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Interviews / Founders

Balancing the Grind with Zelia Leong, Co-Founder at RewardNation

Zelia Leong is the co-founder of RewardNation, a remote team productivity tool that is now being used by over 10,000 tech workers around the globe. 

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I was Head of Marketing at Rocket Internet, before co-founding my travel tech startup Anywhr. Anywhr is a travel curator that plans personalised trips to less-travelled places worldwide. 

With thousands of travellers across over 28 countries, we were also the recipient of Google for Startups’ Silicon Valley Accelerator Scholarship, represented Singapore at Google Demo Day Asia, finalist at Singapore Airline’s App Challenge, and inked a partnership with Oxford University. 

However when the pandemic hit, we knew we had to keep things going, and started a series of new experiments which led to our pivot into RewardNation – the remote team productivity tool that’s now used by over 10,000 team members in tech companies worldwide.

RewardNation helps companies improve remote team productivity using micro recognition and rewards. Team members bring their best to work when they feel recognised for their contributions. We help make that happen consistently everyday, no matter where or how people work.

Working remote means team members communicate only on formal channels such as emails, Teams, or Slack. Every social interaction at work comes in the form of an ‘invite’ – an invite to join a call or meeting. Connection and collaboration is what builds strong teams, yet that has been a challenge when physically-distanced.

RewardNation was started to scratch our own itch, when running travel curator Anywhr. We hired team members based across 3 continents, to access a wider pool of talent. Yet the remote aspect was a challenge.

We all want to stay connected, learn from each other, and do work that makes an impact on the company. However after trying many virtual, remote engagement activities with our team members, everyone got tired and bored after a while. The lack of connection caused morale, collaboration and productivity to drop. 

So we thought: Everyone comes from different backgrounds and countries, yet the one thing that brought us all together working tirelessly is the desire to learn and do good work.

As such, we experimented with a micro recognition channel internally for our team members to recognise each other’s good work and show appreciation for help received. This worked so well for us (to our surprise) that many startups and large enterprises asked to use it as well. 

This turned into RewardNation – the remote productivity tool that builds a strong recognition culture across global teams.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I start by reviewing my notes from the previous day – expanding on ideas I did not have the bandwidth to think about, and completing pending tasks.

Our global remote team works across different time zones, thus I’ll also review messages they’ve sent over the night. I also check our inboxes for any user requests and feedback, or if there’s any urgent support matters.

What happens next is a whirlwind – forcing myself to focus instead of getting distracted to do everything and eventually completing nothing. I form a clear to-do list and place it right in front of my keyboard, work on 1 task at a time, expand on one idea at a time, and follow-up on the rest of my emails.

All while getting excited to work on new launches with more companies, thinking of ways to solve current challenges, having calls to learn from more tech business leaders, and finding pockets of time in between to do other stuff that I love but should not prioritise (such as posting lame jokes on LinkedIn).

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes – it’s been great. I save travel time and office rent, and have worked out a work from home routine that fits me and my team. Can’t wait to travel soon and experience remote working around the world!

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I’ve been trying to regulate my emotions and thoughts, and find a way to have some separation or not let the highs get too high and lows get too low. Speaking with friends on this and reading books have helped me learn a lot too. But I’ve definitely not fully achieved it yet, so please let me know if you have the answer!

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Got an instant pot – totally life-changing! Just dump some frozen meat and sauces in, and food will be ready in 10 minutes. I make many portions at once, so I can just pop it into the microwave the next few days.

It’s even quicker than food delivery, healthier, actually pretty tasty, and saves so much time and washing. Especially if you don’t want to be interrupted to fuss over meals in the middle of a workday.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Currently re-reading Principles by Ray Dalio, and just finished The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger. Both are highly-recommended!

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My instant pot.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Anyone working full-time with young children at home and doesn’t have a live-in helper. Total respect to those champions!

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Remember that all the ‘wins’ and amazing achievements you see on social media are just one side of the story. You are doing amazing work yourself and you matter – even if you’re not on the ’30 Under 30′ list, or sharing another “#humbled and #honoured” post on LinkedIn. You’re doing great! (Also, we’re living in a global pandemic so don’t be so hard on yourself or compare your achievements with those you see online.)

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.