The Power of Connections w/Kaleem Clarkson

The Power of Connections w/Kaleem Clarkson

In this episode Matt is joined by Kaleem Clarkson, Chief Operating Officer, and co-founder at Blendme Inc. A consultancy practice specializing in helping location independent startups, and small businesses improve the remote employee experience.

Kaleem and Matt talk almost exclusively about the power and importance among remote teams of connection, collaboration, and communication, and Kaleem shares many insights on how companies can improve across all three domains.

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Transcript:

Voiceover (00:03):

Welcome to leading remotely, helping remote first leaders navigate, survive, and thrive in this new world of work. Let's make remote work.

Matt Hayman (00:16):

Hi and welcome to leading remotely. I'm your host, Matt Hayman. Thank you so much as always for taking the time to listen to the show today. My guest on this episode is Kaleem Clarkson, chief operating officer, and co-founder at Blendme Inc. A consultancy practice specializing in helping location, independence, startups, and small businesses improve the remote employee experience. Now on today's show Kaleem and I are talking almost exclusively about the power and importance among remote teams of connections, collaboration, and communication, and Kaleem brings a huge wealth of insights from advising companies on how better to do these things. I hope you enjoy the episode as much as I did recording it. Let's get straight to the episode with Colleen.

Kaleem Clarkson (01:06):

Doing great, Matt. Thank you for having me appreciate it. Excited to be here.

Matt Hayman (01:09):

Fantastic. It's great to have you on the show. When I started the podcast, one of the things I really wanted to do was get on a range of voices saying interesting things about all aspects of remote work. And I know you and I are gonna go into connections, loneliness, developing those relationships with people around you, lots to cover. I'm really excited about this conversation before we get into all of that, as we always do. Could you just give us like a, a real whistle stop tour of your background and what's led you to be where you are today?

Kaleem Clarkson (01:36):

I, I, I feel like with everyone, it's, it's a path that you didn't realize was gonna be a path I I'm originally from Maine grew up in the whitest state in the country. I like to start with that just to kind of give people some you know, context of, of what that is. So it, you know, in the states, Maine is, is in the Northeast. And I think it's like 96, 90 8% white and, and I'm black. So it, it was a real interesting childhood. I wouldn't trade it for anything, but, you know, I realized that there's a lot of privilege that came with that. So went to college in Massachusetts, was to state university, played some college football there. And originally I thought I was gonna be in nonprofit world. I started a charity in college called conscious for charity. We booked a ton of bands.

Kaleem Clarkson (02:15):

I was in, I was a rocker myself. I was in a middle band. You know, we expanded across the country, did a huge nine 11 show in 2001 with some large, large acts. And we expanded to Sacramento. We did had a chapter in Sacramento at the end of the day, we ended up doing a documentary called a call to action that we premiered at HBO studio. So really early had some success in that documentary. We had like Dave Matthews band, Trey Nogio from Phish bailiff, FFL. And Lale, it was a bunch of jam bands, but anyway, got real early involved with this idea of bringing people together. Yeah. I would even say I was thinking about this yesterday, like the amount of college keg parties that we threw, like, you know, you don't think about those things back then. So move on. We, we decide to move to Atlanta.

Kaleem Clarkson (02:59):

That's where I'm located now entered higher education, took a job at higher education again in the quest to get my certificate in nonprofit management, my master's certificate. And during that time, you know, things changed. I, I, I taught myself how to be a web developer and I went out to this conference in Denver ju con Denver jus the open source software I develop in and heard a person talk about, you know, how their office is fully remote. They decided Matt Westgate from coming got Walla bought. I remember like yesterday talking about how they were fully distributed and I never heard that term before. And at the time my partner had graduated from the university of Connecticut with her master's degree in organizational development, human resources. So I'm hearing this talk and he's shown pictures of everybody in front, in, in Florida in their retreat.

Kaleem Clarkson (03:47):

And I was just like, wow, this is, this is amazing. So, you know, flew home 2012 from that conference approached my partner and said, Hey, you're frustrated with, with your degree, you weren't finding any jobs, you know, her degrees human resources, organizational development in 2010 ish is when she graduated. So, you know, there weren't VP of people, then they weren't, you know, CHROs, I mean, those terms weren't really popular. So she was a little frustrated because all the jobs were benefits based and that's not what she studied at all. So I approached her and said, Hey, let's start our own consultancy where we only consult with remote companies. And that was 2013. So that's how we got here, you know, kept it as a side hustle and then finally turned, made it, made it a full time gig.

