October 04, 2021 by Andrea Rajic

Employee health & wellbeing in a distributed, remote world

Employee health & wellbeing in a distributed, remote world

Usually, when we think about remote work, digital nomadism, or even the hybrid workplace, we think about the technology of working remotely and only then about the benefits and challenges.

One of the significant challenges for distributed and global companies is providing employees with equal benefits, no matter where they are. Sondre Rasch, the CEO of SafetyWing, founded his company when he realized how challenging it is to provide health insurance to freelancers and globally distributed employees.

Today, we're talking to Sondre about how SafetyWing is tackling this challenge and why he thinks social safety nets are going global and digital.

SafetyWing is dedicated to providing healthcare coverage for remote teams across the globe. How did you develop this idea, and how important do you think it is in 2021?

We came up with this idea when I previously ran a freelancer platform, SuperSid. We wanted to provide benefits for freelancers, but nobody offered it, so we decided to build it ourselves. I had some experience from social safety nets since I worked on Norway's social safety net as a policy advisor before doing startups.

I think this is the most significant change happening in the world today, and few realize the implications.

Essentially, the internet and remote work is making key infrastructure, including parts of the nation-states obsolete. It has to be rebuilt in a global digital way, which we are working on. We believe if successful, this will greatly contribute to equal opportunity and freedom for everyone.

How do you see the various workplace trends that are arising, from hybrid and remote companies to digital nomadism?

I love remote work and digital nomadism. This is the second company I built remotely. I have always believed it is the future. But I also just wanted it for myself. I love the freedom and flexibility I get when working on a remote team. This allows me some big perks, like not commuting in the rain or early mornings or going for extended trips to warm countries when I feel like it, as a digital nomad. The difference in freedom and joy is remarkable.

As it happens, remote also works better. For companies because they can hire anywhere in the world and get the best talent. And for employees, because they can apply for cooler companies and get more flexibility for whatever they want in life. It's a win-win.

Do you think these shifts in the workplace are finally putting employee wellbeing front and center?

Well, employees have long wanted remote work as a benefit or perk. Some studies a few years ago showed employees would value remote work possibilities as equivalent to 30% higher salaries - which means really valuable. I do not think, however, it is being introduced now because employee wellbeing has had a big shift in priority. Instead, I believe Covid showed many companies that it was possible for them, and you can't get that toothpaste back in the tube.

How do you see the importance of mental health in remote and hybrid teams?

When you are remote, you have to take better care of yourself, including healthy work-life habits. And I think the company should do what they can as well. At SafetyWing, we have a quarterly session with an org psychologist we call Festivus, where grievances can be aired. We also offer 1-1s with the said specialist, as well as $2500 stipends for personal development that employees can use for coaching.

Do you see a connection between employee health and wellbeing and their engagement rate? Are happy, healthy workers more productive?

At SafetyWing we try to be both joyful and productive. And there is good reason to believe that health and wellbeing, at least anecdotally, also make people more productive. As for engagement rate and wellbeing, I am not sure how to measure that separately. We do our best to maximize well-being anyway though because we want the company to be a great place to be.

As a CEO and manager, how do you approach employee wellbeing at SafetyWing?

We work very hard to have a healthy culture that gives people meaning, joy, productivity, and community. In order to do that you sometimes have to sacrifice short-term results, and you have to err on the side of mercy and giving people a chance.

We also involve everyone in goal-setting and creative work and host team gatherings 3 times per year in exotic locations where they can bring their families. Oh, and we do things just for fun regularly.

Do you have some tips for fellow CEOs and managers about leadership and trust-building in teams?

It is not all upside to hold people accountable. Yes, there should be systems that measure whether we are making progress towards our goals, but it is also important to have room for slack and to let people make mistakes without there having to be consequences for that.

I also would encourage people to spend more time reflecting on their vision. A big part of what makes a project inspiring to work on is that it is worthwhile to you. And this isn't just something that is either true or not, it is something you will become by developing your vision until it is so compelling and colorful that it pulls you towards it and pulls your team through the tough times ahead.

What are some other great companies and startups out there you think are doing a great job?

I don't know actually - it is so hard to see what companies are like on the inside from the outside. I have a hunch that the early days of Google were pretty good. Possibly OpenAI, but I am basing it on very little information.

Written By

Andrea Rajic

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