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Edify Collabs: Great Minds Think Alike II - An Interview with Kaleem Clarkson of Blend Me, Inc

Austin Epon

Culture always plays a big role for startups, mid-sized, and even large companies. But with the rapid transition from the traditional setup to going fully distributed, startups and small businesses are realizing the need for concise consultancy that fits their type whether to continue to go remote, transition to going remote, or start being remote from day 1.

In this second collaboration article, Edify CEO talks with Blend Me Inc Co-Founder on consulting with fully remote or fully distributed teams.

See Also: Build Equity in Engineering Onboarding


Tell us what Blend Me, Inc is and why did you start it?

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We are a consultancy that helps startups and small businesses improve the remote employee experience. In 2010, my partner Jennifer Cameron graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Master's Degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development and her thesis was on virtual volunteerism. And at that time, there weren't many strategic HR positions available such as “Chief People Officer” or “Chief Experience Officer”. - and it's funny to think that was only 11 years ago. 

In my previous career as a Drupal Front-End developer, I attended DrupalCon Denver in 2012 and was listening to the CEO of Lullabot, Matt Westgate’s presentation. He was talking about how they were a fully distributed company - a term I’ve never heard before. He showed all the pictures of them being remote and was just fascinated by that idea. 

After being all jazzed up by the conference I started reading books such as Remote, ReWork and The Year Without Pants and  I asked my partner if we can build a company that helps only remote companies. For years we kept it as a side hustle and enjoyed the ability to be selective with who we worked with.  Then March of 2020 came, I started getting phone calls from all my college friends, high school friends, and some of the clients that we've consulted with in the past, all stating that the whole world has gone remote and we were in a great position to be successful. After careful consideration, I left my full-time engineering job to work on Blend full-time in the middle of a pandemic. Over the next 6 months, I was fortunate enough to be featured in Harvard Business Review and named one of the top 15 Remote Work Advocates and Leaders by the All American Speakers Bureau.


What do you do? How do you think your services change the world?

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We are consultants, plain and simple. We consult with startups and small businesses on how to improve remote employee experience from attraction of talent, to onboarding, to professional development, that whole employee experience until you off‑board. 

We feel we're going to change the world through informing businesses. Our focus is definitely on startups and in small businesses, that is the market where we can help a lot of people from zero employees up to about 400 employees maximum the type of businesses where we have access to the CEO.

We do that in two ways. Project-based consulting - where you have a project that has a start and an end date, where companies may need some help with employee engagement, or how to build policies and procedures around how to work remotely. We usually start this off with our Remote Employee Experience Assessment.  The other way we work with companies is through our Fractional HR Leadership program. This is more of a long relationship where we are hired as a part-time executive for positions such as Chief of People Officer, Director, or VP Director of Inclusion. So if you're a startup and just received a Series A or  B and don’t have the budget to hire one of these positions full-time, hello hello! 

We're not recruiters, but how are you going to represent your company? Including the designing of professional development programs, online retreats, holistic employee engagement, the whole culture side, and a lot of those things that you can't pass. Because in starting a fully distributed company, you need to start getting things in place. We're firm believers in handbooks. We love training, we love walk-me-through types of programs where you can track progress and new initiatives.


See Also: Edify Collabs: Great Minds Think Alike - Why Functional Onboarding Matters When Working with Recruiters


We are curious about your perspective as a consultant and would want a piece of advice. Let’s say, a very important person in the company you are consulting with says “I don't want your politics at work” or “I don't want to hear you as a person”. How would you advise a company as they're thinking about their culture being remote?

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Pressures of the product business are tough, and they can make you switch directions. So we don't want to judge any organizations that take a certain stance, at least they're clarifying the stance. And we always believe to own your culture, be honest about it and articulate it accurately so you'll attract the people that either fit or don't. It always goes down to what kind of culture do we want and who will add to that.

Now that we're talking about remote work and workplace flexibility, I would lean towards the add of culture versus fitting in which has so many embarrassing blunders -  blunders that could have been avoided if teams are diverse, with more voices who can say “maybe we should hold off on that”.

Any last thoughts that you want to share with people regarding remote work and remote onboarding?

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First and foremost, please take our TREE assessment! It's called The Remote Employee Experience Assessment and it's free! Only takes a few minutes. 

So there's this little thing that I'm on right now - defining hybrid remote. We're seeing so many people talk about what hybrid remote is and there's no right or wrong answer. Telework or telecommuting, an arrangement where employees work outside of the employer's office, has been around since the1970s and to me, is the idea where you're still mandated to go into the office a majority of a week. To which I feel like a lot of people are calling that hybrid. 

The root around remote work models  - some people work in the office and some people work remotely, and then there's a lot of variations within that sandwich. On one end of the sandwich, you have an all-remote company where everyone works remotely and on the other end, you have a telecommute option where you are mandated to go into the office a majority of the workweek but are allowed to work remotely once or twice a week. But then you have Hybrid-remote in the middle.  What I would like to see is for the remote work industry to come together and better define what hybrid is so that everyone has a better understanding of what hybrid is for them and their company. 

Startups and small businesses from zero to 400 employees max are realizing the need for appropriate consulting, whether they are partially remote or going fully remote. And it has become of great importance that companies must build solid cultures throughout the whole employee experience in this new world of digital and virtual environments.


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