Owl Labs (OL): Tell me about how you got to where you are in your career today.
Kathleen Booth (KB): I've traveled a circuitous route to get to where I am today. I majored in Political Science in college, worked abroad for a year, and then attended graduate school to study International Politics. To earn a more career-oriented degree, I decided to pursue an MBA in Marketing as well. I then spent 10 years doing international development consulting, helping the governments of developing countries figure out how to contract out the management of their water systems.
I traveled to over 50 countries working on these reform projects which could be somewhat controversial. You're bringing the private sector in to take on some portion of the responsibility for delivering water to people in poverty-stricken countries, so many projects would get stalled. About halfway through my 10 years in that field, I realized there was an opportunity to use strategic communications to pave the way for a smoother process by building consensus amongst people earlier in the life cycle of these projects.
I shifted back into marketing halfway through my international development career, but more on the communications side. After I got married and decided to have kids, I couldn't keep traveling the world. I had a bit of a mid-life career crisis as I was looking for new opportunities. In 2006, my husband and I started a digital marketing agency that ran for 11 years.
We were a HubSpot partner and, at the time we were interested in exiting our company, we found IMPACT. They were one of our friendly competitors and we really liked their team. The stars sort of aligned and it all came together. They acquired part of our company and I came over to IMPACT as part of that transaction back in June of 2017.
OL: What is the mission of IMPACT?
KB: IMPACT's mission is to help people and their organizations to succeed. Today, we're really a digital sales and marketing company focused on educating and training business leaders who have a growth mindset.
We do that through our marketing agency services but we also have an annual conference, an online publication, lots of training programs, and a vibrant virtual community. We love empowering businesses and their leadership teams to assume ownership of their sales and marketing, to take both their companies and their careers to the next level.
We've gone on to really aggressively recruit the top marketing talent from across the country and now about 60% of our 70-plus person team is remote. It's grown dramatically in the last two years.
OL: Tell me a little bit about the people at IMPACT. What sets your company culture apart?
KB: I've never been surrounded by so many A-players before. We're about a 75-person company right now and I'm consistently blown away by the level of talent that I get to work with every day. I really attribute that to the incredible amount of work that the company has put into the hiring process. I don't know if I would get hired if I had to go through it today.
It's really rigorous and that's because we're looking for people who don't just have strong marketing skills, experience, and background -- that's not really enough. We want people who are phenomenal communicators, who are passionate lifelong learners, and who are driven to get amazing results. It's more of a mindset that makes you successful at IMPACT than it is your marketing skills. We could take somebody with the right mindset, the right communication skills, and the right drive and teach them the skills we need them to know. But it's harder to teach those other things. If you don't come with it, we can't instill it in you.
OL: IMPACT is headquartered in Connecticut and it looks like you're hiring for a lot of remote roles. What has the evolution of IMPACT been when it comes to remote and flexible work?
KB: When I first joined IMPACT about two years ago we only had a few remote people. And for the first several years the company was in business, there was nobody who was remote. The idea of remote work really started when one of our employees needed to move across the country for family reasons and our leadership team looked at the situation and didn't want to lose this amazing person. So, they made it work.
It wasn't a conscious choice at first; it was just the natural evolution that happens in the life cycle of an employee's tenure with the company. After that first case, it did become a very conscious decision to find the best people and to hire them no matter where they are because that's how we can deliver the best results to our clients and do our best work. We've gone on to really aggressively recruit the top marketing talent from across the country and now about 60% of our 70-plus person team is remote. It's grown dramatically in the last two years.
All new hires are assigned a buddy who acts as a culture partner, helping them to understand what the company is like, answering questions, telling you someone's name if you don't know it, etc. You feel like you're there and like you're a part of the team.
OL: As a team leader and a remote worker yourself, what are some of the ways that the in-office team makes sure they're being inclusive of remote workers?
KB: Technology is definitely a huge part of it. Having really good remote video conferencing solutions is key -- and we have several different types. We have a big room we use for our weekly all-hands meetings where all 70 of us come together. It looks like the Brady Bunch on steroids, there are so many faces on the screen! We also have a phenomenal Slack setup. We're constantly chatting. All of our meetings are done on video. All of our document sharing is done in the cloud. We're very, very virtual in terms of our tech stack.
