The Remote Show

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Tyler Sellhorn (00:02): 
Are you a software developer that wants to work remote? Clevertech is where software developers experience remote done right. Live limitlessly, add world class accomplishments to your resume, live a life beyond the ordinary. Join team members in creating the future, all while making memories and being close to what's important to you. Visit Clevertech.biz/jobs to apply. 
Tyler Sellhorn (00:22): 
Hello, everyone. My name is Tyler Sellhorn. And welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire. Today we are blessed to be learning out loud with Kaleem Clarkson. 
Tyler Sellhorn (00:43): 
Kaleem is a husband, father, remote work advocate, people operations professional and speaker. Kaleem is the chief operating officer at Blend Me Inc., a remote work consultancy founded in 2013. He is passionate about work, life integration and maximizing the remote employee experience. He has been featured in Harvard Business Review, selected as one of 2022's, LinkedIn top voices for remote work, and named one of the top 15 remote work advocates and leaders by the All American Speakers Bureau. Kaleem currently resides in Atlanta with his family. When he is not working, you can find him mountain biking on the trails of Georgia with his headphones blasting a little hard rock music. 
Tyler Sellhorn (01:22): 
Kaleem, welcome to The Remote Show. Please tell us, what problems are you all trying to solve at Blend Me Inc.? 
Kaleem Clarkson (01:28): 
Oh, thanks man. Thanks for having me here. Appreciate it. 
Tyler Sellhorn (01:34): 
There's the air horns. I love it. 
Kaleem Clarkson (01:35): 
So I have to start with that. Really appreciate it, man. But just some of the problems that we're trying to solve, mostly everything that revolves around the remote employee experience. And what that is, that's the life cycle that an employee takes with your organization from the day that they see your job ad to how you hire them, how you engage them, how you onboard them. All of those things until the day that they leave. So the complete employee life cycle. And really, our biggest goal is to ensure that organizations are providing the right resources for their managers, for their leadership teams in order to maximize that experience. So we consult with the organization. We come from the organizational side. We understand that there's a lot of things that are on the individual contributor side, but we focus on how the organization can really maximize that remote employee experience. 
Tyler Sellhorn (02:30): 
Awesome. Let me pull some things out from that introduction. You mentioned the complete employee life cycle from when someone notices a job advertisement, all the way to off-boarding, right? 
Kaleem Clarkson (02:43): 
Tyler Sellhorn (02:44): 
And I'm super curious to learn more. Obviously, we here at We Work Remotely, we operate a job board. And we're very interested to learn from your experiences of best practices around how to help remote job seekers and first time remote hiring managers. What are the things that you might say to those people as they are thinking about, okay, how do I craft a good job advertisement? Or how do I identify a good remote job? When I just look at a new posting from a company, how do I know that's what I want to be doing, that's who I want to hire, and that's where I want to get hired, or this is how I communicate to remote job seekers, "Hey, this is a place that you want to be hired at"? 
Kaleem Clarkson (03:23): 
Okay. So from both perspectives, the job poster and the seeker. And I'm going to give you the same answer for both, because this is something that I'm noticing from all of these job postings right now. The definition of remote work varies. And I'm going to use this phrase or this definition that I heard from Ilma, from the CEO of MailerLite, also the remote company. I just attended a webinar with her. But she said, "Remote work, it's very objective, similar to the word love." I was like, what? Yeah. So what does love mean? It's one of the most difficult things, right? And what she said was, "You and your partner should have a discussion on what love means. And based on that discussion, you can now both navigate this relationship on the same path." And it's funny, because this was just a few days ago of us recording today. And I told her, I'm definitely taking them. I'm definitely stealing this because you're absolutely right. 
