Kaleem Clarkson podcast cover
Episode: 8

Kaleem Clarkson - The Remote Employee Experience (TREE)

Posted on: 19 Nov 2020
Kaleem Clarkson podcast cover

Kaleem Clarkson is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Blend Me Inc., a US consultancy which helps businesses optimize their remote employee experience.

In this episode, we discuss the remote employee experience, its recent transformations and its value to businesses in times of COVID-19 and the mass digitalization which the pandemic has triggered. Kaleem presents all the key steps of the employee experience through their TREE framework and excellently supports his points with rich practical examples. In addition, he addresses some common misconceptions and shortcomings when it comes to the employee experience and recommends more optimal ways of doing things.


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“So a culture of trust is pretty much at the root of location independence. You know, you need to trust, as an employer you need to trust your people and trust the results but then you also have to kind of set clear expectations and accountability in order for that trust to be there.”

Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello everyone, thank you for tuning in. Our guest today is Kaleem Clarkson, co-founder and chief operating officer of Blend Me Inc., a U.S. consultancy which helps businesses enhance their remote employee experience.

Well the topic of this episode is the remote employee experience or TREE and the value it can bring to organizations in times of COVID and mass digitalization moving forward. 

Welcome Kaleem. It’s great to have you with us today. Is there anything you'd like to add to the introduction?

Kaleem Clarkson: Well first thank you so much for having me on, I really appreciate this. Obviously you know we're kind of both in the Drupal sphere so it's kind of cool to connect that way. Yeah, I guess I don't have too much to add. I guess… oh yeah I like I like to represent you know I like to represent Bangor Maine and so that's where I was born and raised so I like to represent the 207 whenever possible.

I now reside in Atlanta Georgia and I guess, yeah… so Blend Me Inc. We incorporated in 2013 as a remote work consultancy and it was actually after an inspiring talk that I heard by Matt Westgate, the CEO of Lullabot, at DrupalCon Denver I believe in 2012. So yeah I’m psyched to be here.

Tim Butara: Yeah I’m also really excited to start talking more about employee experience. It's a topic we're very interested in at Agiledrop and yeah I’ve seen that you also post a lot, write a lot on the subject, are very interested in the subject so I figured we're probably in for a very great talk. Well I want to start with the essentials and that is what's even meant by employee experience? How would you define employee experience?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah for sure. So you know I think Gallup has a really great definition and that's what we're kind of using as kind of the basis of our TREE framework but you know the employee experience is really the complete journey that an employee takes in the employee life cycle from the day that they view your job description to the day that they retire.

So when they view your job description, that experience starts and there's a whole bunch of different you know steps that they kind of lay out as to what those experiences are. What we've decided at Blend is we were trying to… we were kind of looking at it and we were like, what's different for remote. And you know of course anything remote can be applied to, you know, brick and mortar or co-located companies. But at the same time we felt like that there needed to be something a little bit more that we could kind of add to that overall experience, and we'll kind of go through some of the phases in a moment, but so what we-- where we kind of just did a lot of reading we've been you know again we started in 2013 and you know for the longest time just basically you know doing our due diligence; reading articles, posting articles, talking with employees. And one thing that we noticed, the first thing that we noticed is that trust - trust is really critical in a remote company. I mean what do you think about that? I mean obviously you guys are doing some of the remote work as well and as a digital agency yourself, I mean would you kind of agree that like trust is pretty critical for remote work?

Tim Butara: I think you have to have a company culture that's based on trust. A company culture in which trust is kind of baked into if you want to have really efficient and successful remote work that maybe not only kind of maintains the same level of productivity for your employees but actually boosts productivity and streamlines it.

Kaleem Clarkson: Absolutely and absolutely. So you know as we will just kind of go through these nine principles. So what we are calling the remote employee experience is TREE, that's kind of like how we came up with that acronym, and again we were just kind of talking about trust and you're absolutely correct.

So a culture of trust is pretty much at the root of location independence, you know. You need to trust, as an employer you need to trust your people and trust the results but then you also have to kind of set clear expectations and accountability in order for that trust to be there. You know, it-- what I kind of believe is a lot of times when you get into these situations where you know people are arguing or not really clear it's usually just based on they're not clear on what was expected of them.

You know, one person is expecting this and then one person expecting that. So for us it starts with trust. I guess you can't really sum that up any more than that. Also you-- I mean you got to have trust also with your peers, your teammates in order to have you know a really great collaborative culture. So the first letter in TREE is trust.

Tim Butara: Oh okay cool.

