Ep 13: Maximize The Remote Employee Experience (TREE): COO Kaleem Clarkson on Building Connected Cultures

Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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  • Importance of addressing 3 buckets of connection to drive business results
  • How great cultures fade if not measured frequently
  • Manufacturing success story: The ROI of flexible work policies
  • How to best manage change: two key ideas to keep in mind
  • RemotelyOne podcast: not safe for remote work (NSFRW) stories

Kaleem Clarkson is a remote work advocate, people operations professional, and speaker. He is also the Chief Operating Officer of Blend Me, Inc. With nearly 20 years of strategic operations experience, he helps leadership implement people ops solutions that increase productivity and engagement for both internal and external stakeholders. 

Kaleem Clarkson has been featured in Harvard Business Review, named to LinkedIn’s top ten voices on remote work, a 2023 top remote work influencer by remote.com, and many more. He's passionate about work life integration and maximizing the remote employee experience, which is why he's joining us as a hero of hybrid work today.

Maximizing TREE: Building Winning Cultures With No Office

Kaleem Clarkson’'s interest in remote work was sparked by a talk he attended in 2012 by Matt Westgate, CEO of Lullabot, who built an award-winning culture without an office. Kaleem had been working as director of operations and strategic initiatives for a faculty development center at a university. He found the topic about building winning cultures with no office fascinating. Together, he and his partner started a company that only consults with companies that are fully remote. And thus, Blend Me, Inc. was born.

Kaleem Clarkson explained that the focus of Blend Me is on improving The Remote Employee Experience, which they cleverly refer to using the acronym TREE. The consulting company covers the entire employee lifecycle, from attracting talent to offboarding, to maximize the remote employee experience.

Implementing Social Connection Strategy in Hybrid Work Environments

Kaleem Clarkson emphasized that the greatest struggle for people while working remotely has to do with a lack of social connections. To support this, he referred to Buffer's State of Remote Work survey, which found that 60% of the biggest struggles with remote work relate to connection. That could be workers staying home too often or having trouble collaborating across time zones. 

Blend Me advises companies to create a social connection strategy with professional, lifestyle, and intimate connections to address the challenges of remote and hybrid work models. What a social connection strategy does is it assesses what your employees are feeling, how they're feeling, and what connections they're lacking. After the assessment, organizations would design a strategy around organizing different events to help employees connect. Organizations need to implement intentional strategies to foster social connections among employees, especially in a hybrid work setup. 

We also touched upon the potential fading of organizational culture with the implementation of flexible work policies. Kaleem Clarkson pointed out that organizations often don't measure their culture in the first place or provide data to support return-to-office decisions. There’s a lack of data-driven decision-making in return-to-office announcements. The lack of transparency from leadership can lead to employee dissatisfaction. To counter this, leaders need to be more empathetic to employees’ concerns and be honest in communicating the reasons for returning to the office. 

“An individual needs fulfillment in all three buckets of connections. As a hybrid or remote company, knowing that 60% of the struggles are around connection, you have to address that.” - Kaleem Clarkson, Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer at Blend Me, Inc.

The ROI of Flexible Work Policies for a Non-Tech Company

Kaleem Clarkson shared a client story in which he helped successfully transition to flexible work. Gold Medal International, a sock manufacturer based in Manhattan, had a policy of no work from home before the pandemic. During the pandemic, they observed that employees were happier working remotely. In surveys that the company administered to its workforce, employees expressed a desire to work in the office one and a half days per week on average. Thus, Gold Medal International transitioned to a hybrid work model, with employees required to come in one day per week. 

This flexibility resulted in increased employee happiness, lower commute times, and a competitive edge in hiring new talent. Since making the transition, the company has received a higher number of job applicants compared to their competitors, who required full-time, in-office work. The success story illustrates how a non-tech manufacturing company embraced hybrid work successfully.

“Most people think that remote and hybrid is only for tech companies. And it’s so untrue.” - Kaleem Clarkson, Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer at Blend Me, Inc.

Kaleem Clarkson emphasized the importance of work flexibility by using a recent study that reveals that people value flexibility over a $20,000 salary increase, with the happiness threshold estimated at around $100,000. This trend indicates that flexibility is becoming a key factor in work satisfaction and decision-making for remote workers.

RemotelyOne Podcast: Not Safe for Remote Work (NSFRW) Stories

Kaleem Clarkson shared his podcast RemotelyOne, which invites guests to share their stories about remote work, workplace flexibility, location independence, hybrid work, and maintaining relationships. They interview thought leaders, executives, and change makers in the remote workspace and have had guests like Jack Nellis, Nick Bloom, and Chase Warrington.

Along with co-host Rick Haney, the two created a series called “Not Safe for Remote Work,” where anyone with a funny story can join for a 15-20 minute episode. Kaleem Clarkson gave a teaser about a guest named Sondre Rasch who used to be a sniper in the Norwegian army and is now the CEO of SafetyWing. The gist of the story goes that he had to lock one of his friends under deck while on a boat because the friend wouldn’t put on their safety vest.

How To Best Manage Change: Two Key Ideas To Keep in Mind

Kaleem Clarkson left us with some last bits of wisdom about making policy changes or implementing any kind of change management. There are two things that leaders, managers, and even individual contributors should do for better change management:

One: You should involve every level of the organization and build a cohort. You need every level’s representation before you implement a change management initiative. 

Two: Make sure you make decisions based on data. Be sure to ask the whole company how they feel about a certain thing, especially when you’re talking about people stuff, and then make decisions based on that.


Founded in 2013, Blend Me, Inc. is a fractional people operations consultancy that helps startups and small businesses improve The Remote Employee Experience (TREE) and transform into high-functioning remote or hybrid remote workplaces.



Jenny Moebius

SVP @ Skedda | Angel Investor

Jenny is a top Go-To-Market (GTM) leader in the Greater Boston area, where she has a track record of building powerful brands and categories, generating demand (for both sales- and product-led orgs), and creating energizing mission-driven cultures of belonging in the B2B tech space.


Kaleem Clarkson

Chief Operating Officer @ Blend Me, Inc.

Kaleem Clarkson is a remote work advocate, people operations professional, and speaker. He is also the Chief Operating Officer of Blend Me, Inc. With nearly 20 years of strategic operations experience, he helps leadership implement people ops solutions that increase productivity and engagement for both internal and external stakeholders.

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