Wilson Serrano had a good thing going in Bogotá. As a front-end developer for Loka for the last two years, he'd been working remotely and living comfortably in the Colombian capital where he grew up, surrounded by family and friends and a beloved pair of cats. He planned to marry his longtime girlfriend this spring and then shop around for a house where they could start the next chapter of their lives together. It was a clear path forward, all the pieces in place ahead of him, precise, predictable.
But Wilson is not a predictable guy. At 31 years old, he'd been pondering a pathway into a less conventional, more meaningful life. He wanted to expand his understanding of the world while maintaining a bit of stability. He wanted to grow personally and also professionally, an all-too-rare combination.
He found it in collaboration with Loka: Next month Wilson is packing up his good thing and relocating from Bogotá to Lisbon, Portugal. One-way, open-ended, wife and cats included.
Wilson is the first candidate in Loka's latest radical benefit program, Loka Relo. Once a quarter the company will offer one employee soup to nuts permanent relocation services, including visa, moving and housing assistance, to Lisbon, where Loka maintains a work hub of 24 employees and counting. We believe it's an exciting synergy between the kind of adventurous soul embodied in employees like Wilson Serrano and the world-shrinking borderless ethos that Loka was founded on. More than a benefit, Relo is intended to dramatically change lives for Lokals and their families.
Loka is uniquely built to establish a top-flight international relocation program. Since its beginning 18 years ago, the company has operated remote first, with individual employees stationed across the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere. Our strategy is to employ big thinkers and high achievers wherever we find them in order to harness untapped talent outside Silicon Valley, spread our workforce across time zones to allow for more working hours and cost efficiencies. We've been navigating the intricate practicalities of distributed employment—the time differences, the financial regulations, the language barriers, the lifestyle nuances—for almost two decades. We're very good at thinking beyond boundaries.
This pragmatic, decentralized mindset is the cornerstone of Loka's long-term success. It's rooted deeply in the company because it's rooted deeply in the personal history of the company's founder, Bobby Mukherjee. Bobby is the immigrant son of immigrant parents. He's intimate with the life of the "economic migrant," that hardy soul who leaves behind familiar, often challenging surroundings in search of better opportunities for themselves and their loved ones. He knows their ingrained resourcefulness, adaptability and resilience. He built the company to capitalize on the frictionless flow of ideas; in turn, the company's next evolution facilitates the frictionless flow of people.
Many huge multinational corporations maintain offices across the globe, but they hire locally and locate specific departments in specific locations. Interchange happens mostly between those departments, if at all. Relocation usually means moving to Silicon Valley to work at HQ. Loka is not a huge multinational corporation and though we consider ourselves San Francisco-based, our departments are dispersed among locations, meaning Lokals interact across regions daily. But despite our total embrace of remote work, we also value IRL facetime and the depth it brings to working relationships. We've sent Lokals all over the world for in-person meetings for a while now, which is how Wilson first got a taste of Lisbon (literally—during a work visit he fell in love with Portugal's famous dessert, pastel de nata). But a few days or weeks abroad is just that—a taste.
Almost everybody agrees on the horizon-expanding, empathy-building power of extended international travel. When we announced Relo internally we heard a lot of interest from employees. Aside from the standard frustrations of international immigration, the biggest challenge so far has been selecting our candidates. Offering Relo once a quarter means over time we'll get to almost all of them.
The Relo committee, comprising country-level leaders and executives including myself, looks for Lokals with some tenure who've worked closely with a team in their chosen destination. But we're also assessing intangibles via a personal essay much like a university entrance application. How will Relo enhance your personal development? Your work at the company? Your children's future? We received a dizzying variety of emotionally charged applications. Most compelling this time was Wilson's plan to re-map his personal-professional trajectory to Lisbon, work, marriage and home ownership included. (We've also relocated one Lokal away from their country's civil unrest and violence to a safer locale but out of respect we're leaving that story untold.) Among European countries, Portugal is particularly open to this sort of economic migration right now.
Devoting time and resources to Relo is expensive, but not as expensive as losing key talent. We see the program as an investment in people that we can recuperate on the back end, proactive care that leads to a more holistic type of wellness for our employees. With better retention we eliminate the need for—and cost of—staffing triage. Eventually we'll share the blueprint for the program with likeminded companies and clients. We believe that radical, innovative benefits like this should be available to every company seeking to invest in employee wellbeing.
And we believe that opportunity should be available to every individual, not only those lucky enough to be born in certain countries. We'll continue to allow Lokals to live across the globe, whether or not we have a work center nearby. For instance, Spain's international work requirements are relatively relaxed, as are many countries' in South America. (The U.S. not so much, unfortunately.) The idea is to do everything we can for Lokals so they can live their best life on their terms, wherever it may be.
Relo is another experiment in radical benefits that we're testing as we go, so we appreciate Wilson's willingness to be our guinea pig. The point is doing it rather than talking about it. We're hoping to see improvements in his work relationships and his quality of life and for his wife's shared satisfaction in the move. We're hoping to see growth and fulfillment for both of them. And we're hoping Wilson will see our investment in him and in return deepen his commitment to us.
But ultimately we're letting Wilson determine the course of his own success. He'll get a good thing going in Lisbon, that much we're sure of. If after a few years he decides to perfect his pastel recipe, leave tech behind and open a little bakery in Cais do Sodré, we won't be upset. We'll just drop by for a visit.
Since the time we started writing this article, Wilson got married and is packing up for Lisbon.
Expect to see follow-up posts on Wilson's story as it unfolds. And in the meantime, consider plotting your own international adventure with Loka. Find our latest openings on our website.