Matt Hayman (04:30):

So both of us have a, a long history of remote working for me. I was thinking about this before we hit record for me over 10 years, I think before COVID I was working remotely in a number of roles, but mainly for myself. How long would you say you've been remote

Kaleem Clarkson (04:44):

For me? I have a little bit of a different experience where a lot of people, they just were 100% remote work for different companies, myself. I was working in higher education and doing this kind of on the side. So luckily I was I think I started in 2013, my supervisor, he was like, look, you can, you can work from home up to three times a week if you want. And so my operations team, we adopted that. So I really started off as a hybrid worker. Right. Like I was really a hybrid, but I was fascinated with the research of remote and learning about that. And then finally, I ended up being an engineer that was full-time remote. So I got that experience. But yeah, I, you know, I, I would say I, I wasn't fully remote by any means in 2013, but yeah, I had a definitely a different experience with that, with that hybrid space, which I wasn't called hybrid at the time. Right. It was just called telecommuting, you know?

Matt Hayman (05:38):

Okay. So I, I heard you on another podcast reference the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris.

Kaleem Clarkson (05:44):

Yeah. And

Matt Hayman (05:45):

I had a book that I read that was massively influential on my career trajectory in good and bad ways. It has to be said, but generally in a good way, I guess the question related to that really is having as somebody who's read that book. Yeah. Was there ever a point where you got a sense where remote working could move beyond just a small niche movement of location, independent freelancers? Was there a moment when you thought, no, no, no. This is much bigger than that. This is a bigger movement. Yeah,

Kaleem Clarkson (06:12):

It was. Well, it was actually the conference when I was in, in Jule con Denver, when, again, Matt Westgate Lobo, they do huge websites. I think they did the grammys.com is one of their clients. I think Martha stewart.com as well. Like they do huge things. So when he was talking about how his company decided to get rid of their offices, that was the moment that was literally the moment that I was like, whoa, they have huge, huge, huge clients that leaders in this development space. There's some legs to this because you know, these people aren't making, you know, $25,000, you know, we're talking high level executives. And when I, when I flew home, it, it's funny. You brought up the book list. The first book I, I read, I was like, well, I gotta learn more about this remote work stuff. It was remote by Jason fried and DHH. That was the first book. Then I read the year without pants, which was a book that wasn't that well, it's popular, but like in the remote workspace, a lot of people don't read that one. And that one was fascinating. And then of course the four hour work week. So those, those three books in that first 2012, 2013 year were critical. And that's, and those books were the things that made me think about, especially remote because, you know, the four hour work week was more about like, you know, being entrepreneur, freelancer, yourself,

Matt Hayman (07:23):

Freedom rather than.

Kaleem Clarkson (07:24):

Yeah. And I kind of felt into that digital nomad space, which I, that that's not really the space that I, that I'm in personally have huge appreciation for digital nomads, but I think it was just those things that made me realize, whoa, this is, this is for real. And that, and that's why we were like, let's incorporate <laugh>.

Matt Hayman (07:41):

Yeah. It's funny that you bring up the year without pants. And just for, for us and UK listeners in the UK pants means something very different to to in the us pants is, is trousers in the UK. So, but anyway, let's PA let's park that for second. Well,

Kaleem Clarkson (07:55):

No, no, no. That is it. That's the whole point.

Matt Hayman (07:57):

Nothing on underneath

Kaleem Clarkson (07:58):

<Laugh>. Well, well, what he is saying is like the year without wearing pants, you know, like wearing undies and on the front of the book, you'll love it. So you should definitely check it out. It's it's just a cover of underwear on the front. It's hilarious. Hilarious. And it's a great book. I think it's one of the most underrated books in the remote workspace, because he talks about this. This person is a executive at Microsoft and he, he decides to leave Microsoft to write this book. And one of his friends who he calls up is Matt Mullenweg, who is the founder of WordPress. And he's like, I wanna work for you for a year and just travel around the world and, and, and work for you and, and, and like write about it. And I just, I just thought that that was fascinating to me. Yeah, for sure.

Matt Hayman (08:37):

It is fascinating that you brought up the book because I think in particular, one of the areas I wanted to focus on a little bit for the podcast yeah. Is this idea of remote and social accountability. So let me just unpack this a little bit and see where we go with this one. So when we think about COVID, COVID in a, in a sense it forced an entire population towards remote, right? Everybody had to do this and it became almost a bit of a cliche that you might be on a zoom call and the kids would be running around in the background, or you would be with no pants. It almost became sort of that, that was kind of a, a mantra, a cliche, if you like, of, of remote working. I think when you're in the office, you're going in, you've got people around you.

Matt Hayman (09:12):

There is a sense of, of people being around you of, of not being monitored, but that you are in a space that is social, that there are things going on. Whereas when you're at home, you can go with no pants or no trousers. You can have great. You, you may be not, not necessarily looking after yourself in exactly the same way as if you may got dressed to go into the office. It's that kind of true with all the many upsides to remote of which there are many, are we missing some of the subtle downsides, do you think?

Kaleem Clarkson (09:38):

Yes. Yes. I love it. And yes. So let's start with the answer to the question in short, yes. Remote work has had an effect, a negative effect on social accountability. There's no doubt about it. And what you were talking about going into the office. And I've said this before, we're tribal species. I learned this watching cartoons with my daughter, Sonic the hedgehog. We're not like the hedgehog, you know, the hedgehog is, is, is a species that lives in isolation. We are tribal species. You know, that's why this tribes, I mean, it's just, you know, you go back to history, we're always together. So there's no doubt when you look at any remote work survey. I, I always give a shout out to buffer because they've been doing the state of remote work since I don't even know. I wanna say like 2013 or 14, 15, I don't know, look it up, but they've been doing the state of remote work.