Kaleem Clarkson (04:28): 
So back to your question, I go on these little journeys when I answer these questions. But from a job poster, as an organization who are looking for candidates. Very critical that you define in the job ad what your workplace flexibility expectations are. And don't just say, "We are a remote company. We are a hybrid company." Don't just say those empty words, very similar to culture. Now all of these words are just empty, meaningless words. So add some definition. "We expect our employees to be in the office X amount of days. We are looking for people who are going to be in the US time zones. We are expecting people to be available from these times to these times. We are a remote first company that practices async like a yak or something." You have to be able to be honest with the potential candidates. So that's from the employer's perspective. 
Kaleem Clarkson (05:33): 
From a candidate's perspective, look for that. If they do not have a definition, if they don't have their culture statement on their website, if they are not posting about remote work, look at social media. And this is actually some advice I provided in the HBR article. How do you know whether the organizational culture is the right fit? Well, you have to do your research. Social media's great. I noticed the other day an executive vice president made some very interesting comments about, "Get back to work. And you're going to need a paycheck. And for all those people who need a paycheck, you better get back to work." And I was thinking, bro, be careful what you say, because let me tell you, I would not be applying to your company knowing that that's your point of view. So again, back to the question, how do you know, from an employer perspective? Post your expectations. And then from the candidate perspective, look for those signs that clarify those expectations and the culture for you to make sure it's a fit. 
Tyler Sellhorn (06:33): 
I love that encouragement, to define the relationship between the worker and the workplace. And what does it mean when we say remote? What does it mean when we say hybrid? What does it mean when we say we are going to have this kind of relationship as we work together? I'm of an age that, elder millennial here, guilty, that a DTR was a thing that you did when you were hanging out and you were going to maybe like somebody a little bit more than just a friend. You had to define the relationship. And it's really just like, are we going out? 
Kaleem Clarkson (07:11): 
The relationship status in Facebook was huge. For all you young bucks who think it's something old, when we saw that, we were like, what is this thing? 
Tyler Sellhorn (07:22): 
Right, exactly. So we need to decide as remote job seekers and hiring managers. Let's define what we mean by this working relationship, whether it's remote or what level of hybrid we're talking about. Let's be on the same definition when we're talking about those terms. That's really, really great encouragement. Okay. So Blend Me has really leaned into this acronym, the remote employee experience. It's the TREE. We've got our metaphor, so to speak. And I'm a huge person on doing that, reflective, metacognitive stuff to be the place to do some of that definition. And so, I guess maybe define that for us a little bit. Define what the remote employee experience is for Blend Me as you are consulting with organizations. 
Kaleem Clarkson (08:11): 
Yeah. I think I would just define it very similarly to how we kicked it off. Well first, I won't go through all of the, we call them, principles. First off, the employee experience is way before Blend, and it's very well defined by Gallup. So the employee experience in itself is something that's been defined. And Gallup is a great organization that we always lean to for some of the best research out there. So there's a definition for the employee experience. But when we were looking around at the time, and interestingly enough, I know Slack, in the future forum, has their definition of what the remote employee experience is. 
Kaleem Clarkson (08:47): 
But when we were looking, that wasn't published quite yet, I don't think. But what we were trying to do is, well, what makes the employee experience unique from a remote perspective? We were looking for things. We were looking for different ideas. And we just kept coming back to two different rooting principles. Trust. Absolutely, trust is something that you hear the term a lot, trust is earned. But in our case, we believe that trust should be assumed. In a remote work situation, you have to start off with trust and you may not know anyone. So it's not trust is, don't earn my trust and then you can work remotely. We have to start with trust. And the more things you do, the more trust I have in you. But we do have to start with trust. So that's what the T in TREE stands for. Trust. 
Kaleem Clarkson (09:36): 
And then for R, responsibility. So back to the trust, I'm sorry. For trust, what we realized is that trust is reciprocal. This principle is a situation where the employer has to trust the employee, that they're going to do the work, that they're going to follow through on the things that they were hired to do. But then the employee has to trust the employer that they're going to follow through on the job description, to ensure that they've made the right choice. Because most likely, they're either coming out of college, it's their first job or what have you, or they're leaving another job. They made a decision to apply and they want that decision affirmed. They want to be affirmed. So trust is a two way street. 
