to be seen as taking advantage. Leaders can rectify this by setting an example. If employees see their supervisors taking PTO, going offline and not sending emails on weekends, then it will be easier to follow suit.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

Leaders need to see these headlines as a wake-up call.

If a company doesn’t want to experience a brain drain, they need to prioritize employee benefits. According to a CBRE study, remote work options are by far the most desired benefit. A FlexJobs study showed more than half of professionals will look for another job if their employers will not offer remote work.

Companies need to recognize it’s in their favor to go remote and async. They expose themselves to the best talent pool by going remote. When you support async work, you help promote long periods of deep work because people do not feel pressured to reply to messages right away. Finally you save time, money, and energy on commuting and office politics.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. The disappearance, evolution, and transformation of the office.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky predicts that in 10 years we will all be working remotely. A recent study by NYU and Columbia reports that office building valuations could be slashed by $500B by the end of 2020s.

New technologies will emerge to create the virtual office and bring us together virtually. Tools like Teamflow that simulate the office space already exist. The office will become a place to connect, not work. New roles will be formed, such as a Head of Culture, Chief of Staff, automation officers, etc.

2. As the office disappears, higher priority will be placed on culture.

When you don’t have a physical office, the superficial distractions are taken away. We often think of culture as Bring Your Pet to Work Day or Free Pizza Fridays, but when those things are gone, we get to hone in on what culture actually is, which is our values, ethos, and how we show up for one another. Working remotely compels us to take a closer examination of those values. When you work remotely you need to ask more questions, be way more curious, and intentional about what you communicate and how. All these things help you strengthen your leadership and company identity. The more aware you are of and transparent about your identity, the easier it will be to find people who align with those values and retain them.

3. Employee benefits and satisfaction will take precedence.

As more companies join the remote movement, there will be more data emerging on its efficacy. Last year Gitlab went public at $15B. Automattic is valued at $7.5B. Airbnb recently went 100% remote. All these big companies who are showing success in remote work will 1) make it easier for the skeptics to join and 2) give more employees the opportunity to have freedom and flexibility.

HR is usually apprehensive about flexibility because it means more work and more regulations for them. But as service providers like SafetyWing become more common, HR leaders will be equipped and don’t have to worry about additional work.

If a lot of companies are moving towards remote but some industries have to be in-person, then those people will probably demand higher pay and other benefits to compensate.

4. Remote work will boost the number of women in entrepreneurship and the workforce.

Remote work is life-changing for women. A 2013 Catalyst study of people in MBA programs found that when women didn’t have access to flexible work arrangements, they were twice as likely as men to downsize their career aspirations. Remote work enables women who wish to be mothers and entrepreneurs to do both.

5. There will be legal ramifications and changes in legislation.

Location-based pay will become a hot button issue, flexible work will get baked into law, and the visa industry will be reshaped. 41 countries have already developed digital nomad visas. SafetyWing currently has a project to build the first country on the Internet, called Plumia. Our goal is to develop more remote products such as remote pensions and retirement and one day visas and citizenship so nomads have a global social safety net wherever they go.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“You don’t have to be rich to live a rich life.” I’ve always had a thirst for adventure. I move every few months with my husband and two kids. So far I’ve been fortunate enough to visit 80 countries, see some of the most beautiful places of the Earth, while making unforgettable memories with my family. I’m able to do this because SafetyWing is remote-first. I want to inspire others with my story and show you don’t have to be in the 1% to lead this kind of life.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I’ve learned to not idealize people because if we put someone on a pedestal, they are sure to fall from it as we are all human. So my dream lunch date is myself. Having lunch on my own is one of the best things I can gift myself, preferably in a great spot in Paris or Rome overlooking one of the World Wonders and taking stock on how have I improved from last year and what am I doing currently to be the change I want to see in the world.

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.