Kaleem Clarkson (10:24):

I think the longest out of anyone and isolation and loneliness is always, always the top two struggles with the remote work. Let's look at families because I think we we'll wanna look at two different variables here, two different personas. So then you have a, a person in a relationship with a family, right? So they don't have to be as accountable to be socially connected because their social circle is at their home with their family. And it's even better if you have, you know, grandma living around the corner or, you know, like if you're in your hometown or whatever, your family's in your space, it's like, that's, that's a lot of your connection, but then let's look at another persona, a person who's single and let's not even categorize single in age. Let's just single. Cause there's multiple ranges of ages of people who are single.

Kaleem Clarkson (11:15):

And I don't think remote work is focused enough on that persona, the single person, the single person before, when they went into the office, how they were accountable socially was going into the office. Like that was their expected interaction with humans that keeps their mental health stable. Right? You take that away and they don't have a place to connect. There's nothing. That's keeping them accountable to connect socially. You know, you have people who are part of religion, so you have churches. So like, like that's, that's why I think religion does play a huge role in society right now. And I, we won't get too religious on this podcast cause no one wants to hear about politics and religion on this damn podcast. We ain't gonna get too deep. But the reality of the situation is, is like, you know, religion has declined a little bit in society over time when you look at it, which, you know, may be a good thing. I mean, who knows, but like the downside to that is that less people are coming together in a common place. Like that's the thing that you need to fo you know, not, not the other piece, but like there's less opportunities for people to come together. So to go back to your question, when a hundred percent, it has a huge impact on what we're talking about, social accountability and it's by far the biggest challenge, right? Like it's the biggest challenge. It's not healthy for you

Matt Hayman (12:37):

Either. So for example, if you're not particularly sociable person mm-hmm <affirmative>, and prior to COVID, you're going into the office in a sense, your work situation is kind of forcing you to an extent to go and participate and be part of a group and be involved in that group to be engaged COVID comes along. And all of a sudden that push in a way towards that is less apparent. It's less obvious. And it allows people in some respects to move into more of a situation that's more comfortable for them, but not necessarily better for them. That's what I'm thinking is without having that requirement to prepare, to get ready to go into the office, are people losing something as a result that's really hard to measure.

Kaleem Clarkson (13:15):

Yeah. So you're kind of talking a little bit about, I don't wanna say motivation cuz that's not necessarily, that's a little bit what we're talking about, but like you're, you're speaking towards the idea of has, has remote work allowed for introverts potentially or, or, or people to be more absent. Yeah. Let's, you know, dis a little disengage, a little, maybe there's not that push to kind of push them over the edge to kind of keep them motivated. Yeah. I think it is a challenge, man. Like, like absenteeism is a real thing. And we talk a lot about this, you know, introverts you're right. When you have meetings in person, introverts were kind of forced to be a part of now it was torture for them

Matt Hayman (13:59):

<Laugh>

Kaleem Clarkson (13:59):

Yeah. It was not pleasant. Right. So the question is, is like, okay, is that good? Or is that bad? Let's not talk about that part of it because for a lot of people, it was torture and it's horrible. So the ability to work remotely has allowed some introverts and people who may not be very personable and energetic and a people person to allow their work to be evaluated by production. So I think that there's in this for this question that you're specifically asking, I think it's kind of like a, a, you know, double edged sword. I think for some people it's been a godsend and for other people it's been like, man, I am, I am super lonely. So I, I'm not quite sure if, if the answer is yes, it has, but absenteeism is a legitimate challenge and a legitimate problem. And when people are talking about quiet, quitting, yes.

Kaleem Clarkson (14:49):

To answer your question, it absolutely has that impact. If you're not intentional, we talk about people being present and engaged all the time with our clients. We say, look, if you're not hearing on both sides from the manager side and from the individual contributor side, if someone's not responding in slack and just like post a picture of your favorite cat today or something ridiculous <laugh> and you're noticing that someone's not doing it as ridiculous as it is, like post a picture of your socks or post a picture of this, let's do a, you know, a marathon, a virtual marathon. If you're noticing people are just not participating, not responding to comments, especially in like a, a slack or teams where people can just give, even give a thumbs up. That's a huge problem. And as a manager, you need to recognize when you're not even getting a thumbs up on a team message from somebody, you know, so digital absenteeism absolutely is much easier to do in a remote work setting.