Beyond that, it's really baked into everything we do. Natalie, who heads up our HR department, has done an incredible job of building what I think is one of the best onboarding processes I've experienced. There are a lot of very deliberate elements in there for everybody on the team. From having to attend other teams' meetings within the company to virtual coffee dates, it's really inclusive. Plus, all new hires are assigned a buddy who acts as a culture partner, helping them to understand what the company is like, answering questions, telling you someone's name if you don't know it, etc. You feel like you're there and like you're a part of the team.
Once you complete onboarding, that feeling of inclusiveness continues. All of the events we do are set up so remote folks can participate. For example, on Mother's Day, we didn't just have an in-office event. Every mom received a little gift at their home. So, you're either getting something in the mail or you're getting something virtually by email or video or Slack. I always say I feel like my headphones are growing into my ears because I'm on video talking to people from the company all day long. I truly do not feel like I'm remote.
Even though we're always on Slack and sending emails, there's so much that can get lost in writing. So, we've built a strong culture of utilizing video updates.
OL: What are some other suggestions you have for really keeping and maintaining that company culture strong when people might not be meeting face-to-face very often?
KB: Video is a big part of it. And I don't just mean live video conferencing. We're huge proponents of Vidyard GoVideo. Even though we're always on Slack and sending emails, there's so much that can get lost in writing. So, we've built a strong culture of utilizing video updates. Like, if I had to give you my feedback on something you've written, I'm more apt to do it via video where you can see my face. I think that helps a lot because, even if you're not in meetings with people, you're still seeing those video updates and that makes it feel like you're connecting on a more personal level.
Beyond that, I honestly think the biggest thing is how we have Slack set up. We have the usual channels you'd expect for all of our work conversations, but then we have channels based on people's interests. There's an IMPACT pet channel where folks can post photos of their cats and dogs and things like that. We also have a parents channel so all of our parents can talk about their kid's first day of school or a big milestone such as the birth of a new baby. It's all those little conversations that you'd otherwise have around the watercooler– they're happening in Slack with fun animated gifs so that we can feel closer to each other.
We also have little things outside of work, including a couple of special interest groups on Facebook. We have one called Mind and Body IMPACTers and it's sort of a mutual accountability group for people who are trying to eat better, live a more healthy lifestyle, exercise more, etc. We literally post pictures of our sweaty selves leaving the gym with captions like, "I did 30 minutes on the elliptical today!" and everybody cheers you on. Then we have a Mindfulness and Meditation group that meets one night each week. And these groups are purely voluntary. They weren't even started by the company; it's team members inviting other team members into their lives in a way that you can participate in even if you're not there physically.
OL: That's really cool. I've heard of Slack groups doing it but I like the Facebook group strategy -- it's a different level of connectedness outside of work. Are there any other tools that are really key to your team's ability to collaborate as a hybrid group?
KB: Google Drive is huge. I don't know what I would do without it. We also use Trello to coordinate the content that we're creating. We use Jira for project management and we have a great platform called 7Geese, which I also used at my agency. 7Geese has a lot of different features but the one I think contributes most to our remote culture is the recognition part of it. So, if somebody does something great, rather than simply shooting them a "thank you" via Slack, we actually post the recognition in 7Geese so it gets broadcast out to the entire company.
Being able to see people's faces and have conversations in real-time, especially as a manager of eight people, is critical. I have one-on-ones with my team members and those conversations aren't always easy, so having them as close to face-to-face as humanly possible is extremely important.
OL: Marketing is typically a team that I have seen embrace remote work pretty readily compared to others. What are some of the lessons that can be applied from marketing to other teams that might be a little bit more reticent to allow remote work, like product or sales?
KB: It's interesting because I was actually on the sales team for six months before I came into this role, and in some ways, I think sales was easier to do remotely because you're really an individual contributor. You know, you have your number, and being remote really just lets you run with it -- especially if you're a good salesperson. You don't need a lot of interaction as that can sometimes even be a distraction.
I think in general though, marketing requires a ton of collaboration, especially for our team. It's just the way we work. There's a lot of crossover of responsibilities and I do think the biggest takeaway for how to make it work well for any team is video and face-to-face interactions. Zoom is absolutely critical for my team. I could not make it work without it. Being able to see people's faces and have conversations in real-time, especially as a manager of eight people, is critical. I have one-on-ones with my team members and those conversations aren't always easy, so having them as close to face-to-face as humanly possible is extremely important.