Kaleem Clarkson (10:17): 
Then responsibility. Same thing. From the employer perspective, they have to take on the responsibility of ensuring that they provide the employee with all the right resources, that they're providing an environment that's psychologically safe so that if somebody has a suggestion, they feel comfortable doing that. Equipment, all the types of things that the employer has to do on that side. So that's responsibility. But then the employee has to take on the responsibility of getting the job done, speaking up when they have a question. There's a lot of individual responsibility when working remotely. 
Kaleem Clarkson (10:53): 
So we were just sitting around, we were looking at the employee experience. And the employee experience has seven principles that we're talking about, hire, onboarding, engaging, developing, how you're going to determine whether they're successful or not, so employee evaluations, and then off-boarding. It's those seven areas. We just realized that, hey, the employee experience is the employee experience. And that's something that is there regardless. And then we were thinking, hey, trust and responsibility, the remote employee experience, let's call it TREE. 
Tyler Sellhorn (11:23): 
There it is. 
Kaleem Clarkson (11:24): 
And I believe we're big Karate Kid fans. So Mr. Miyagi was there. The bonsai tree roots. You can't see those, but we're doing the Mr. Miyagi, the hand movement. So we went with TREE. And that's how we came up with the acronym. 
Tyler Sellhorn (11:40): 
Really cool. And let me circle back to something you said about trust. You mentioned maybe a previous version of how we imagined trust, especially as employers, that trust is something that has to be earned. And that one of the things that's happened inside of the remote employee experience is that trust really has to be assumed. Those are the words that you had used earlier. And maybe I want to invite you to talk about that spectrum of saying, okay, trust is not an either/or. It is a spectrum of trust where we're saying, okay, you are going to have a certain amount of trust that is assumed, but that you can earn more trust as you produce. 
Kaleem Clarkson (12:25): 
Oh yes, absolutely. 
Tyler Sellhorn (12:26): 
Or you can lose trust as you are failing in your responsibilities. These are the two things that have that push pull of things. Talk to us some more about the idea of trust being a spectrum, and how that plays out inside of remote leadership. 
Kaleem Clarkson (12:41): 
Thank you for clearing that up. Yeah, that's really important to clarify. So generally speaking, people have always been, well, trust is earned. So you're starting at ground zero with trust. I don't even trust you at all. So it's zero. In the remote workspace, you're right. You have to start off with some assumed trust, but that is a spectrum. The better you perform, the more that your teammates are going to trust you, the more that your company's going to trust you. So yes, the more you do, the more that trust builds up and the more people believe in you as an entity. 
Kaleem Clarkson (13:16): 
But at the same time, that trust can erode real quick. It can go the other way. So for example, if you're a first time remoter, even if you're not a first time remoter, and you understand that you have to be available from 08:00 Eastern Time to noon Eastern time. Let's just say that. And a bunch of times you're not responding. Your trust is dropping. And drops in trust from leadership, from management, that's not a good thing. And if it's not corrected, at some point, especially in a remote workspace, if we can't trust you, then we can't have you work. This is not a situation of monitoring. And there's been tons of research out there. And you know a lot about monitoring, don't you, sir? In some cases it can work. Absolutely. Of course, there are situations where monitoring is fine. But there's plenty of research out there that shows when you don't monitor people, they're more productive because that trust allows them to move freely without second guessing every single action. 
Kaleem Clarkson (14:21): 
So I just don't see how you can be a productive remote company, or a hybrid remote company, if everything you're doing starts with distrust. I think this is one of the biggest issues. I think this is the elephant in the room. It really is. All of these organizations requiring people to return to the office after you've been successful in producing for the past two years now, it's a trust thing. A lot of organizations don't have protocols in place to ensure that people are productive. They're used to that tap on the shoulder management style because we've been doing it this way for a hundred years. 
