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83% of CEOs want people back in the office. 10% of employees want to be there.
Clearly we’ve got some issues to work out.
Kaleem Clarkson is the co-founder of Blend Me, Inc and a remote work consultant.
In this show, Kaleem and Neil talk about the real definition of hybrid work. There are so many issues to sort out:
- How many days people are expected to be in the office
- How mandatory those days are
- Should teams be in the office on all the same days
- If people have desks waiting of them or not
There’s a lot to work out and we are just in the early days. As digital leaders figure out how they want to use their offices, they need help from others figuring that out.
Welcome back to The Digital Workplace podcast. Today our guest is Kaleem Clarkson. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Blend Me, Incorporated. Hey Kaleem. What’s up?
Hey, what’s happening, Neil?
It’s good to have you here on the show. We are excited. We’re going to get into a lot of cool topics. You are a geek about remote work. So we’re going to have fun talking about things. But let’s start off with your captcha question. Prove that you’re a real live human with us right now. My question is what’s the latest non-work related either book or podcasts that you listened to?
Yeah, yeah. So SmartLess is a podcast that I’m listening to right now. SmartLess, and it’s absolutely hilarious. It’s with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes from Will & Grace from back in the day, and Will Arnett. Obviously, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett are from Arrested Development. And it’s absolutely hysterical. They interview other celebrities that they’re friends with and stuff like that. And it just cracks me up. Definitely don’t watch it with the kids, though. Plenty of F bombs. And it’s definitely not filtered. Cracks me up.
I love seeing that when you see the celebrities that are genuinely friends with each other and enjoy hanging out together and not acting. That’s a cool thing. Cool. Well, we’re not acting here. We’re real friends, too. So let’s do this.
Hopefully we get to meet in person soon enough, man.
One day, one day, it’ll happen. Tell us a little bit about what you do with Blend Me, what your background is, why we should listen to you about this topic.
Yeah, so my partner and I started Blend Me in 2013. She ended up getting her master’s degree from University of Connecticut in organizational development and human resources. I attended this really cool conference in my prior life and current life. I’m an engineer, frontend engineer. I went to a conference in 2012. And this guy was talking about, his name is Matt Westgate from a company called Lullabot. They do the Grammy site. They do a lot of big websites. And he was talking about how they’re a fully distributed company. And I never heard that term before. I was just fascinated with the idea of, especially when he was talking about how he didn’t want to use the word virtual company because with their clients didn’t feel real. And then with their employees, they didn’t want to use remote company because it made their employees feel like that they were distant.
So that was fascinating to me. Again, my partner just graduated. All the jobs out there were benefits related. They weren’t really like CHR roles, VP peoples or anything like that. It was only, how many years ago is that now? It wasn’t that long ago, but it seems like ages ago, right? And, yeah, so I flew back from that conference in 2012, started reading all the books, The Year Without Pants, Remote, and then there was another remote book, oh, The 4-Hour Workweek. And I think it was The 4-Hour Workweek where he said, I can’t remember, is it Tim the author the book?
Yeah, Tim Ferriss.
Thank you. Thank you, Tim Ferriss, and I think it was that book, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I remember the book talking about the new rich, and that really piqued my interest. And they were talking about how most people are attracted to the money. The reality is that you’re not actually attracted to the money, you’re attracted to their freedom. If you can go wherever you want, if you’re not bogged down by a location, you can experience that same type of… obviously, you can’t go to all these crazy clubs and VIP stuff and all that, but you can be free very, very similarly to that. And that’s what really grabbed me. So we incorporated Blend Me, Inc. and have been talking about remote work and consulting here and there ever since 2013.
Kept it as a side hustle, fast forward to the pandemic. I was an engineer and someone told me all my friends were calling me saying you guys have been doing this for a while. The whole world-s remote. My high school friends are calling me, my college friends. Finally, I think I just caved in and was just like, look, it’s been great as a side hustle. We always thought it’d be cool to do it full time, all the time. The pandemic, when my partner and I actually flew back to Maine. I’m originally from Maine. We flew back to Maine during last year, a year this time, roughly, because we didn’t know what was going to happen with the pandemic. And when we were up there, I think that was the first time really that I experienced that freedom with my family. My partner was remote and my daughter was doing online school at the time. So that was really the eye opener. I left my engineering job in June of ’20 and just been doing a ton of speaking. And then in November, we got featured in Harvard Business Review. So time’s are flying, things are going, and it’s been fun.
