Employee benefits at madewithlove

The secret power behind an awesome digital team

After coming across an article about employee benefits at Basecamp, the company formerly known as ‘37signals’ we secretly look up to, I decided to write my own. Also, reflecting on employee policies is important, and I don’t see much reason to be secretive about it. So here’s a quick look at the current benefits we offer at madewithlove, as well as some insight into our efforts to attract and retain the exceptional employees we have today.

Some background

In Belgium and elsewhere, companies go crazy looking for good software developers. They hire pesky recruiters who in turn call our office (!) phone with strange stories in a desperate attempt to get someone’s contact information. They don’t succeed. In my opinion, a substantial reason we have never needed recruiters, and even have trouble going through all of our applicants is simple: we’ve built an attractive place to work. Taking care of our employees is our primary focus. If you get this right, all the rest will fall into place. Attract talent, get high engagement, good projects, happy clients and better leads. It’s the result of knowing how your team likes to work rather than letting the client, market or other external factors steer your decision making.

Taking care of our employees is our primary focus.

In terms of benefits we offer some typical Belgian fringe benefits like meal vouchers and hospitalisation insurance you can get everywhere. We can’t give these to people outside of Belgium, but we compensate this in salaries. Also, pizza parties and company BBQs are nice, but I want to focus on some of our current benefits that are truly motivating, those that in some way install a certain trust, autonomy and purpose.


Our benefits as of January 1st 2016.

Any software, hardware or books you need

Anything you need to do your job is on us. Laptops, mobile phones and headphones are given. If you want to experiment with Fitbit, Raspberry Pi, Arduino or remote control helicopters, go for it. Any work related books will be on us too. In fact, any expenses employees may incur under €50 can be purchased via our company expense credit card, no questions asked.

Standing desks

All employees can work remote, but are very welcome to work at our HQ in Leuven or in our Ghent office! All of our desks are standing desks that you can adjust manually or can control using an application we’ve built. Each desk also has one or two 27 inch displays. If employees come to the office, we provide breakfast, snacks and fruit daily.

Fitness

We encourage a healthy lifestyle in any way we can for obvious reasons. Exercising means feeling good and reducing stress, so every Wednesday at noon employees can join an organised training session close to the office.

Electric cars

In Belgium, company cars are a popular benefit due to certain tax legislation. Giving everyone a car instead of the same benefit in cash could thus be better for the company financially, but we’ve deliberately chosen to not be part of a system that has already caused enough unnecessary cars on the road. To easily get to work, we made sure our offices in Ghent and Leuven are very close to main train stations. In the case someone does need a company car, they can choose an electric one. At the moment we offer the option to lease a Mercedes B-250e.

Rental Cars

For work related travel that is impractical by train, we have Cambio. This is a handy car sharing/rental service that proves to be a sustainable alternative for company cars. Employees can rent a car via Cambio just for the time needed, and we cover all of the costs and everyone is fully insured. We are currently looking at options to incorporate Cambio cars for private usage as well.

Open recruitment policy

After a certain stage in our hiring process, new candidates for technical positions are given a technical assignment to complete. Once submitted, we ask some of our developers to review and discuss the code. This way we ‘insource’ part of a hiring decision so the team has a say in new employee fit. Even if a certain candidate isn’t hired, they still get valuable feedback on their code.

Recognition program

We use Bonusly to allow employees to acknowledge each other’s good work. At the end of the year madewithlove will make a gift to a charity of choice, in relation to the amount of points you received in that year.

Bonusly is being used weekly

Work wherever you want

Madewithlove is based in Belgium but we have developers working all over the world. Canada, Kenya and France to name a few. We don’t care where they work, so no need to be in Belgium. When working from another time zone, they are however responsible for organising themselves to be able to communicate when needed and attend team meetings. Want to work in Helsinki for a few days? Just let us know in time, make sure you have a stable internet connection, and you are good to go. We regularly invite workers from abroad to Belgium, where they can count on a fully furnished upstairs apartment at the Leuven HQ.

Our international team with hires from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Kenya and Portugal

Work when you want

Employees get to choose their own hours, even in other time zones. It’s up to them to work efficiently with colleagues, so this naturally results in an overlap agreement so you have enough time online together. We will keep an eye on how long they’re working to encourage enough rest and a maximum of 38 hours per week. This is why we never accept 24/7 support requests from clients.

Personal growth plans

The purpose of personal growth plans is to set a tailored goal for someone together with them, and following up through setting milestones and steps to work towards this. We call these ‘tracks’ and see them as completely separate from day to day work. This way we can empower highly motivated employees with the autonomy to be in the driver’s seat of their own career.

Examples are our technology track, where a certain technology is specified that someone wants to get better at. Technology tracks entail working towards completing a full application with a certain technology. We’ve made some very cool internal own projects! Or our speaker track, where employees can get coaching for public speaking. Speakers are appointed practice sessions towards an internal presentation or a conference presentation. We help every step of the way, and are very proud of the public speakers at madewithlove!

Team retreat

Each year we fly everyone to one place to see each other and have some fun. Last year we went to Spain, where we rented a 20 bedroom villa with swimming pool close to Barcelona. We organised some hackathons and workshops in the morning, and did some swimming and barbecuing in the evening.

Vacation and paid holidays

We have the normal Belgian amount of 20 days off and 10 public holidays. We add another 6 paid workdays off by shutting the company down between Christmas and New Year. In general we feel nobody should feel guilty to take time off when they please, as long as it’s announced beforehand. Leaving work isn’t easy for everyone, so we keep track of everyone’s time taken to ensure a minimum. These 36 days are just a guideline, so if someone wants a longer holiday or take some days extra, that’s fine. Any medical or family-issue related days naturally don’t count towards the total.

Christmas and birthday gift

Everyone gets a gift on their birthday and at Christmas time. Last year everyone received a customised Christmas sweater we had designed by local street artist Snerk One.

Conference allowance

Madewithlove developers attend conferences all around the world. We encourage this by paying for admissions, hotels and flights within a certain yearly budget. Raising the budget to attend an extra conference is ok, given the employee is a speaker there.

Transparency

We want to be transparent about our benefits. Without shifting management responsibilities, we find efficient ways to allow everyone in the company to make suggestions on what kinds of other benefits they would like to see in the future. Leading to a more horizontally defined company culture. We also communicate about project management policies, hiring procedures, corporate values and longer term strategies. The goal is fair policies and consensus, and the result is employees that aren’t treated like children or work horses. A great tool we use that helps us extract valuable information is ‘Know Your Company’ (a Basecamp spin-off). This simple tool gives us a better and more regular insight into our entire team, leading to a better mutual understanding and benefits attuned to real needs.

Innovation Friday

This is one of our most important benefits, so I kept it for last. Every Friday afternoon we put client work aside to pursue our own projects or work on another form of personal development. Some have mini startups they work on, read blogs and books, create development tools or learn about new technology.


Since the beginning we have tried to build a company where everyone can be excited to work at. This is reflected in our benefits, policies and ultimately in the work we do and the motivated colleagues we are lucky to have.

If you have any ideas or questions about this or anything else related, let me know! Follow madewithlove on Twitter.