Kaleem Clarkson (15:48):

It's much easier for managers to miss that. Somebody's not being part the advantage though, is that at least with digital, you do have something to measure. Like, like what I mean by that is you can go on your calendar and be like, uhoh I haven't met with Jane or, or, or Susie in, in a month. I need to put that on my calendar. Whereas before you be like, yeah, I, I think I'm pretty sure I walked by Jane in the office. She's fine. Again. I, I just think, yes, it's easier for absenteeism to happen. Yes. It's easier for managers to have that go unnoticed. But on the flip side, there's advantages and disadvantages, I think for, for both, honestly,

Matt Hayman (16:26):

Hey, it's Matt again, do you lead remote teams, but struggle with spontaneous communication and collaboration? If so, I'd like to invite you to check out our platform. Wonder.Me a virtual workspace where teams can connect, collaborate and grow working side by side from anywhere for a limited time only podcast listeners can use the discount code L R P 30 to get 30% off your first three month subscription or annual plan head over to wonder.me, start your free trial today and use the discount code. L R P 30. Now back to the interview, when we think about the broader aspects of the impact of, of remote on day to day work, what would you say are some of the biggest, most profound impacts remote workings had on social connections in particular,

Kaleem Clarkson (17:19):

The biggest impact on social connections I am gonna say is the lack of the ability to get together in person. So the biggest impact is we're not, and we say this a lot, pandemic remote. And I think that's one thing we need to kind of decipher here. And if people have been heard me on a podcast, they've heard this a million times, but the reality is, is pandemic. Remote is not normal remote work. So it's really, really difficult for us to look at this, you know, two year experiment and make statements like what I'm getting ready to make. But let's just, I'm gonna make this statement in this context that we're in today. Yes. Remote work has a negative impact in general. Actually, I'm gonna make this statement post COVID like moving forward five years from now, we're all remote. Yes. It does have an impact on meeting in person.

Kaleem Clarkson (18:06):

It has an impact on building personal connections, but it can actually build more connection and, and, and stay with me for a second here. We've seen reports where lower managers, individual contributors actually say they felt more connected since moving to remote work from in person. And you might think Kama, what are you talking about? Like, what do you mean, man? Like, what do you mean more connected? You just, we just talked about how, like, not going into the office is just killing our, our tribe. So what are you talking about? You, you speak it out of both sides of your mouth here. The reality is, is for some people, these scheduled meetings, like how many times do you get a chance to actually see the face of the CEO in big companies? Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> very often, you know, it's not like you get a chance to walk into the, the CEO at Dell or a CEO at, you know, Microsoft and just talk to the person.

Kaleem Clarkson (19:01):

But now you're seeing, you know, Michael Dell or, you know, whoever on a video camera in their home doing a company call and you're seeing their face, you're seeing their mannerisms. And they're speaking to you because it's like, you know, you're coming through the digital screen. It's like, they're speaking directly to you. Some people are, are feeling that connection a lot more. Then you kind of move on to what we were talking about. As far as managers being able to measure, oh, this person hasn't liked the button. This I haven't met with this person. Well, now we have some metrics. People are using some metrics, all, all tracking metrics. Aren't bad, by the way, I, I don't believe in big brother tracking, but I believe in tracking some things to be better, like with great power comes great responsibility if you're gonna track, use it for good.

Kaleem Clarkson (19:44):

Yeah. So then you have people being able to measure how many times we were connected. And then the last thing that, and, and what we talked about a couple days ago in a remote workspace when you're not seeing each other in personal lot, because you have to be intentional at scheduling those social interactions and those opportunities to connect that time when you are together is now better utilized. That time has more impact that time has allowed you to, to focus on what's important in that moment. And that moment is about the social connection. As long as you know, leaders are not trying to fill these moments, when you bring people together with a ton of work, as long as leaders give enough time for people to just hang out and just know each other, like, Hey Matt, man, we've done this zoom for a year and a half, and I'm actually gonna come in for a hug. Are you accepting a hug today, Matt? Yeah, I'm accepting a hug I'm coming in. So I think that there, the biggest impact that, that remote work has had on social connections is just the, the ability to actual actually be intentional about that connection. I think before we were just taking it for granted, you're going into the office. Highfiving people, you're not even thinking about it. You don't really care if you see Jane or Joe, because you know, you saw them yesterday. Now these, these moments are, are purposeful.

Matt Hayman (21:07):

You mentioned that when we spoke before pre-show and there was a quote that I think you were trying to remember, but I think I, I can paraphrase it. Absence makes the heart grow Fonda. And in a sense, yes,

Kaleem Clarkson (21:17):

There its absence makes the heart fondant.

Matt Hayman (21:20):

And I was thinking for me, I'm nodding away crazy as you're talking here, because this is, this is you're describing my experience at wonder where we're a fully distributed team. We'd never see each other face to face. And then every two or three months we get together in person. And boy, does that make a difference? Gosh, for my gosh, two or three, gosh, two or three days, it's pure social as well. So that's another to, to,

Kaleem Clarkson (21:41):

Wow. Well done wonder, well done. Well,

Matt Hayman (21:44):

We have to live this. This is our world. So that,

Kaleem Clarkson (21:46):

Well, yeah, but I mean, it's, it's hard to, to spend a lot of money cuz these aren't cheap. It's hard to spend a lot of money and not get any work done so I can understand the natural kind of like want to implement some work, but yeah, kudos to you. So it was completely social. So what happened?