OL: You mentioned a couple of different project management software programs that you use. Is that something you think is really make or break to a remote team?
KB: Definitely. We happen to use the ones I mentioned but I don't think any one program, in particular, is a magic bullet. I think every team has to find the project management platform that works best for them. I do feel that having some central place where you can go and not only see what everybody's working on, but also see progress, show progress, and even have a degree of collaboration within that platform, is important. In all of our different project management platforms, we can tag each other. So, if there's an impediment or an issue that comes up, we immediately know about it.
Most of the remote workers that I know, myself included, can thrive remotely because they create an environment that, in many respects, mimics an office environment.
OL: What's a myth about remote work that you see being talked about on social media or in conversations that you'd like to dispel?
KB: I think the biggest one is this sort of idea that all remote workers are at home in their yoga pants and they may or may not be working, or they're constantly in a coffee shop. Most of the remote workers that I know, myself included, can thrive remotely because they create an environment that, in many respects, mimics an office environment.
For me, I have an in-home office that's not just a corner of my bedroom. I come to work in my office every day at 8:30 AM and I leave my office every day sometime after 5:00 PM. The only time I really leave the office during the day is to grab lunch, go to the bathroom, or to refill my drink. I'm not outside walking around, I'm not inside vacuuming. While I'm sure there are remote folks who work like this, I think it's largely a myth and I think by and large the people who are the most successful remotely are fairly disciplined about it. Part of my routine also involves putting on work clothes so that I can feel like I'm bringing my best self to work every single day.
OL: I love that point about the strict in and out times because I think it's easy to burn out when you work remotely. It'd be pretty easy to work through dinner and work until 8:00 every night if you weren't treating it as a distinct space for yourself.
KB: That's exactly right! My office used to be in the middle of my kitchen. Way back in the early days when I had my agency, I actually worked from home for a while; I had to do it because I had a baby. So, I would have my son in his little bouncy chair while I was working. While it was great for that kind of flexibility, it was terrible for work-life balance. I used to sit in the kitchen and work until all hours of the night because my office was in the middle of the space I was in the most at that time. Now, having a separate space is really vital for keeping that balance.
I used to sit in the kitchen and work until all hours of the night because my office was in the middle of the space I was in the most at that time. Now, having a separate space is really vital for keeping that balance.
OL: What do you love most about what you do?
KB: Oh my gosh, I love being intellectually challenged all the time. I don't like doing the same thing every day; I really love learning new things. We are such a fast-paced company and there's a lot of pressure that comes with growing as quickly as we have, to keep up that kind of progress. Things move quickly here and that means I really have to stay on my toes, not only doing my job well but using my free time to really educate myself. I love that challenge.
OL: That's fantastic. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
KB: One thing I'd like to add, and maybe it's one more myth, is that remote people don't get as much done or are not as productive. Every remote person I know would tell you that you get so much more done because you don't have the distractions that come with being in an office. There aren't the 'let's hang out around the coffee pot' or 'go for a walk at lunchtime' breaks. You're in your home and you're usually working on your own. When you're working, you're working and you don't usually have those same distractions. I know for myself, I'm far, far more productive at home than I would be in an office.
But, it's not for everyone. I'm married to somebody who tried to work from home and hated it. You have to know yourself and if you're somebody who needs to be around people and who needs that social interaction, remote work is not for you. I personally love it.
1. Hire the best people no matter where they are.
Companies can expand their talent pool by making job openings available to remote workers. Plus, employees will be happier knowing they can do their job from wherever they are.
2. Build and support a hybrid team with the right technology.
How can you connect with team members, even if they aren't in the same office as you? You can use a whole host of tools, from video conferencing software, messaging apps, and project management platforms to collaborate and stay in touch. Kathleen says the IMPACT team relies on Zoom, Vidyard GoVideo, Slack, Google Drive, Jira, 7Geese, and more.
3. Make your work environment inclusive for all employees.
IMPACT makes a point of making team members feel welcome during and after onboarding. Kathleen explains how virtual coffee meetings are encouraged, and that new hires are paired with a buddy, or culture partner, to help them learn more about the company and meet more members of the team. The team even created Slack channels and Facebook groups where employees can chat and connect about their interests and lives outside of work. All of these programs lend themselves to a more inclusive work environment.
To learn more, check out the Global State of Remote Work next.