Kaleem Clarkson: The other thing that we have noticed… excuse me, is that with that trust, right? You have all this trust and you clear those expectations so that there are accountability, the next thing is responsibility, right? So there's a responsibility on both the employer and the employee, it's a reciprocal relationship, you know.

So it's critical for the employer to document the needs. It’s a responsibility of the employer to document the needs and if you don't have those things documented and for example, if the employer doesn't give you the right equipment set up, that's the responsibility of the employer. If the employer doesn't have the right onboarding process, that's the responsibility of the employer.

So there's a lot of responsibility on the employer to make sure that the employee is successful. But then you got to flip it around on us, you know, the employees, you got to take the responsibility. You know when an organization spends a lot of time and effort in making sure that you have everything you need, it's now the employee's responsibility to actually follow through and get those things done.

It's now the employee's responsibility to raise their hand and say, “Hey I need help. Hey this doesn't make sense.” So you know right now we're in a lot of you know right now I feel like there's it's a very finger-pointing culture in the global space right now and this is more of a relationship culture that we're hoping that people can get to.

So the ‘T’ for TREE is trust. The ‘R’ for tree is responsibility and then the ‘EE’ is employee experience. And Gallup, they're a great consulting company. They do the probably some of the best out there with Gartner about remote employee or just about employee engagement and the statistics. Pretty much all of us have been quoting Gallup for years when you talk about employee engagement, the research they do.

So I’ll kind of summarize their different phases here and now. So in that employee experience that we were talking about you know trust and responsibility are kind of the remote basis that we've added but the very beginning is the attract, okay? So…

Tim Butara: Sorry, can you repeat this again?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yes.

Tim Butara: The beginning is what?

Kaleem Clarkson: Beginning cycle of the remote employee experience or the employee experience, sorry, is attract.

Tim Butara: Okay.

Kaleem Clarkson: And you have to be able to attract the talent that fits your organization by aligning your internal and external branding strategies. Like you're basically trying to attract the perfect fit and that starts with your job descriptions, how those are written, also do you have a culture statement on your website that is accurate?

You know we all know about the companies who post these vague vision and mission statements, right? But what's the true benefit? If you have this one mission statement or vision statement or culture statement over here and then you go onto websites like Glassdoor and you see the reviews like not at all like the culture as described, you have a really big problem.

So I think the first part is-- would be attract. I mean, have you seen any examples of that yourself like as far as you know showing how the company works through blog posts or websites or anything like that?

Tim Butara: It’s part of like kind of our business strategy and our company culture here at Agiledrop. We have a really well established company culture, we really prioritize the employee experience both before the kind of in-house, you know, in person employee experience and now with COVID and we're kind of already primed for a second wave now so we're already you know implementing all of the new guidelines and everything and I would say that this is definitely… I mean like we know that your first interaction with a company determines your relationship with that company, right?

And if your first interaction with a company is through their job ad then of course you have to make those job ads reflect the kind of the personality and the structure of the company, the culture of the company because I think now especially in the tech industry which we're in, people have so many options.

You know it's not that somebody is looking for a job but people get head hunted for specific jobs. You know people get to choose between employers, so now with all this in mind, it's inevitable that you have to kind of mirror your company culture in your job descriptions and you have to kind of give insights on your company cultures in your blog posts, in your social media content basically everywhere where potential employees can interact with you, right?

Kaleem Clarkson: Absolutely. So then you've attracted some people by doing that correctly, now the next phase is hiring them. And you know this is a phase that I feel like the hiring process is very interesting because you want to have a hiring process that eliminates any unconscious biases. We all have them and it's natural and I feel like that's a… it's not a-- I’m trying to say this correctly.

Of course it's not a great thing but like it's not a bad thing to learn about those. It's not a bad thing to acknowledge that those exist and then you-- so coming up with some sort of deliberate applicant review process that helps eliminate some of those and helps you evaluate your decision based on you know we always, we love to ask this question; what are the traits outside of skill?

Because I feel like a lot of times when you're dealing with and become I don't want to go into you know inclusion and diversity all the time but this is part of it, it's the skills should just be assumed. Like I can't emphasize enough. You're not going to hire someone that has zero skill that's just absolutely ridiculous.

Tim Butara: And also…

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah.

Tim Butara: Sorry for interrupting.

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah, go ahead.

Tim Butara: I have a really good point here. Also like even if there's a certain lack in skill it's much easier to kind of teach that than to teach all of the soft skills such as communication, such as people skills, such as you know being a good collaborator with your teammates. These are the things that you kind of look for and as and a very good point by you, Kaleem, that basically skill is something that's assumed. You probably wouldn't be applying here if you didn't have the necessary skill, right?