Kaleem Clarkson (15:02): 
So when you transition, you have to think of different things. KPI dashboards are something that we suggest because for newer companies, they need something. What do you mean I can't see them working? Well, you couldn't really tell if they were working before, by the way, because you're not sitting there looking at their computer screen the whole time. So you couldn't really tell. So yeah, sometimes these new remote managers need other tools for them to help themselves build trust with their team. 
Tyler Sellhorn (15:38): 
One of the things that you mentioned as a theme is, we're in this moment of returning to the office. And you mentioned, you were paraphrasing some company leaders that were declaring a return to work, or that there's a certain amount of management style that is inherent with the in person mode or in office management style. I guess I'm curious to learn what you would have to say to that company leader as you try to influence them as a remote work advocate. What would you say to them to help them to consider continuing on, post pandemic, with an opportunity for people to work from home part-time or full-time, or starting from that as an assumption? What are the things that we might say to those types of folk? 
Kaleem Clarkson (16:30): 
Again, I'm a lifelong learner. So everything I've learned, I've learned from someone else. I think we all should recognize that we can always learn. And there's nothing wrong with learning from other people. And I might mess up this phrase a little bit. But here it is, what got you where you are today, won't get you where you need to go tomorrow. And that is the biggest challenge. And I think it's even a bigger challenge for small business and family businesses. Everyone's always talking about these giant enterprises and Googles. And we get it. It's fun. It's polarizing. They're big companies. It's like big NBA stars. We totally understand. But there's a whole bunch of high school players and college players that aren't getting any attention, AKA, the small businesses, which, if I'm not mistaken are probably still one of the largest employers of people in the country. 
Kaleem Clarkson (17:21): 
So it's the small businesses and the family businesses that are really hard to get that message through. So we mostly consult with startups and small businesses. So companies that have a thousand employees or less. I actually think a thousand employees are pretty big. But that's our definition. And for the family businesses, trying to tell a founder of a generational family company that what you've been doing for a hundred years, or your family's been doing for a hundred years, is not going to work tomorrow, wow. You want to talk about a challenge? You want to talk about a challenge? Yes. You have the Goldman Sachses, you have the Googles. But you have lots of minds there that you can talk with and maneuver. 
Kaleem Clarkson (18:01): 
When you're dealing with a founder that has been very successful because they've had a company through multiple depressions or different economic situations, to approach someone and say, "Hey, look, if you want to be successful in the next 10 years, you're going to have to ignore the things that you have been doing for the last hundred years, in certain areas, of course, when we're talking about people, operations and people here, people management." That's a hard sell. It really is. So that's where we start. We start with that phrase. It's a really powerful phrase, what got you here won't get you there. 
Tyler Sellhorn (18:38): 
What got you here won't get you there. That brings me to one of my very favorite questions of recent vintage, is to think about those different periods of time here that we're living. Just to timestamp things, we are talking to one another on March 16th of 2022. This is like two years past the broad lockdowns in North America and the world over. Tell me, you all started your consultancy in 2013, you are a part of the cohort of what I like to call the 2019 remoters. Or I guess really, it's 2019 and before. 
Kaleem Clarkson (19:15): 
Right. Yes. 
Tyler Sellhorn (19:15): 
Maybe give us that compare and contrast of how you thought about, and what you really saw remote work as. Define the relationship. Define remote for us in that time period. And then also the time period that we're living in right now where it's like, okay, we're right at that transition moment of, okay, lockdowns and back to office orders are coming into the mode. And then what do you think is going to be in 2023 and beyond? So give us those three time periods. Define remote for us in those different periods of time. 
Kaleem Clarkson (19:48): 
Oh, that's an interesting question. I actually don't see remote work any different. Let me explain what I mean. So prior to the pandemic, we're big fans of history and paying homage to the OGs, original gangsters, for all your young bucks. But Jack Nilles, to me, he's the one who came up with the term tele-work in like 1970 or something like that. And to me, I feel like there's always been three different types of tele-work, remote work or whatever. So I'll use remote work moving forward. But anyway. I feel like there's three different types of remote work. So the first one, fully distributed/all remote. And how we define these at Blend is, when we were trying to come up with the three different definitions, what were we using for the definition? What were some of the variables that we were looking at? 
