“While working remotely and employee volunteer programs are both on the rise, there are still many companies and leaders that haven’t realized the value of letting your employees commute less and travel more, especially for social good,” says Caroline Pinal, the cofounder of Giveback Homes. The social good real estate company has built hundreds of homes for people in need across the U.S., in Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and Mexico.
Through Giveback Homes, Pinal works with real estate agents and brokerages across the country to provide them with impactful volunteer opportunities and projects to donate to and support. The company also offers its community with marketing and communication tools to help share their philanthropic endeavors with their clients, friends and family. “My favorite part of the gig is leading a group of realtors to Nicaragua to help build homes for families in need,” Pinal says. “We do it once or twice a year and it’s always so cool to see people experience that for the first time.”
Like many people, Pinal always had it in her heart to travel abroad and do good in the world, but she didn’t have the resources, funds, or time off to make it happen. It was just something she dreamed of doing “someday” when she was older and more established. And then she found a job at TOMS. The company, which pioneered the “buy one, give one” business model with its shoes, sent Pinal on a giving trip to El Salvador where she helped distribute shoes to children in need. “I look back on that experience and think how incredible that my job not just encouraged, but provided that opportunity to travel and give back to me and every employee? And why is that so still rare?”
During that time, Pinal also met her now best friend, Blake Andrews, who worked at TOMS with her. A few years later, the two had the idea of applying the TOMS model to the real estate world, and together they founded Giveback Homes. Part of their business model involves giving employees the opportunity to work remotely and travel, which she feels is her life purpose. “We take realtors from all over the country on social impact experiences. We’re building homes, getting people out of their comfort zones, and connecting them with people from other countries in a way that will impact them forever and inspire them to do more,” Pinal explains.
“It’s obviously standard for companies to give vacation days or paid time off, but most people (understandably) use that time for vacation,” Pinal says. “What if in addition to vacation, companies offered paid opportunities to travel and volunteer abroad? Salesforce, Timberland, Patagonia, and IBM are among the companies that currently offer paid volunteer abroad opportunities to their employees.What if every Fortune 500 company – and even smaller companies like TOMS – did the same? Imagine the impact that would have on the countries and people they’d be helping around the world and in the lives of the employees.”
Pinal offers these reasons why more companies should offer their employees paid opportunities to volunteer and more flexibility in their everyday work:
- Engagement increases: Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Employees come back feeling inspired, rejuvenated, and more engaged at work.
- Employee retention improves: Schedule flexibility and work from home opportunities play a major role in the decision to take or leave a job, especially for Millennials who are seeking more rewarding and unconventional lifestyles.
- Networking happens on another level. One of my favorite things to do is wander a city, any city, and find a spot to eat a meal at a bar and chat it up with my waiter, my taxi driver, the local merchant. I’ve met amazing people and connections have had unexpected benefits to my business.
- The work still gets done! Gallup reports that workers who spent 60-80% of their time away from the office had the highest rates of engagement. They become more productive in unlikely places. Working at a desk under florescent lights isn’t always the most inspiring or motivating environment. I am most productive and creative while flying on planes. Most of my ideas, writings, or reading happens in the air. And I make it a goal of mine to always come back with an outline of a project or the start of a new idea for our company.
MeiMei Fox is a New York Times bestselling author, life coach, and mother to twin toddlers.