Matt Hayman (22:01):

We, we maybe did one session, but it was very, very informal, very, very informal session just briefly. But the rest of the time purely social, we went all around. Berlin did all sorts of of activities. Never felt forced like it can do when, you know, historically you might do a team building exercise or team building activity feels a little bit, forced, feels a little bit inauthentic, super authentic, amazing fun. And, and like you say, really builds those social connections and they are lasting as well. But you do need to do that intentionally as you say, but regularly as well. I think it, and it needs to be from my perspective, this may not be true for everybody, but certainly from my perspective, it needs to be in the diary. You need to know that on this day in two or three months time, you're gonna be back together again. But in between head down, get a lot of stuff done. But every now and again, you are gonna see these people and it makes a massive difference.

Kaleem Clarkson (22:49):

What was it like seeing your colleagues for the first time and again, where it was probably dur? Is it, was it during COVID when you saw 'em for the first time? So you're a little hesitant, like, so what was it like? What was that moment like?

Matt Hayman (22:58):

Yeah. So the first time I saw colleagues was, was fairly shortly after I joined and mm-hmm <affirmative> it was at the back end of all the restrictions being lifted and it was brilliant. It was really nice. That's super cool. That was, that was probably, it got better and easier on subsequent visits, but that first time was really, really nice to catch up with people. But I think it's that familiarity that, that we've built over the, over the year or so that I've been at wonder that's, that's done through intentional getting together, just having fun. Yeah. In a really authentic way. And it, and it does make a huge difference.

Kaleem Clarkson (23:30):

And I think you set this up on purpose, Matt, you served me a softball here. I love the fact that you said it has to be on, on the schedule of the docket and what we advise our clients is build a social connection strategy. And we're actually gonna have a, a nice little ebook in that. Some, some people are like, well, what is that? A social connection strategy is what we say is, is we, we, so we categorize connections into three big buckets. And this is blend. This is what we do. Okay. So the first bucket we say professional, and you know, those are your work colleagues, maybe mentors in the space, right? All your professional connections, right? So you gotta have that. And most organizations, they focus in that space, but then you have lifestyle connections. So then you have, you know what it is, I like to do like kayak, mountain biking, whatever it is that you like to do, eating food, going to, going to pubs, right.

Kaleem Clarkson (24:22):

That's lifestyle. And then you have intimate. Now a lot of people like Colleen, get you. I don't want my company and my intimate business stay outta my business. But earlier we talked about how difficult it is for people who are single. But in addition to that, like for example, you may have a large LGBTQ employee base, right? So what if somebody is single and they're part of the LGBTQ community, like, should you provide some opportunities for them to connect with other people in the community, build that intimate relationship. Religion is also kind of an intimate relationship. So those are the three buckets that we have. And then what we tell clients is, is like, you need to survey your company, see what's missing right from those relationships and then build a, a, a plan, a strategy. And we say, look out two years and build events two years out that satisfy those.

Kaleem Clarkson (25:18):

And that can be a combination of in person virtual, you know, lifestyle, whatever it is, but the most important part. And what I love that you said, it's put it on a schedule so that everybody knows, geez, we just met, but when are we gonna meet again? That like, that was the best time I've had because that those two or three days can last a whole quarter hundred percent, you know, like, like that, that hug and that connection that you get with someone like you're gonna feel good for a solid, solid two weeks, at least, you know what I mean? Like, like it's so it works. So that's what we advise. We advise, break down the connections, survey your company, determine what your employees are missing for connections, and then build literally a plan or, or calendar that books, those events. We say two years out, give people plenty of time to plan adjust their family schedules, et cetera.

Matt Hayman (26:08):

I'm guessing that there are gonna be people listening to this in remote leadership roles who are bulking at the idea of the intimate relationships or having any kind of input into those

Kaleem Clarkson (26:16):

<Laugh> could you just,

Matt Hayman (26:17):

I suppose, first first question is why break them down like that? And secondly, what can a leader who's listening to this maybe relatively new in post listening to this? What are some of the small steps that they can do to start to, to get these conversations moving or to have more of an impact in the way that you described?

Kaleem Clarkson (26:33):

Yeah. So I would say the, the reason, the first question is why break down the different types of connections or relationships, however you want. We use the word connections and the reason why is just like, with anything you need to know what things are missing, what things, maybe some things you're doing too much of, maybe you're not doing enough. And the reason why is that we talked about earlier, what is the biggest challenge with the remote work in general? And if I'm telling you as, as a leader, that loneliness and isolation is one of the top challenges with remote work, right? I tell you that, then I follow that up with, well, guess what? Loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, 15 butts a day. Right? So, whoa. Really? Okay. Well, what else else does that mean? Okay, well, a person who's sick and out of the office, right.