Kaleem Clarkson: Exactly. And if you have these traits, if you, if people are writing down like you know communication, ability to adapt and you have all these things and then you have skill over there, why are you only hiring the most skillful employees? It doesn't make sense. You literally just told us that there are other things outside of skill so you can't put skill as the one and only parameter to select your employees on.

So you-- so then you have to have that hiring process. After you hire someone, right? Now the next phase in the employee experience is onboarding. And this is something that Blend Me is really, we're really passionate about. I mean of course we're passionate about all of the phases in the employee experience but onboarding for a lot of people they assume onboarding is; I go get my, I get my equipment, I get my i9 and my health insurance done and then I’m off to the races.

Onboarding-- a good onboarding practice is significantly critical and the purpose of the onboarding thing is really to, for new employees they need affirmation that their decision to come work for you was the right decision. Because in the first 90 days and you know of course you know go ahead and Google the real statistic but the statistics is between like between 45 and 90 days an employee knows whether they're going to look for another job.

I mean like how insane is that, that after 90 days an employee knows whether they're going to stay there for the long haul or not? So if you don't, if you're not very intentional in your onboarding including the history, why did the founder start the company? What really-- what is the real stat that keeps the company moving or what is the real motivation, is it sales? Is it… you know because there's always a true motivation to getting the work done.

You know don't say, “Oh we're looking to make the world a better place.” And then the sales you know you, as a sales person you don't make any sales in the first whatever days and you, you know you're getting dinged. Like be true to like what drives. And then the onboarding-- a good onboarding practice and some of the best ones we've seen, every phase is an intentional phase.

Like there are steps in the onboarding practice. So then you know you go through the culture piece then where do you get the resources to do that? Is there a learning management system? So onboarding… you know some of the best practices, onboarding is actually 13 to 18 months you know it's not just those first six weeks. So onboarding is kind of that next phase and I know we're going on, we're almost done here.

Then the next phase is engage. So you've attracted the right employee, you've hired them, now you've onboarded them, they're ready to go. Now you have to keep them engaged. And this is another passion of… you know this is definitely my partner’s, the CEO, Jennifer Cameron, she-- this is her expertise. You know she went to UConn and got a master's degree in organizational development and this is really kind of like her area.

How do you keep these employees engaged? I mean it's essential. You know keeping productivity high and again this is where Gallup statistics are really big because you know employee engagement has always kind of had this soft, this soft touchy-feely kind of you know aura to it, but there are a lot of statistics out there that say, if your employees are engaged and especially during times of uncertainty, you can continue and push through and be successful.

So you know engagement is kind of the next phase. Then after engagement you have performance, right? So you're keeping them, you're keeping them engaged, now you have to kind of look at you have to kind of reinforce accountability so that trust… again you're establishing trust more, so how are you doing? You know, where are you having challenges? Where can we actually… we talked about these expectations, maybe you're not meeting them here, but you're exceeding expectations here.

Maybe we need to kind of look, reassess what it is that you're doing and maybe the job has to change a little bit to fit your strengths. It's not necessary, you know, say you hire somebody for sales and they're not doing great in sales but the few sales that they got, their clients are being up-sold. You know that doesn't necessarily mean that they're a bad salesperson. You know maybe you know the front end sales is tough for that person but their customer experience and how they've talked the customer through establishes some trust and maybe the upsell of their clients are higher.

So you really have to kind of take a look at the performance. And then we'll kind of move on to develop. So you've, now at this point you've attracted them, you’ve hired them, you’ve onboarded them, they're super engaged, you've looked at their jobs, you've worked on their performance evaluations. This part is another huge area that's dear to me; development.
Prior to doing Blend Me Inc. full-time, I worked at a faculty development center at a higher ed institution. Shout out to CETL, shout out to Kennesaw State University. And basically the whole business of faculty development or “professional development” is to improve or to foster kind of like an environment where you establish like lifelong learning and this is where a lot of organizations in my opinion think about developing incorrectly.

And what I mean by that is it takes a lot of resources to develop an employee, right? You know what conferences do you go to? What time do you have to work on? We consulted with one web development company in the Drupal space that they all got personal development time. Like they got time hours to work on other projects. This is common, you know. Lots of companies do this, but you know what we found out surveying? None of them actually took the time.