Yeah, that’s a great story. I love all the points you brought up. I was just thinking. Last week, we had our spring break. I have kids that are about nine and seven. I went down actually a day early to my parents house with my kids, worked a little bit in the day, but then the kids wanted to go out and do something. I was like, I was just thinking, like, if I was totally retired or totally wealthy, what would I do right now? I would just go on a bike ride with my kids because it’s fun. And I realized that I can also do that right now. I don’t have to wait until then. So I love that perspective that comes in.
It’s something that I think all of us around the whole globe have now experienced some of that freedom. It’s intoxicating. It’s actually, in my opinion, I feel like it’s not just my opinion, but a lot of people saying this, this is a change that we haven’t seen in, I’ve heard some people say, since the Industrial Revolution. So it’s very interesting.
Yeah. Fascinating. And it’s great to be living in this time when these things are available, the tools that we have to get worked on are there. That’s a great idea to think about. I want to take this this conversation, and you talked about definitions earlier about distributed workplace, virtual workplace, different things. We’re going to center most of our conversation today around hybrid work. Just tell us about your definition of specifically hybrid work. What does that mean to you? I think a lot of people say, we’re going to do hybrid because it’s somewhere in the middle, but they don’t define it any more than that. So what do you take on that?
Yeah, so I got to start off with a quick little rant. We are big believers in not forgetting history and not forgetting the founders, like in all sports. I’m a big, early, late ’80s, early ’90s basketball person and football person. So it’s like when you’re trying to compare previous stuff to current stuff, it’s very difficult. So I always like to give a shout out to Jack Nilles, I believe his name is, who coined the term telework in like 1970 or something like that. So all you people out there Google and fact check me. But telework was like the original definition of remote work. For me, definitions are really big. So I’m glad that we’re talking about this because right now, everyone, like you said, everyone is saying let’s just do hybrid, and I just feel like the definitions of previous lives are merging into this one definition.
So for me, and for Blend Me and how we look at when we’re defining the different remote work models, we look at a centralized workplace as the root or the anchor of the definition. This is really challenging and I don’t want to jump to some of the other questions but this is really the most difficult piece for individuals and organizations to get on the same page with. So again, what we use is we use the centralized workplace as the root, and also the office. So this is actually on our website. So I’m going to read it word for word because we have the remote work models on our website, and we call it the big three, a little inspired by the Boston Celtics.
For us, we prefer fully distributed. So we’re going to talk about what fully distributed is/all remote. So you’re seeing all remote used a lot right now. We like to prefer to use fully distributed. The reason why I’m going to go through all three is so that you can understand the difference between what hybrid is. A fully distributed or all remote company has no centralized workplace. Employees work from wherever they are the most comfortable and productive. I feel like that gets lost in a lot of these translations. We are the most comfortable and productive. So that is a fully distributed, all remote company. They have no centralized workplace.
I think the key question is where’s your HQ? If it’s an address, if it’s a place, then you’re not fully distributed. You’re something else. It’s one of these other options. Would you say, if we can stick with this just for a second, would you say a fully distributed team has a technological core, say, like a project based software, like an Asana or Slack or something like that. Would they say this is actually our HQ?
I mean, I guess, yeah, why not? Seeing we’re on The Digital Workplace podcast, right? I did get that right.
In your context, you’re absolutely right. Your workplace is most likely a digital workplace. And I don’t want to name, I know you were just naming softwares just to name them. But you could just have your digital workplace on Google Docs, if you want. I mean, I’m not saying that that’s probably the right way to do it. But you’re right. You don’t have a physical, centralized workplace. You’re correct. So it would be somewhere in the space.
Keep on. This was fully distributed, no HQ, no address. What’s next?