Kaleem Clarkson (27:31):

Is gonna cost you productivity. In addition to that, there's research that backs up loneliness actually reduces cognitive function. Like you can't actually think as well, right? So there's a whole bunch of research that says, okay, loneliness impacts my bottom line as a business. It impacts my team's productivity as a business. And that's not, you know, I'm not saying I don't have a heart. I'm not human. But like, if you just want to go straight up business line, I'm telling you right now, the number one challenge with remote work is isolation and loneliness. And the results of those things are gonna impact your bottom line. That's it? There's no, like if you wanna get into the, the human side, that's a whole different story. We could talk about that. But I'm just telling you, like, that's, that's the research, right? If you want to fix that loneliness, we just talked about the art of gathering.

Kaleem Clarkson (28:19):

Yeah. You have to create a purpose for when you come together. Right. So then you're like, okay, I understand that. So now what do I do? Well, we need to know what connections are of abundance and what connections are lacking. So we came up with group and those in the different groups, because based on what your results come by. So what are you supposed to do as a leader where you gotta survey your people like you have to survey, you need data, you have to make data driven decisions. We're a huge data company. We believe in data driven decisions versus like, I feel like this is what we need <laugh> and in that you gotta do different levels of data collection. You have to D do different modalities. So surveys are great. You need open ended questions on that survey, open forums are great Moss to tell stories, employee resource groups, there's a whole bunch of different ways that you can collect feedback that you can get data from the people.

Kaleem Clarkson (29:16):

So then once you have this data, so we, we already kind of broke those into the first group was professional. Every, I think everybody understands that one. Yeah. The other one's lifestyle. I think most companies are trying to understand lifestyle, you know, with meditation and all that, but then you get to intimate and you're like, damn it. Why am I talking about intimate again? Well, just so everybody knows, this is study. We found it somewhere. I think I saw somewhere like more than half of employees engaged in some sort of office romance, 58%. So do you think that, like what I love saying, I'll bring a little, little, a little street into this, a little street don't trip. Don't act brand new. So that's a little rap lyrics for you right there. What that means is, is like, don't, don't act like this thing is not really happening.

Kaleem Clarkson (30:08):

You hear what I'm saying? Like, yeah. I just told you that 58% of relationships start in the, in the workplace. So I just gave you all of these, this data, that outlines, why you need to focus on loneliness in relationships and connections. That's why intimate actually matters. Right? Because like, if people are lonely, I already told you what happens if they're lonely, where do they meet people more than half the people meet in the office. I'm not saying, you know, sign everybody up for tender. <Laugh> I'm not saying that I'm not saying, you know, have date nights, you know, date. Yeah. I'm about saying, do a, a speed dating in your office that could get real weird. I see what you know, but I'm just saying like, you have to have that as a leader, you have to be realistic. Right. And you have to think about all of those, those different types of connections.

Matt Hayman (30:54):

One of the things I noticed when we do the retreats is that there isn't a heavy drinking culture. I think sometimes at those events, it can, it can, there is a risk that it becomes let's go out and go crazy. And, and I really think that that us, again, being super intentional in the group, the great team that we have around us drinking, it's not a drinking culture, it's a socializing culture and there is no pressure on anybody to drink alcohol. And I think it's quite, it's, it might seem quite small and insignificant, but I can

Kaleem Clarkson (31:25):

It's it's

Matt Hayman (31:26):

Not small. There are people listening to this who, who may be organizing events because, and maybe they like to have a drink or whatever it is. And some people will anticipate and be reluctant to engage in those activities because they don't enjoy drinking. And I think it's just really important not to assume it probably also serves as a metaphor for other things, but on, on alcohol specifically, that's, it's a big thing for me. And I think it's, it's good that companies don't reinforce this, this drinking culture.

Kaleem Clarkson (31:48):

Yeah. I mean, I think that's really important that we're making, there's a book that I'm, I'm loving right now called the art of gathering. I think everyone in the remote workspace who is responsible for planning, any type of meetings should read this book. I'm not completely done with it cuz I'm taking my time, but she's great. The author's great. She's her, her mom is from India. And I think her dad's from like Iowa, you know, hardcore conservative from Iowa. So it's a really great mixture. But the biggest thing that she talks about is purpose of the event versus what you're doing. And I think most people don't think about the purpose, really dig deep, not like the type, not a book club. Oh the book. Club's not the purpose. The book club is a format. Right. and when you're talking about drinking and, and, and, and alcohol, look, I love to have beverages.

Kaleem Clarkson (32:43):

So everything that I'm gonna generally plan is probably gonna have some beverages in it, but huge, but you have to have other options and where you're actually consuming those beverages in how makes a huge difference. So if you had versus going to a pub, you know, you may have some people who are recovering alcoholics. So just walking into a pub could, could trigger someone, but like being in a setting that's maybe outside that has some family, kid games. If you're gonna invite some of the family other options mocktails, like couple weeks ago, I had my first mocktail. Like I never fought to order a mocktail. It never entered my mind. And someone was like, I'm gonna have a mocktail just because, you know, I just wanna have a mocktail. I ended up having like four or five mocktails that night and only having two or three alcoholic drinks. Now people thought I was bombing it, but like people thought I was hitting them down, but did they know it was literally like some soda and some, you know, mojito stuff in it. And it was great. So I think you have to have multiple options, very similar to dietary restrictions.