They actually never took the time because their normal work plate was so heavy they could never take the time to actually develop themselves. Well the only way that they're going to take the time is if their development plan is intentional, if their development plan is scheduled with the organization and it's scheduled and it's-- I don't want to say mandatory but okay you're not going to work on this day because you need to do this.

And a lot of organizations are very wary of like “Whoa! Why should we develop-- put so much effort into developing our employees going to events because they may leave. That you know they may get picked by another company, we spent this money then they get picked they're gone.” Well let me just paint this picture for you, we'll just use sales for another example.
Let’s just say you have a sales person, right? They’re a junior sales person and you sent them to all these conferences, right? And now they've learned all these great things, they've made these great connections and let's just say you have a manager over that slides a position and I’m in Atlanta so I’m going to use Coca-Cola, right?
Let's just say you have a manager that's like, “Wow! Tim you're doing great. I'm going to slide this, there's a VP job, VP of sales at Coca-Cola that I think would be really great for you.” Now a lot of people would be like, “Why would I do that? Like we want you to stay at our company.” But so now then you go apply, your manager’s like pushed you to apply to this job because A, they can't pay you as much.

I mean you know they can't pay you as much. In a lot of smaller companies or mid-sized companies the movement doesn't happen as much, right? So now you apply and you get the job. That does a couple of things here, right? So as far as your employees, let's talk about employee engagement and motivation and what that looks like. The other employees that saw you leave because your organization supported you in getting a job outside of the company, mind you, how do you think that's going to make them feel?
Like you know how would you think, if you saw that, I’m just curious how would you-- how would you feel if one of your colleagues and you knew that like you know your CEO like you know pushed a colleague of yours to go apply, how would it make you feel?

Tim Butara: Well probably one of my first thoughts would be that, wow! Apparently it's really, they're really true to what they're saying, true to their statements, you know it's all about the people, it's about the good relationships, and I would view it as a commendable thing, you know. I would definitely, it would boost, to return to what we were talking about before, it would probably boost my trust in the employer, in the company rather than hinder it.

It would probably, as opposed to making me want to stay there less likely, it would make me more likely to want to stay there for a longer period of time because obviously I mean if you're capable of doing something like that, if you're capable of going beyond yourself in this way and kind of making a move that at first glance seems detrimental to you and to your business, man I respect that.

Kaleem Clarkson: Not only do you respect that but just for me personally you're exactly right but not only that. Shoot! There's a new job opening. You know what I’m saying? There's now motivation like, you know what I’m going to work a little harder because not only that there's a new job opening and if they can't find a job opening for me they may, they're going to have me.
Everybody just wants to know that there's a chance, right? That's-- you know I don't want to get intrinsic to the United States because that's not what we're talking about but like you know, USA is the whole, anybody can make it and now that's kind of a global thing. I think that everybody is in that space and wow I thought I can make it. I want-- I just want a chance. And that's all anyone wants. 

Number two as far as what else that does and this is the other thing that I think a lot of organizations miss so now you're the VP at Coca-Cola and a request for proposal comes up for a new website. Somebody from you know Agiledrop submits a proposal to get that done, do you think as the VP of sales or whatever, do you think that Agiledrop’s chances would be a little bit better than someone else's?

Tim Butara: Well let me put it like this; I definitely say that you would go with a company that you have good experience with, that you’ve built relationships with, that you’ve built connections with and also it's kind of you know maybe to return to as a company or kind of ah I don't want to, I don't want this to come up the wrong way but you're kind of paying it forward, you know. You're kind of… yeah I can…

Kaleem Clarkson: Thank you so much for saying that. Yeah I actually-- somebody told me and please out there in the legal world if we're incorrect here please correct me, but somebody once advised me that a lot of large attorney firms kind of work this way where they want some of their junior attorneys to go work for their client, to leave there because everyone can't be partner. So they actually want you to get sucked up by the client to be kind of the in-house attorney so that now there's this automatic connection, this automatic relationship with that client for something bigger because you know a junior attorney may not be able to do something really large. So. it's out there, it's out there.

So, develop is a really big part of my DNA. I love to learn, I try to learn from everybody so to me I think the development plan was really key. And then the last part in the employee experience, so you've attracted the person, you've hired them, you've onboarded and engaged them, you've done the performance, you have a great development plan, the last piece; depart.
And this section I believe-- you know I don't have a real stat out there but I just believe a majority of companies miss the departure phase. They miss an opportunity and in the depart phase when an employee separates, whether it's voluntary or involuntary, like in a structured off-boarding program just gives you the opportunity to understand what motivates, what motivated your employees to find other employment.