No centralized workplace. Okay. So hybrid remote, that’s the term that we’re here to talk about and the term that everyone’s raving about. And this is where it gets a little tricky. So how we define it is that hybrid remote companies have a centralized workplace where some employees have their own dedicated office, while others work remotely. And it’s a little confusing because it’s hard to get all of the situations in the hybrid because there’s multiple situations. So what we’re seeing here is that there is a centralized workplace. Some people go into the office, and they have their own office. So that’s number one. But then from the remote side, people who are also working remotely, they may or may not have an office to either share.
The reason why we use this definition is because… so let’s just move to the telecommute, and then we can go back and talk about hybrid. So what hybrid remote is not in our definition, and again, everyone has their own definitions. We all got to get together and just come up with some definitions and just roll with it so that like, you know, there’s a million definitions out there. I hope all of us and other professionals out there can all get together one day and just say this is it so we can move forward. But to me, telecommute is the third remote work model. The reason why telecommute is different and it’s still old fashioned. I actually have people tell me telecommute, I wouldn’t hire anyone that has telecommute on their website. And I get that. I understand. It’s not modern. But the reason why we use telecommute is because, A, telework and telecommute are government terms. They’re not going to change. They’re used within government and they’re used internationally. So we got to get off the US island sometimes. We got to get off the US island and embrace other people.
But telecommute, the reason why we use the third model telecommute is that telecommute employees split their time commuting to a centralized workplace and they have their own dedicated office and they switch between working from home. So I think there’s a big difference. I feel like a lot of people right now are mixing telecommute with what hybrid remote is.
So you’re saying hybrid remote is all the time somebody is remote or all the time they’re in the office. Is that right?
A split between so you have a population that is always going to the office and they have their own dedicated space. And then you have a population of employees who are remote, but they may come in occasionally and also maybe share, like hot desking. If you’re setting up a hot desking situation, and the person doesn’t have their own dedicated office space. That, I believe is and we believe is still hybrid, because it’s like, you’re not making them come into the office. You’re not expecting that they’re coming into the office all the time, but some people may prefer it because I feel like where we’re at right now is that, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this some more, is that there’s different, you’ve heard different strokes for different folks, right? Some people want to go into the office. But in in a telecommute situation, you’re saying, no, you’re coming into the office and you’re coming into your own office.
So government has been doing telecommute for a long time. You’re expected to go into the office a majority of the time. You have your own office, but then you are also allowed to work from home a couple times a week. To us, telecommute is that. That is not hybrid. A lot of people, I feel like, are mixing the two, because they’re saying, oh, well, you’re lonely at home. Why don’t we come in? Why don’t we have people come into the office, and we’re going to do hybrid remote? No. To us, to Blend Me, hybrid remote is an intentional model where a good amount of your population may or may not ever come into the office. And I think that that’s a big difference. So that’s how we define it. What are your thoughts? I want to hear what you think?
I mean, you’re talking, you got two different things going on here. One is, I guess I’m trying to think here, one is where is that individual person’s headquarters. So you’re saying if I’m remote, I tend to work, maybe at home, maybe at a co-working space down the road, maybe at a friend’s place. I don’t know where I am, but I’m choosing that that’s my headquarters. But then also, if I need to go to the office, it’s there. I have a space. So there’s the time element of how often I’m coming in. But then there’s also the space element, do I have a dedicated space at my office that’s there, which even before this, there was hot desking going on. There were open office concepts where you just go in and find a space and there were no things. So I think that’s an important thing to bring in. I don’t personally see that as essential to the definition of remote work and hybrid, but maybe I’m not thinking about something right.
Yeah, but there’s no definitions out there. So, I guess we’re all kind of right. We’re all kind of wrong. And that’s what I’m saying. We need to all come together and agree, because, to me, saying you’re a hybrid remote company, but everyone has their own office, in your right, I guess, shared workspace to me is still, if you’re required to come into the office every day, but you can sit wherever you want, is it your own dedicated working space? It kind of is, it kind of isn’t.
