Delta Cockins is 41 years old and she’s never owned a passport. She’s never needed one because despite years of working, Cockins, who’s been an inventory planner for the e-commerce apparel company Betabrand for the past two years, has had other obligations. “I help my family financially, so traveling [abroad] has never been an option for me,” she says.
Though they had other reasons for it, a lot of other Betabrand employees hadn’t traveled abroad either, says cofounder Chris Lindland, who discovered this during one of the company’s happy hours last fall. Lindland built Betabrand into a 60-person company expected to bring in $18 million this year by pushing the limits of branding with hackathons, crowdsourcing, and campaigns that have featured female PhDs instead of professional models. After learning that many of his employees hadn’t traveled outside the country, he decided he would take a creative approach to get them traveling without their having to worry about how to stretch their paycheck to cover such a trip.
Lindland thought the company’s spending could be consolidated onto one corporate credit card that would earn frequent-flyer miles for every purchase. Saving them up gave Betabrand a way to send staffers on the trips they’d only been dreaming about at no extra cost. The company covers the flight and four nights in a hotel.
But they had to work a little for it. To get a coveted ticket to the “FlyAway Program,” employees have to write down a place they’ve always wanted to visit and why, and a lucky winner is chosen every four to six weeks. Spending money is also covered through company “fun raisers.” Employees gather at a watering hole and pass a hat. Donations all go to the traveler. Lindland says this way, everyone is invested in that person’s experience.
He also notes that vacation time isn’t docked for these trips. According to Lindland, that would be a buzzkill, yet he encourages people to take Thursday through Tuesday so they are out of the office for only two to three days.
When Fast Company talked to Delta Cockins, she was set to head off to Paris, a destination chosen by her colleagues because it would be a place she could “eat enough good food to gain 10 pounds and maybe come back with a husband,” she quips. Though Lindland’s best efforts to send Cockins to Borneo to commune with orangutans were thwarted, he’s quite satisfied that she’s going to experience the City of Lights. “She is one of the more sophisticated people who work for this company,” he explains. “And it was a shock for me to find out she hadn’t traveled because her first financial responsibility was her family.”
Cockins is the fourth Betabrand employee to hit the road. Others have gone to Iceland and Ireland. When she returns, says Lindland, they’ll announce the fifth, and Cockins will play host to the “fun raiser.”
Lindland explains that his staff is surrounded by startups that serve employees free food from five-star chefs. “We serve granola,” he admits. Still, he believes that the company gains way more by sending employees abroad than by sending him to New York to meet an investor. Several studies have shown that even thinking of traveling to other countries can make us more creative.
But all-hands-supported travel like this has an even bigger impact on encouraging positive company culture, Lindland posits. “The moral of the story is that this costs nothing,” he maintains. By shifting spending and doing things a bit differently, he says, “it’s been electricity in the business. It’s very team-oriented and genuine.” Company perks like free puppies, nap pods, and beer pong may just be going the way of three-martini lunches.