It's literally the best piece of feedback that you're going to get whether you fire the person. Like, why are we fighting, because like everyone's going to have their version of the story. Let's just say you have a whole bunch of people that are being fired or being let go over a period of time and you give this feedback and you find out that the hiring manager or their manager was just not a good manager.

You know you're never going to find this information without asking or the vice you know vice versa, they're leaving voluntarily and they get another job. Hey why are you leaving? Well you know what, I didn't see any-- I didn't see a future for me here. I didn't see any new jobs. I-- you know I got a couple promotions but I have the same title, I went from junior to senior but you know where am I going to go?

I mean you just… like data is so invaluable if you ask for it and then apply it. So you know I know that was about a 20-minute explanation of just question one but I’m sure we'll go a lot quicker but this is a really important piece and this is what you know we at Blend focus on, that experience from the day they you know view your jobs description to the day they leave. So that's the remote employee experience.

Tim Butara: Yeah I think we also kind of covered some of the points from next question so I think it will be incorporated nicely into the whole conversation. So we kind of, yeah we kind of touched upon the more long-term benefits of you know taking really good care of your employees with the Coca-Cola examples, which I just love by the way, but what about more immediate benefits of having a good employee experience. Like how does a business benefit just like currently on the get-go from improving the experience of their employees, whether it be remote or in person?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah, I would say that it's kind of like just a strategic business advantage really and what I mean by that is especially during times of uncertainty when you can fall back on that experience, then you can push through. I was just listening to a podcast, How I Built This, and the company Life Is Good, that makes those cool t-shirts and they have a little circle “life is good”, they were getting ready to shut down their whole company. They were getting ready to shut it down, the brothers are on, it they're getting to shut down the whole company because when COVID hit they sold all their T-shirts to wholesalers and obviously all the stores shut down.

Well because they had a great culture and a great employee experience, they met with leadership and leadership was like, “No, don't-- we don't have to shut down. We don't have to shut down.” They're like, “No, we're going to file bankruptcy, we're going to do this.” And they were pretty adamant on doing it because they saw the numbers, their sales went from you know killing it to zero. So, leadership was like, “No, no, no, don't do it. We can do this. Let’s focus on our e-commerce business. And then in fact let's spend more money on making our warehouses safer because guess what, if we close the business a lot of these warehouse workers are going to go into high-risk jobs, you know clerks and these different jobs.”

So they were like, let's make the warehouse as safe as possible and let's focus on e-commerce.” And sure enough they did that and they didn't close and they actually are being more profitable and now they're not reliant on wholesale sales anymore. So when we go back to normal they're going to be able to add the wholesale plus they're going to have the e-commerce.

So I think that the benefit is really just, it's a strategic business benefit, it's a strategic business advantage and if you have a good employee experience there was a reason why leadership felt comfortable to say that, to challenge. To challenge the CEOs, the co-CEOs. “No, don't do that.” You got to have a good employee experience to do that and then it's times of uncertainty you kind of have to you know rely on that.

Tim Butara: What about the sayings that like you know a good employee experience also leads to a good customer experience, what do you think about that?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yes, that is… I mean we probably-- we probably should have a lot more documentation on that because you know, we try to focus on internal marketing and internal engagement but you're absolutely correct. You know, if your employees, if you have a product and your employees don't have a good experience talking about the product, how are they going to transfer that over to the customer experience?

Like it's almost like you have two customers or-- let's use stakeholders instead. You have internal stakeholders and you have external stakeholders. If your internal stakeholders believe in the product and have a good experience then it's going to reflect on the work out to your external stakeholders, so it's absolutely a direct connection.

Tim Butara: And it's not just about speaking of the product it's also like if engineers building the product have a bad experience then I mean, I think it's almost inevitable that that product will be of a lesser quality than it could have been if the employee experience had been a great one.

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah and that's always the tough part in development, right? I mean should I do this the quick way or should I do this the right way. And that's something that I feel for all developers I’m kind of really no longer in that front-end UX developer experience because that's a very difficult thing for development firms to do because everything's based on like billable hours, so absolutely.

Tim Butara: And you kind of described the process of kind of the whole-- what was it? Seven step process or how many steps were there, again? I think it's at least five or six.

Kaleem Clarkson: It's nine if you add trust and responsibility but for the employee experience it was seven.