But I think the biggest thing for us is that in a hybrid situation, you’re not necessarily required to go into the office every single day. I’ve seen some people put a number on it, like 50% of your employees work remotely full time. But then where does that leave the organizations that say, okay, you only have to come into the office once every two weeks. To me, that would be a hybrid remote situation. If we’re saying you only have to come into the office once every two weeks, to me, I feel like that would be a hybrid remote situation because your main place of business in a hybrid remote situation is going to be in the cloud or you have to organize your company like a remote company in a hybrid remote model for it to be successful. In the telecommute situation, you got to go to the office meeting because your office is there. You can work from home Tuesdays and Thursdays but you’re expected to be in your office X amount of times, and when there’s a corporate meeting, you’re expected to go in and do that.
I think this whole conversation is reflective of how complicated hybrid work is. It’s one thing to say, hey, we’re going to be fully distributed. You work wherever you want. If you need an office, we’ll make sure you get one. That’s one decision. It’s another decision to say everyone’s at the office five days a week, you’re here, end of discussion. That’s another easy one. Everything else in the middle, there’s so much ambiguity about what it means and how often you need to be there, is that being tracked? Do you have an office there?
The other easy one, too, Neil, the other easy one, too, is you can work from home once a week. That’s easy.
But is everyone working from home the same day? Or do you get to pick which day?
Yeah, I mean, you’re right. I mean, you can get down to that, but but allowing people to work from home once a day, once a week, that’s telecommute. You get to telecommute once a week, you get to telecommute twice a week. And as far as, back to your point, what day is that, In most telecommuting situations, reach out to any government employee, if there’s a meeting, you’re going in. There is no like, oh, well, we need to make sure that I’m there on the same day. The challenges that you’re talking about are the challenges that you’re going to have with the hybrid remote model. But in the telecommute situation, you’re going in. You don’t have that freedom to say, oh, well, just put me up on speaker. In most cases, you have to go into the office.
Then I’ve talked to other guests who say their day, when they’re thinking about post-pandemic time, will be dictated by they’ll look at their schedule and say, okay, if I have three meetings today, I got to be in the office. But if I look at my day, and I got no meetings, well, I’m not going in today. They’re going to make that decision ad hoc as it comes up with different things, which could be great, could be extremely complex and frustrating for other people, too. Yeah, that’s tough.
Yeah, and in that situation, Neil, honestly, I would say that that’s hybrid in a way. Because if you’re telling me I don’t have to go to the office ever, unless there’s meetings, well, now we’re talking about the challenges that you were talking about earlier. Now you’re redefining the purpose of the office. You’re now redefining what it means to go into the office.
Yeah. So, Kaleem, we have thoroughly confused people who are listening in and trying to pick things out. If you’re talking to somebody who wants to offer some flexibility, they don’t want to go back or they feel like they can’t go back to fully five days a week, all the time in the office. How do they make sense of this? How can they put together a plan going forward that’s going to work for people, that’s going to work for their teams that are there? Where should they even start with this?
That’s a great, great, great question. For me, I think, again, a lot of the knowledge is knowledge that I picked up from other people and things that we’ve learned over time. I think the biggest challenge right now and that we’re seeing, and honestly, I think this article just came out yesterday on Newsweek. I want to bring it up and see if I can remember, yeah, Newsweek. They had this one statistic in there. It said, while 83% of CEOs want their employees to return in-person, only 10% of employees want to come back full time. So what I’m seeing right there is a gigantic disconnect, and it’s a natural friction. And I’ve been talking about this for a while. I’m actually very excited to see what happens and see how this plays out.
Well, it’s good for your business.
Yeah, because there’s a lot of power being lost. And I feel like that’s the challenge that leadership is trying to deal with. There has been a lot of control. You have to ask yourself, what was the real psychological point of the office? You got to go way, way, way back, right? They created the office so that people can have a place that they could be the most productive at and also so that they could watch. I mean, that’s the unfortunate truth of the situation.
Yeah, I mean, you had all the, I think I saw early pictures, like you had all the accountants and bookkeepers like in the middle, and then all the managers in those offices surrounding that so they could keep an eye on people and make sure they’re doing their work and everything.
