Celebrating 10 Years with Blend Me, Inc: Reflections on Remote Work Success

Embracing Remote Work Flexibility and Building Lasting Experiences
8 min read | by Jennifer Cameron

As Blend Me, Inc. celebrates its 10th year of service, Chief Officers Jennifer Cameron and Kaleem Clarkson reflect on their passion for remote work and the journey that brought them here. In an intimate interview, they delve into what drives their dedication to help startups and small businesses create efficient and successful remote or hybrid-remote workplaces.

The Passion for Remote Work

Jennifer and Kaleem share their personal motivations for being passionate about remote work. Jennifer's inspiration stems from the flexibility it offers, enabling the integration of work and life seamlessly. Growing up in a family business, she witnessed firsthand the benefits of flexibility in self-employment and how that life integration contributes to creating great employee experiences. 

Kaleem, on the other hand, was captivated by the idea of building lasting memories and participating in new life experiences through remote work. His first exposure to this came from Tim Ferriss' book, "The Four Hour Workweek,” which highlights the “new rich” concept where a higher value is placed on experiences over wealth. This location-independent lifestyle has fueled the rise of digital nomads and the use of remote work as an economic development tool by countries and cities worldwide.

"My parents were both self-employed. We had a family business running out of our home, and I was able to see firsthand what flexibility offers." 

-Jennifer Cameron, CEO
 

Moments that Conceptualized Blend Me

Both Kaleem and Jennifer's experiences highlighted the significance of employee engagement, creating connections, and blending work and life in a remote work setting. These moments became the driving force behind the creation of Blend Me and their mission to assist companies in optimizing their remote and hybrid work environments.

Jennifer recounted a significant moment in 2011 while working for a global banking company where she witnessed the smooth operation of a distributed workforce. She was part of an employee engagement task force that organized a week-long event to foster connections among remote employees. The event culminated in a two-day retreat where employees had the opportunity to meet in person and engage in team-building activities. This experience made Jennifer realize the potential of remote work and the importance of creating meaningful connections in a remote environment.

Kaleem's moment of inspiration came in 2012 at a web development conference in Denver. During the conference, Matt Westgate, the CEO of a fully remote company called Lullabot, gave a talk on building culture in a virtual company. Kaleem was fascinated by the idea of helping other companies create blended work-life experiences for their employees. This revelation led Kaleem to reach out to Jennifer and discuss the possibility of starting Blend Me. On July 3, 2013, Blend Me, Inc. incorporated.

What is People Operations?

Jennifer describes People Operations as a broader and more holistic approach to human resources, encompassing various aspects beyond traditional HR concepts. Jennifer highlighted that people operations take a people-centered approach, where decision-making begins at the personal level, a culture that is inclusive and empowers employees.

Incorporating data and analytics, people operations utilize an overarching approach to attract, recruit, onboard, engage, manage performance, develop employees, and even handle offboarding. It emphasizes the importance of maintaining connections and relationships throughout an employee's entire journey, including their departure from the company.

Kaleem expressed his agreement with Jennifer's perspective, emphasizing the merging of operations and data in people operations. He appreciated the inclusion of data and analytics, which aligned with his own experience and passion for operations.

Overall, Jennifer's explanation sheds light on the evolving field of people operations, highlighting its people-first nature and the integration of data and analytics to create a comprehensive and holistic approach to engaging human resources within organizations.

What is Fractional People Operations?

Kaleem provided a clear explanation of fractional people operations during the interview. He described it as the hiring of an experienced leader on a part-time basis to support an organization's existing team. Blend Me offers two ways of working with companies: project-based consulting, where a consultant is assigned to a specific project, and longer-term fractional people ops services.

Kaleem shared his personal experience as the Director of People Operations for a sock manufacturer in Manhattan, highlighting that despite being part-time, he fulfills the role and is recognized by both internal and external stakeholders. He mentioned that fractional roles originated with financial positions such as CFOs and CTOs, where organizations could benefit from the expertise of experienced professionals without the need for full-time employment.