Tim Butara: So we kind of spoke about that but so as to my question how managers in the upper management should approach employee experience but like what about some more specific points, some more specific considerations for enhancing ‘EE’?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah. So and this is kind of funny, it's not really funny but back in—again, back when I was in higher ed, a lot of what I’ve learned to my folks at the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning. But in 2016 and I’ll probably write a blog post about this but in 2016 we were all sitting around the table, we used to eat lunch every single day like in this living room, our office was a house and we would eat lunch together and in 2016 this sprint commercial came out, we’ll share it in the notes and it was a sprint commercial where they're like they're sitting around like this table and the CEO asked you know what are the first words that you can think of when I say T-Mobile?

Like this is a sprint commercial and they're like you know they're sitting there with a focus group and the CEO asked that question and they panned to this, you know, white valley girl from California type thing and I’m sorry if she wasn't from Cali and I’m just making this assumption, but I’m trying to paint a picture for all of you who are listening, right?
And she goes “I think of like, ghetto” and you can just see everyone kind of laughs and but you can see this one person of color who's at the table just kind of put their head down and put their head in their face and we just were sitting around watching this commercial and we were shocked. We were-- first we all started dying laughing like, why not again did he, did she literally just say, “I think of ghetto?” And we were just shocked we were shocked and I can't remember who said it like, “Wow! All these companies with millions of dollars, they don't have a team that they run this stuff by first?”

So we kind of made this joke of we should start our own team and we'll just call it RunItByUsFirst because you know RunItByUsFirst and what that really kind of means is like try to develop… you know for organizations, if you're going to try to work on this employee experience try to develop kind of what they call like a counseling culture and what I mean by that is develop a culture where you're listening so that you can gain empathy.

This way you know how to respond to things. Like you know this is really cool workshop that I participated in, shout out to Garrett from Social Architect, shout out. You know we were doing this connecting game where you have conversations but they're not typical conversations where you're just spitting back information, like, I’m 23, I’m from Atlanta.
Like it was, like “what's on your heart today” was one of the questions you had to listen and then you had to as a listener you had to listen to like what they said and then it was your turn and you had to actually say “what I recognized when you were talking about what was on your heart”. Like for example “I recognize that you are having you know that you're having a really tough time with having to teach your kids school while doing work.”

And what that does is it makes you get in that person's shoes and feel empathy. So RunItByUsFirst was kind of a-- you know it was kind of a joke at that time but at the same time it kind of reinforces the idea of utilizing your, like listening to your employees and really feeling some empathy so that then you can go ahead and respond and implement things based on that.
So that's probably the biggest key consideration that I would say if you're going to work on this just run it by us first and whoever that RunItByUsFirst is, go ahead and listen with the idea of creating a counseling culture.

Tim Butara: Yeah that's a very great point Kaleem about empathy. I think this is what I was aiming for and I think it's essential also not just in employee experience but like in any position of leadership in general probably.

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah, it was a really good workshop. Shout out Garrett.

Tim Butara: Nice. Make sure to send me the link to that so I can also include everything. Cool.

Kaleem Clarkson: Absolutely.

Tim Butara: Okay now I want to move to the to the T part of the TREE acronym and I think that everything that's been going on this year in 2020 will probably factor majorly into the next bit of our discussion and so I want to talk about like how would you say that that the Covid pandemic and the rise of remote work that kind of, that it kind of initiated, how would you say that this has impacted the remote employee experience?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah this is a good one. So when you think about Covid-19 you have to have some, you have to try to be somewhat positive at some point. Like there's a lot, there's been a lot of deaths out there and this is something that will go down in the record books for forever. You know 2020 is definitely going to be in the record books. But I think one thing that it has done for remote work specifically and the remote employee experience is that remote work is no longer like this folklore thing. You know what I mean? Like…

Tim Butara: Yeah.

Kaleem Clarkson: Like in 2013 when we started this a lot of people were like, “Eugh, remote work. Like you can't work from home.” And I remember at one point at like Kennesaw State I remember somebody saying, “Well you can't have a baby at home. Remote work is now a substitute for daycare.” It's just like, what is that? Like you can do both. You know what I mean? We’re doing it right now.

Tim Butara: Yeah. 2020 has proven that it’s possible, yeah. 

Kaleem Clarkson: Right. It’s proven. Like there's people at home with kids at home working. So I think the one thing that is coming out of this is that remote work is no longer this folklore and the whole world now has experienced it at some capacity. If you're not working from home, you know, because you're an emergency worker or whatever there's a good chance your significant other is working for home or you know somebody that's working from home or you've actually, you know, called someone or a restaurant or some type of service where that person on the other end is working from home.