Right, and then you had the factories early on, they’re all in one place, doing factory work all in one place, and you have the person walking around. So you have to think about that first. And the reason why I brought that up, because you asked me what should you do first. The first thing that you have to do is get on the same page. Leadership and individual contributors and managers, everyone has to get on the same page on definitions. And that’s why we kicked off the show with the confusing definition of hybrid remote work. But you have to get on the same page with what workplace flexibility looks like. So what we obviously advise and what most consultants that are out there doing this right now, we do and we’ve came up with our own assessment called the remote employee experience assessment. We call it TREE assessment.
What you need to do is you need to figure out what does workplace flexibility look like for your employees? What are their workplace flexibility preferences? And what we’re all going to find out what are the reasons why they’re working remote, how frequently do they want to come into the office if they want to come in at all, what about time schedules, what type of times, do they want this flexibility because of time schedules because dealing with an elderly parent at home, dealing with kids. There’s a whole bunch of different reasons as to why people enjoy this flexibility. So the very first thing is getting a comprehensive idea of what your employee preferences are and what workplace flexibility means. So that’s square number one.
Yeah, and that’s so important because, like we’ve already said, there’s so many permutations of this, that there are going to be 1000 different ways you can do this. And there’s not one that’s the right way to do it. That’s going to depend on you. I was talking with a lady the other day that, like you said, that the time thing is a big issue too, in the sense of, like most of my work, particularly, I can do anytime a day. It’s not time dependent so much. But they’re taking calls from clients, which means they got to be there when the phone rings and got to be able to pick up and be available for that. So they can’t offer that necessarily the flexibility of time. So it depends on the type of business you run, the people you’re going to hire for that. There’s so many of these things and just getting them all out there, maybe we can give them a list if you have an article or something like that, we can send that out of all the types of things you need to think through before you step into hybrid work. But I think that’s going to be great.
Kaleem, we hit the end of our time. We need to set up a part two to flesh this out so people aren’t spinning their heads trying to figure out what things, but if people want to learn more about your stuff, the resources you have, where should they go?
Check us out, blendmeinc.com. You can check us out on social media, Blend Me, Inc. everywhere. Myself, I’m Kaleem Clarkson everywhere. Yeah, and it’s not easy, just talking about what you said, it’s not easy. Hybrid remote is by far the most difficult model. If you’re going to do it, take your time assessing what people, what their preferences are, B, don’t judge the remote work during a pandemic, try to hold out until after the pandemic is over and then start your assessment after the pandemic. I know that’s a big, big ask. But it’s really going to be a very, really, really, really, really important piece on your structure. And that’s where you start right there.
I’m just saying about parents, like you said, that people who had to figure out their kids education along with working at home. Normally, you don’t have to do that. That’s not a big thing you have to figure out. There’s so many of those endless numbers of examples like that. That’s good advice.
And it takes time to plan. So take your time. Don’t rush this decision because it’s a decision that is going to set your business up for success for a long time to come. So don’t rush.
We will include all that stuff in the show notes. We’re going to have you back on sometime or have you on some of the conversations. We’ve got a Clubhouse meeting coming up, too.
Yes, Clubhouse, check us out.
Remote Work Wednesdays which you lead, right?
Yes, every Wednesday 12pm, Eastern Standard Time, we do Remote Work Wednesdays, so hop on and we just talk all things remote.
Check it out. We’ll put all that in the show notes. Kaleem, thanks for being on the show, man.
Appreciate you. Thanks, Neil.
Kaleem is a husband, father, remote work advocate, people operations professional, and speaker. He is the Chief Operating Officer of Blend Me, Inc a remote employee experience consultancy that helps startups and small businesses onboard, engage and retain their remote teams.
With nearly 20 years of strategic operations and event planning experience, he helps leadership implement people operations solutions that increase productivity and engagement for both internal and external stakeholders.
Kaleem was born and raised in Bangor, Maine, the home of Stephen King. He graduated from Worcester State University and was recently featured in Harvard Business Review and named one of the top 15 Remote Work Advocates and Leaders by All American Speakers Bureau.
Kaleem currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia 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.