The advantages of fractional people operations, according to Kaleem, include cost-effectiveness by obtaining expertise at a better rate, avoiding the expenses associated with full-time employment and benefits. Additionally, organizations have the flexibility to adjust the workload and the number of hours required from their fractional executive based on their specific needs.

Kaleem's explanation provided valuable insights into the concept of fractional people operations, highlighting its benefits in terms of expertise, cost-efficiency, and flexibility for organizations seeking experienced leaders on a part-time basis.

Blend Me's Approach to Remote Work

Blend Me specializes in optimizing remote work environments as a fractional people operations consultancy. Their team of remote people operations consultants brings extensive expertise to help organizations navigate the challenges and opportunities of remote work. From developing and implementing remote work policies and practices to streamlining communication and collaboration within distributed teams, they ensure a seamless transition to remote or hybrid-remote setups. Additionally, their expertise extends to talent acquisition, employee engagement, performance management, and fostering a positive organizational culture in remote or hybrid-remote contexts.

Blend’s fractional consultants can be engaged on a project-by-project basis or integrated into the existing workforce as part-time or temporary members.

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How Did COVID-19 Impact Blend Me?

Jennifer explained how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Blend Me during the interview. She emphasized that the pandemic had a global impact, with everyone transitioning to remote work. In 2013, Blend Me was already engaged in innovative work related to remote companies, but remote work was not yet the norm in business.

However, fast-forwarding to 2020, remote work became more prevalent, and Blend Me had been primarily working with distributed teams, which are companies that operate 100% remotely without physical office spaces. Jennifer stated that their niche and target audience revolved around such distributed teams.

The most significant impact of the pandemic on Blend Me, according to Jennifer, was the emergence of a new work model known as Hybrid Remote. This model combines elements of both in-person and remote work. Companies desire to bring employees back to the office while still honoring the flexibility that remote work offers. Blend Me has incorporated this hybrid model into its service offerings and provides advice on how companies can effectively utilize their office spaces and time when they do get together.

During the interview, Kaleem shared his perspective on how the pandemic impacted Blend Me's work. He mentioned that prior to the pandemic, Blend Me primarily operated as a consultancy. However, when the pandemic hit and speaking engagements shifted to virtual platforms, there was a significant increase in requests for speaking engagements.

Kaleem expressed gratitude for the opportunity to present at renowned conferences such as South by Southwest, Q Con, and HR Transform, which allowed Blend Me to gain visibility and expand their reach. Additionally, Blend Me had the privilege of conducting workshops for notable brands like Visa, American Airlines, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Kaleem attributed the surge in speaking engagements and training opportunities to the pandemic. The shift to virtual events created a higher demand for their expertise and services. Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Blend Me was able to adapt and leverage the increased demand for their speaking and training engagements.

"...there's no doubt that connection is the biggest challenge. What we've been advising clients is to build a social connection strategy."

-Kaleem Clarkson, COO

Biggest Challenges Over the Next 10 Years

Jennifer addressed the question of the biggest challenges Blend will have to solve over the next 10 years. She emphasized the importance of making time together meaningful, regardless of the remote or hybrid work model adopted by organizations. She highlighted the need to create intentional and valuable in-person experiences, retreats, and gatherings that foster strong connections and a sense of belonging among remote and hybrid teams.

Additionally, Jennifer stressed the significance of developing metrics and tools to measure the success and impact of remote work. With remote work becoming more prevalent, organizations will need reliable data and analytics to gauge productivity, engagement, and overall performance in remote and hybrid environments.

As Blend Me, Inc. celebrates its 10th anniversary, they will continue to make a positive impact and empower companies to thrive in the evolving landscape of hybrid and remote work environments.

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Originally Published by Jennifer Cameron on Monday, July 3, 2023 | Updated on Tuesday, July 4, 2023
Tags:
Future of Remote Work
, Hybrid-Remote
, Social Connection Strategy
, Work-Life Integration
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