Matt Hayman (33:49):

Exactly.

Kaleem Clarkson (33:50):

Yeah. Like as an event planner, you're always concerned about dietary restrictions. You should also put on, there should be a list on there called alcoholic restrictions or alcohol restrictions or yeah, take out alcoholic. I was just kidding. Alcohol subscriptions or something like that. Like, like, like preferences.

Matt Hayman (34:06):

I agree. One of the things that we, we try and do is, is there are lots of opportunities for that, but I think it is just, it's also giving people permission to, to step back and, and not participate. I, I drink alcohol and, and I enjoy drink, but I, I think what I, what I enjoy more is is that not feeling the pressure, not feeling the pressure that we haven't seen each other in so long. So let's go out and let's make up for lost time. I think that's the risk when you don't see people for that length of time is that you're trying to sort of make up for lost time. And that's something that we absolutely don't do. And I really value that myself because ultimately it, it, it knocks out a day or two of the trip. So the next day or two is not, not the

Kaleem Clarkson (34:42):

Most, yeah. A little slower, a little slower. The other thing too, about the art of gathering, I just wanted to jump in there. And before I forgot was the idea of like, just planning an event where you just come together is not good design. Yeah. And that's why people really love board games, you know, because there's there's rules cuz sometimes like me, I I'm a, I'm a talker, as you can tell. So like, you know, someone, I will always talk too much in a circle. So I sometimes acknowledge that and try to bring myself back, right. Like try to bring myself away from, from talking, but in, in a setting where you have rules and you have games, you're able to kind of allow other people to participate and it provides kind of a topic. So I think the art of gathering's an important book, but also the idea of play implementing some sort of play that allows the conversation to kind of allows you to navigate the conversation is really important.

Matt Hayman (35:35):

I think that's a perfectly balanced and, and links up nicely to what I was saying very much so. And it got me thinking, I, I have a daughter, she likes the the dude perfect YouTube channel where these guys do these trick shots, these crazy trick shots. But one of the things that they do is they do these micro games, these sort of mini games. If anyone's listening, she go and look it up because actually what you've got, there are loads and loads and loads of ideas for small fun games that you can do as part of a group on an offsite or as a retreat, alcohol or not. But like you say, it's providing additional parameters or rules or, or a framework if you like around

Kaleem Clarkson (36:08):

It,

Matt Hayman (36:09):

Just you and I talking it's actually that we are talking about something around something. It's a really nice, I love the idea of, of playing games and board games in particular for exactly that reason. It just provides that nice Cru in a way, if things are, things are a little bit awkward at first, it gives you the ability to put some parameters in place.

Kaleem Clarkson (36:25):

And I love, I love it. I think if you're just, if you just want to get people together and cuz there's nothing wrong with that, like again, that is a connection type. Yeah. Like, like that's an experience that you want to provide, but if you're going to do that, help someone out, give them a couple questions, you know, give them a couple icebreaker questions, just help them out a little bit,

Matt Hayman (36:45):

You know? Okay. So let's think about I wanna find out a bit more about you and, and sort of some of the things that, or your preferences for you. What's the perfect split remote versus in person for you. Like what's the absolute ideal for Coleman? I know this may change, but right now like face to face versus remote, what's the split like for you?

Kaleem Clarkson (37:04):

I think 100% fully remote is the way to go. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> I think 100% fully distributed is the easiest. It puts everyone on a level playing field. For me, it's a hundred percent remote mm-hmm now how many times should you get together? If you are a hundred percent remote company, I would say a minimum once a quarter. Yeah. Now if you're saying, are you saying once a quarter for the whole company? No. I'm just saying once a quarter, there should be something where an employee's going somewhere to meet someone in person. I think four times a year, once a quarter. I think that's a perfect number personally. I think any more than that, actually you could do a little more than that, but you don't wanna do too much like once a month because that puts a little bit of stress on the individual, especially if you have family, but if you don't, if you don't have family, there should be a way for that person to figure out a way to meet up a little more.

Kaleem Clarkson (38:00):

So like maybe they have a little bit of a travel budget where they can go themselves and meet somebody at a co-working spot or something else. But, but personally I feel like the the once a week in office, like of course we're advising companies on how to work hybrid. I'm not, I'm not saying that hybrid doesn't have a place. I'm just saying for me personally, I like to just get it done online work and then I want to fly somewhere. <Laugh> you know what I'm saying? Like I wanna travel, I like to travel. So to me, I, I would prefer that that's my personal preference.