So I think the biggest impact that we've had is that we all now have experienced it. I think that's the biggest impact it's possible, right?

Tim Butara: Yep.

Kaleem Clarkson: We can go to the moon.

Tim Butara: Right. Even the sky is not the limit anymore. Well and so in this similar line like there are probably some-- I mean the nature of the employee experience is also changing with the rise of digitalization and remote work, are there any special considerations for the remote employee experience now in times of COVID and post COVID versus what we were seeing maybe pre-2020 or in early 2020?

Kaleem Clarkson: I would definitely say-- I would definitely, I would say that there's just a lot more emphasis being given to the employees’ well-being. You know, you're seeing-- I think companies right now are just like, wow, we kind of, we might have been missing some of this well-being stuff before. So, I think now there is going to be you know [INAUDIBLE] right? People matter now. You know I think a lot more organizations have recognized that.

I would also have to say that employees-- like we're now in the knowledge age. You know we hear a lot about the industrial revolution and manufacturing jobs, like go ask a farmer how many farmers they have on the farm now, you know. You know like, it's just kind of comical how people... you know I’m not going to go down that route of political stuff, but it's just kind of comical how like you're not seeing the transformation, you know libraries, car plans.

You know we've actually had conversations before back in the day of like what jobs are going to be available in a hundred years, you know. Because we're-- humans we're smart, we like to figure stuff out, we like to invent things. You know, like are we just going to be able to do whatever we want to make paintings. So I would say the emphasis is definitely more on the knowledge age, but now employers are also like open to freelancing and more open to the gig economy.

Employees are like, hey you know what, I'm a great graphic artist, I don't have to work for just one company anymore, why don't I work for multiple companies. Why don't I work on teams? I think the whole idea of staying on the company for 20 years, 30 years I think that's rare. I also think that employees, individuals realize that they can make more money on their own.
So it will be really interesting to see, like, as companies start looking for specialists versus, okay you're kind of good you got health insurance… you know, I don't think the companies are going to die by any means because I think all of us feel-- I think everyone will always feel better when there's a “institution or group of people” that are responsible for your product but how companies execute on that I believe is going to change significantly.

Tim Butara: Yeah that's an excellent point. Basically the future of work is now, right?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah. Can we all please say-- stop saying the future of work? I used to love saying it. Like let's say stop the future of work because like the future of work is now so we’re no longer in the future, in the past we're actually in the future.

Tim Butara: And before 2020, unprecedented was one of my favorite words and I saw it used very infrequently but now like with a very heavy heart I have to stop using it because it's so overused that it makes me want to throw up when I hear it.

Kaleem Clarkson: That's awesome.

Tim Butara: Okay we almost made it through. As you said kind of the other questions after we got through the process and everything and all of the steps the conversation just really flowed, but before we finish I just have one very current and kind of the most actionable question here; do you have any words of advice for business owners, for businesses that are currently trying to redefine their employee experience that are maybe running into some issues and challenges?

Kaleem Clarkson: Yeah and obviously my first answer is going to be a little self-serving but reach out for help. I mean the truth is like and that's you know consultants, and for good reason have kind of a mixed bag of opinions and experiences with companies but you know, you're experts in your subject area, you know, and I actually some more stuff, shout out to CEDL again. Like in the faculty development space you know they help with course design but they're not experts in, for example, statistics. But they can help a statistics faculty member learn some best practices on how to design their syllabus so that maybe students, you know, better understand what's expected of them - setting expectations, right? What's expected of them, how to move forward and how their grades are going to be done and stuff like that, and I kind of just bumped that over to consultants.

Like listen I’m not an expert in and how Agiledrop does work, you know, like I’m not an expert in that but what I am you know… I hate to use the word expert but what I am you know knowledgeable about, right, is that you know the remote employee experience and employee engagement and how to look at these things.

So, you know, I would, the first thing I would say is you don't have to do it yourself. You know you're probably working very hard right now as it is, you're probably already at capacity and unless you know you have a you know even in a full HR team you know they're probably already working their butts off, so you know what, reach out to some help, it's you know it's cheaper than hiring another employee as well, so that's the first thing that I would suggest, reach out. Find some external perspectives. Reach out to some of your competitors see what they're doing.

You know I think that's the other thing like that's one thing I do have to say about the Drupal community and for those of you who don't know what Drupal, it's the open source community on web development, kind of like WordPress or whatever; there are a lot of agencies that work together which I never, I actually just never knew that until the past couple years.

You know like reach out because they're going through some of the challenges so reach out to some other people.