Kaleem Clarkson (20:45): 
And one was a centralized workplace, and I get a little flack for this all the time. But a centralized workplace in our mind means a physical, centralized workplace. We get that you can have a digital centralized workplace. We totally get that. But in this context, we're talking about a physical centralized workplace. And then it's about choice, how many days per week in office, right? So here are the three different definitions, three different remote work models is what we call it. We call it the big three. Shout out to Kevin Garnet, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. So we call the remote work models, big three. So fully distributed, all remote, redefined as a company that has no centralized workplace, and employees work from wherever they're the most comfortable and productive. Plain and simple. No centralized workplace, and employees work from wherever they're the most comfortable and productive. 
Kaleem Clarkson (21:41): 
The second definition, hybrid remote. And we use the definition of hybrid remote. We never say hybrid without the word remote, by the way. And I'll talk about that in a second as to why we don't do that. So hybrid remote is the second model. And hybrid remote companies have a centralized workplace where some employees commute to, while others are working remotely. And then the last definition, we're paying a little homage to Jack Nilles and the government industries, we use telecommute. And the third option is telecommute, because it's been around forever. And telecommute employees are required to commute to a centralized workplace a majority of the work week. And that's it. 
Kaleem Clarkson (22:28): 
So what we were looking at when we were looking at hybrid remote, because hybrid remote was the big challenge in the definition. And when we were trying to separate, well, what's telecommute? Isn't telecommute all of those things? Well, nobody has any definition. So we're going to decide, no, it's not. Telecommute is a situation, right? You have an office. You have to go. If you have to work from home one day a week in the government, they called it telecommute. You get to telecommute that day. So you're required to go into the office a majority of the work week. 
Kaleem Clarkson (22:58): 
But when we were talking about hybrid remote, we were like, okay. Well, hybrid remote has so many variations. You could have half your company in the office every single day. You could have the other half working fully remote full-time. You could have you working remote three days a week and then going into the office. I mean, it's just lots of variation. But then when you were looking at the all remote or fully distributed situations, that was very simple. It's like, nobody goes into a centralized workplace. So that's how we defined remote work prior to the pandemic, and actually during the pandemic and post pandemic. I think there's three different types of remote work. 
Kaleem Clarkson (23:39): 
Now to answer a more broad question that you're asking, what's the difference between remote work prior to the pandemic, during and after? I just feel like it's more about reputation and experience. I just feel like prior to the pandemic, our market was very small as far as companies that we could talk to that had any opinions on remote work. And most companies were, "No, it can't be done. Yeah. If you're in a tech company, it can be done. But no, we're attorneys. We can't work remotely. We couldn't do that. We're financial analysts, we can't do that." We're a sock manufacturer. We're consulting with a sock manufacturer. A manufacturing company is going hybrid remote. 
Kaleem Clarkson (24:21): 
So yes, all of those industries that didn't necessarily believe remote work could be possible, they all have that experience now. So I would just say the biggest difference is that that market, we just fast forwarded probably 15 years in just two years. Everyone has experience on the globe. So now just having a discussion with any human being on the planet, they're not going to think that I'm sitting in my pajamas, some creepy old man just sitting in my pajamas working. They're not going to think that. So I would say that the reputation and experience is definitely the biggest change. 
Tyler Sellhorn (24:55): 
Well, thank you very much for defining the remote. We'll never forget that phrase of defining the relationship. But now we're defining the remote, be it at the beginning of a remote employee experience or at the end. Thank you very much for taking the time to learn out loud with us today, Kaleem. 
Kaleem Clarkson (25:14): 
Oh, awesome, man. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me, man. 
Tyler Sellhorn (25:19): 
Thanks so much, again, for listening to the show. And be sure to check out WeWorkRemotely.com for the latest remote jobs. And if you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you next time. 

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