Matt Hayman (38:34):

Yeah. My preference as well. For sure. So as we run up on time, yeah. I've asked a couple of people this time. I'm really interested in your, in your take. What's the one tool in your toolkit that relates to remote working could be software, could be an app. It could be just a methodology, whatever, but a tool in your toolkit that you couldn't live without, in terms of remote working, what would that be?

Kaleem Clarkson (38:55):

Ooh, that's a good one. Okay. So I'm gonna go with a tool like a, a, a physical tool first shout out to Callen Lee, Callen Lee. <Laugh> like they're based right here in Atlanta. Yeah. So shout out IMM huge fan. I'm a huge fan of, of their CEO. He's done some great stuff. From Africa, from here in Atlanta, Georgia ly, I can't live without now obviously, obviously zoom and video things, but like for me, the calendar and remote work, as much as we hate it, we talk a lot about work, life integration versus work life balance. In order for you to integrate your personal life and your professional life. I need a calendar to know where I'm going. So for me, Cal only makes all of that much easier as far as like just a philosophy. I would say revision, this is something, yes.

Kaleem Clarkson (39:47):

There's been a lot of companies that have been doing remote work very well over the past, you know, 50 years even. I mean, remote work is not new, but the idea that you need to be flexible on your plan and adjust as you're moving forward is just really, really, really critical. And then as far as a skill, I know you only asked me one thing, but I can't help it. And as far as a skill, like a leadership skill, emotional intelligence, those, so those three things, as far as toolboxes one, as far as just a, an application would be coly as far as just kind of like a general philosophy, I would say revision and flexibility on your plan. And then from a leadership's perspective, from a leader perspective, my biggest tools definitely, you know, emotional talents, the ability to kind of see people, understand how people are feeling, make a few different changes based on those emotions, based on those, those different things that maybe we weren't focusing on a lot before. So those, those would be my three.

Matt Hayman (40:44):

Excellent. Thank you. And that last one really resonates with me. And I'm, I'm curious, do you think that emotion intelligence as a skill is where it needs to be in the current workforce? So do you think this is there's still a long way to go?

Kaleem Clarkson (40:59):

Oh, by far our emotional intelligence in my opinion is, is, is new. I know it's not a new concept. What I'm saying is, is like, I think companies have realized with the pandemic, like the stress, the mental, the stress on mental health, the stress on like the world, everybody dealing with the same thing. Like you wanna take a positive out of this pandemic. It brought the whole world together as far as dealing with some the same-ish. So I, I, I feel like emotional intelligence. We're nowhere near nowhere near and we're just scratching the service. And I believe that emotional intelligence will be the number one skill that that companies are looking for out of leaders or managers. No doubt.

Matt Hayman (41:37):

I'm nodding again, frantically. I, I completely agree with you. I think his com COVID pandemic has completely rewritten the skillset that's required to lead effectively these days. One of the reasons why we're doing the podcast is to bring on people like you who've, who've got experience in this area and make the case for the skillset needs to change because the circumstances are very different now.

Kaleem Clarkson (41:58):

Yeah. And we're a lot more empathetic now because you saw the CEO with the kids in the background. I think everybody else is just a little bit more understanding. Now the question will be how this whole return to office thing, and we can do a whole nother five episodes on that piece. How this return to office thing is conflicting with this idea of empathy and what we're talking about. It's just a really, really interesting time right now. And I have no, like, I hope that the empathy and the people come out on top, but it's, you know, there's a lot of pressures for people to get back into the office to get back to the way things quote unquote used to be. And I just, ah, man, I just, I, I hope that it doesn't end up that way.

Matt Hayman (42:36):

<Laugh> yeah. And, and a mandated return to office is probably the, the pinnacle of that. If you wanna talk about cultural shit, literally it's like, you must now come back to where you

Kaleem Clarkson (42:46):

Work. We just talked about emotional intelligence. Every survey in the world says, no, I don't want to come back to the office full time. What type of emotional intelligence do you have to force people back to the office? I don't know. We'll see what

Matt Hayman (42:57):

Happens. Well, we will see indeed, Colleen, super, super fun talking to you as always, really appreciate your time share with the audience, how they can find out a bit more about you and the work that you do.

Kaleem Clarkson (43:06):

Yeah. For, for sure. You can check out our website blendmein.com. Everywhere on social media, as kale Clarkson love LinkedIn. That's probably my big place. And you know, we tweet every once in a while and I'm trying to figure out this Instagram thing. I, yeah, we'll, we'll see what happens.

Matt Hayman (43:22):

Your videos that you produce on LinkedIn are always, they're always bring a, a bit of daylight but of sunshine to the day. So definitely recommend people connect to, to you and follow those. I love those. Nice. So that's brilliant. Thank you, Kaine really appreciate your time and yeah. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Kaleem Clarkson (43:37):

Thanks man. Appreciate it.

Voiceover (43:40):

Thanks for listening to Leading Remotely for show notes, resources, or to discover how you can make remote work for your team. Head over to wonder.me.