Giving grace, being flexible: Influence & Co. alters expectations in going remote

For Kelsey Raymond, CEO and founder of Influence & Co., the responsibility to be kind, especially to employees, has proven more important than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Founded in 2011, the content marketing company, which has worked with clients like Microsoft, American Airlines and Dell, has expanded from just three employees to now over 50.

“It’s been a lot of growth over the years,” Raymond said. “We’ve learned a lot. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. But I am so grateful and so proud of the team that we have right now. I am amazed on a daily basis by the talents of the individuals and the kindness of the individuals that I get to work with.”

Influence & Co. is being honored with one of the inaugural Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to Employees category. The awards recognize businesses and organizations that have shown and promoted kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the Kindness in Business awards and meet the honorees.

A first-time mother to a 7-month-old son, Raymond said she understands the commitments other parents have at home, too. The most important lesson, she said, is to be flexible and have empathy. The company’s office hasn’t housed an employee since March 7, and its doors will remain closed through 2020, with employees working from home. That arrangement comes with child care demands and mental health needs, among others.

To cope, Raymond and her team created ways in which coworkers could still engage with one another, like holding happy hours on Zoom and pairing people on Slack to set up a coffee chat each week.

Raymond also found herself using her platform and being kind in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice. She emailed her team expressing support for the movement and said that she would try to match as many of their donations as she could to various social justice organizations.

Raymond spoke with Missouri Business Alert about Influence & Co. and its response to the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: How does your business try to embody kindness?

Kelsey Raymond: One of our core values as a business is to treat others with trust and respect, and I think that treating individuals with respect is the epitome of kindness. We talk a lot that you can be direct and kind, and those are not mutually exclusive. So we believe, internally, in giving each other feedback and pushing back on each other if there’s things that we disagree with, or challenging our clients if there’s things that we disagree with. But you can do that while still being kind. And with everything that happened during the COVID crisis, I think that is more important than ever.

When everything first started happening, I had my first child on Feb. 20, and it was about March 7 when we decided we don’t feel like it’s safe for our employees to be going into the office. So I was about two weeks into my maternity leave, which turned very much not into a maternity leave. But having people work from home before the state was mandating it was kind of our first step to be kind to our employees.

We talked a lot internally about giving each other grace and about being flexible. If somebody’s kid ran into their screen in the middle of a meeting, it’s fine. If someone needs to cut their hours short, that’s OK. When I think about kindness, so many of these things pop up.

MBA: What lessons have you or business learned throughout the pandemic?

KR: In the spring, we thought this would last a month. A month, we can figure out. Then, it was that we really needed to set different expectations for the team. We had to tell employees that you may not work 40 hours a week, and that is OK. And we need to figure that out and still make great work for our clients. One thing that we’ve talked about is that a lot of our employees have a spouse or a co-parent at home where their job is not flexible. And so, our company, we feel like if we can be, we need to be as flexible as possible.

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