Tim Butara: Frenemies, right?

Kaleem Clarkson: You know the other thing that I would say is don't go back-- take this as an opportunity to improve. You know, take this, take the COVID space as an opportunity to improve on your business. Back to the Life is good example - they were forced to make a pivot, they were forced to make a change.

All these restaurants who are who are still thriving with takeout who never utilized takeout before, when we go back to normal - because I believe we will get through this we are humans, we will get through this and we'll have concerts again we'll have good times, we'll have events - you know we'll get back to this jam but the point is like don't just go back to the way it used to be just because. Take this as an opportunity to learn and maybe implement some of these things after.

Some of the restaurants that are using takeout maybe you continue to do take out. You know. So I would say just take this as an opportunity to improve, to learn and then do not just go back to the way it used to be just because. Like one of these things that I’m thinking about are like Twitter, Google, all these companies who are saying you can work from home.
Like you had a huge downtown office, if your company has multiple offices you got a very difficult decision to make in 2021-2022 forward. Like you're seeing that your productivity, eh, it didn't dip and for some it might have increased and you're kind of like, okay we have this huge expense - what do we do now? Do we keep this office? Well you know what maybe you need to consider maybe different purposes for the office.

Maybe the office now is a place to bring people together, because you know what - I love remote work, I’m a big component of remote work well listen we are a tribal species, right? We're not like the hedgehog, like the hedgehog, I just learned that from watching a cartoon with my daughter. Like hedgehogs like to be alone after they have their kids, right?
We’re not like that, we're a tribal species, that's why there've been tribes forever. We thrive on being around each other. So maybe there's a new way for you to utilize the office space to maybe supplement, you know, that peace that we're losing being in person. And then the last thing that I would say would be: invest in training and professional development. I cannot emphasize this enough. We're moving into a different space of work, right?

Before maybe you had a sales floor if you, you know you're a sales company you had a sales floor with the sales manager walking around the floor making sure that everybody is doing their job and I’ve actually heard, I can't remember the guy's company's name but I think he called it the remote or job assessment company and I apologize if I get it right.

Tim Butara: You can text me the link later and I’ll include it in the links and mentions bit so the listeners will still be able to access the info if you think of it later.

Kaleem Clarkson: Okay yeah. So I was talking with a colleague recently and he runs a company called Job Match Assessment. There it is. I knew it would come to me eventually. And what was really interesting is he was telling me that, you know, they do these different types of assessments for employees, employers where they're interviewing them so they can get a sense of like how that person will fit.

Not like the Myers-Briggs or anything like that, but like you know they have one assessment for trust for like banks, because you want to know if this person is trustworthy and they're not going to steal. And then an assessment of like you know what do they do outside of the job because it drives kind of intrinsic motivations if it fits within your stuff, and the reality of the situation is that what they found out is, when they did this survey 33% of their employees were more productive going remote.

Another 30% were more productive going into the office a couple of times a week and then the remaining 30% was more productive in the office. So they're not most likely one of-- their clients most likely are not going to make those 30% that were really productive going to the office anymore but for the 30% that need to be in the office the workplace is changing, the jobs are changing, so we're going to need new skills. There's an article that came out I think on Forbes just today or something like that about you know we're going to have to change those people who need the boss walking around and looking over their shoulder? That might not be a trait that's hirable in five or ten years.

Like they're going to have, people going to have to learn how to work differently. So and the only way that you're going to do that, like you don't want to just go out and fire everybody, no one wants to fire their staff right, that's not a, you know, we don't suggest that, you know, obviously you have to get rid of some of the bad apples when that happens. But at the same time you know those people you're going to have to train. So you know just to kind of recap I would say reach out for help, don't go back to the way it used to be just because and invest in training and professional development.

Tim Butara: Yeah those are some great bits of advice and insights right in the closing there Kaleem, thanks. Just before we finish the call, if people want to reach out to you or to learn more about you where can they do that?

Kaleem Clarkson: Definitely go to Blend Me Inc., get-- try out a new TREE assessment. If you're curious to see how your organization's remote employee experience is doing I encourage everyone to take it, it's free, it's just kind of fun and you fill out a few questions and then you get a score at the end. So I would suggest going to blendmeinc.com and if you just hey want to chat or whatever you can reach me at Kaleem Clarkson on Twitter and Kaleem Clarkson on LinkedIn.

Tim Butara: Awesome. Thanks Kaleem for taking the time to talk with me today. It's been a really great chat. And to our listeners that's all for this episode, have a great day everyone and stay safe.

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