Diversity, Inclusion + Empathy in Remote Companies with Kelly Gonzalez of KeepTruckin

Here's how KeepTruckin is thinking about diversity, inclusion and empathy through a crisis and how the team is staying connected in this new, virtual landscape.

Keeptruckin diversity policy

A lot of companies have gone remote and are now, as a result, navigating the world of working from home. For some companies, this may be the first time they’ve worked remotely and for others, it’s just another day at the virtual office.

To help companies, managers and teams navigate this new way of working, we sat down with leaders from around the world to chat about remote work and to find out more about what’s changed for them, how they’re keeping their teams productive and how they’re staying connected.

Here’s our chat with Kelly Wolf González, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, & Head of Internal Communications at KeepTruckin.

1 Tell us a little bit about yourself and KeepTruckin

I’m the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at KeepTruckin. It’s a relatively small HR team. So, I also do a lot of internal communications, learning and development and enablement for our workforce. I’ve been in the D&I and HR space for about 10 years. Prior to KeepTruckin I was at Tesla and Solar City – in the energy world.

KeepTruckin is a fleet management hardware and software company. It started off as a compliance tool for the trucking industry and then has since expanded. There’s just a huge market for helping small to large businesses manage their private or public fleets. It’s been really interesting during this pandemic, to see how important our truck drivers and people who are delivering things are to us. It does feel good to be a part of an organization that’s enabling that workforce to do such important work.

I joined KeepTruckin for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons was because they started, about six years ago, almost seven now, with a core value of embracing diversity and there’s not a lot of companies that do that – they decide later that it’s important. Starting with it makes it so much easier for me to do my work and to be able to have leaders that are already measured against that value and understand the business case behind it.

It integrates into everything that we do – it’s not just a program. For example, I help with various trainings for our leaders to be more inclusive and that ties really well with remote work – how are we being inclusive and being able to communicate better as we’ve changed our own the way that we connect with each other?

2 Is the entire company remote?

No, usually I’m in the office.

3 How has it been adapting to remote work?

Adapting to remote work has been good. I have a one and a half-year-old, so you might hear her in the background. It’s definitely been nice to not have a commute and be able to have lunch with my family but it’s definitely a change. It’s hard to really stay disciplined and separate from work. I guess what comes to mind is being intentional about what you’re doing. Being intentional about having those social connections, breaks and exercise and what your priorities are and managing up… all of those things you have to be really conscious about.

4 How’s KeepTruckin adapting to going remote?

I think that’s kind of a silver lining with this – we’re learning a lot more about each other’s home life. All of a sudden, I know so much more about the whole person that I’m working with because I can see that they have family or they have pets and in some ways, we’re being more human about things, even though we don’t have that human connection that is physical.

Overall, we’ve done quite a few trainings, and I think we’ll continue to do that, on best practices. We’re trying out our first virtual happy hour, which I have no idea how that’s going to go.

5 What are you doing to stay connected as a company and in your teams?

For the virtual happy hour, I think we’re going to do some sort of trivia because you can only really have one conversation. It’s not like 200 people can have multiple conversations. We’ll probably need to play a game or something like that.

Slack has been helpful in reminding us to connect. I’ve set reminders for myself through Slack to say hello to people and to schedule virtual water breaks. We started a few exercise things, for example, we have a plank club that I just joined. I did it yesterday and we did planks for five minutes in one-minute intervals.

Some things are trial by error, you just have to see what works. Everybody has different ways they want to connect with each other and being a manager, you need to do more than just manage people based on when you see them in the office or how much you interact with them. You have to be looking at the specific project status and metrics and combining the two makes for a better manager, I think.

6 How does your job around diversity and inclusion change in this new remote work environment and what are some of the things you’re doing to ensure that the values set by the company are still upheld?

In some ways, it hasn’t changed at all and in some ways, it’s totally changed. It’s not necessarily because of being remote but it’s also because of the state of the world, too. March is Women’s History Month in the US and we had a ton of events planned – leadership panels and mentorship circles and allyship training – and we had to move a lot of things virtual.

For example, I did the allyship training virtually and that actually went better because we’ve received some feedback that some things that are live in our headquarters, or our major offices, are harder for people who are remote or in smaller offices to get to. Now, everybody’s kind of on an equal playing field and so I think they found that to be better. For some of our other events, we cancelled because it just didn’t seem like the right time to be celebrating certain things – it just seemed a little tone-deaf.

It’s definitely changed a lot I think. I’m hosting an inclusive teams training where we do an identity exploration exercise, which has people talking about how their identity impacts them in the workplace. Generally, I do it in-person where two people get together and talk and it’s a little more intimate. I’m doing that next week, virtually, and trying to do some breakouts but I’ll need to add music so it’s not so weird and silent on Zoom. There are so many little things that you have to think about otherwise because people need to stop and think and do a quick exercise.

As leaders in organizations, we have to be more flexible and empathize with people right now and we need to understand that there are people that are balancing so many things right now and also dealing with emotions of panic for their personal lives and families. It’s a really important time to be more empathetic and flexible with our teams and our teammates.

7 On the empathetic side, what have you done to be a more empathetic manager leader, inside of your organization?

Teaching empathy is so difficult. There are definitely some studies of things that have worked. I think in general having people read aloud a first-person story of someone else’s first-person story can help. A group of gynecologists did this – male gynecologists – about a women’s experiences with a pap smear. Immediately afterward they were like, we’re going to redesign the speculum. We’re all still waiting for that.

I think that teams can do that. They can write first-person experiences and then have someone else read it and that can be a way to get people to empathize. Personally, I think I’ve just been asking a lot more questions about how people are feeling and sharing my own vulnerability. Sometimes I’ll start with: “Here are the things that are working and here are the things that I’m struggling with and here are the mistakes that I’ve made” and allow for psychological safety in a team. That generally gets people to open up and talk a little bit more and when I ask those questions, I really listen – not to respond but to try to understand where they’re coming from.

We also host intersectionality roundtables where we have people from all different backgrounds come and talk about specific topics and how those topics impact them. We’ve talked about age in the workplace and gender and it’s definitely been important for me to just listen to other people’s stories and know that they are not my stories. Maybe I won’t know how they feel exactly but I’ll just really try to get to know people that are different than me.

The last thing I’ll say is that we have also used coffee buddies on Slack to get people to connect with each other that they don’t know and we’ve had that in the office but we still do those virtually. I really try to get to know people, for example, a software engineer or someone in our workplace team or someone across the world and I try to get to know what they do what’s important to them, what motivates them, how this is impacting their lives, etc. All of that builds empathy for me.

8 Do you have any tips or best practices that have helped you better manage teams remotely or be a more active individual contributor when working from home?

I definitely think that being intentional about how you’re connecting with your team and having your daily stand-ups or scheduling virtual water breaks with your teammates helps.

Those specific connection points have been really helpful for me. I like those connections because I can also hear about what else is going on with them and other meetings that they’re in and what they are hearing or learning. That’s helpful because I can then understand how I can help with other people’s problems and be an asset to the organization still, even though I’m separated.

I think the biggest thing is this – if you’re feeling lonely, which is very common, first of all, don’t be so hard on yourself and know that everybody’s probably feeling that. So, you’re not alone in that! People want you to reach out so do it – don’t be afraid to do that. Even with people you don’t know – reach out to people because they are probably feeling the same way. Loneliness is a real issue and we need to label it and talk about it and do what we can to connect with each other.

We have to talk about it and use whatever resources your company has. We use Talkspace, which is free online therapy, 24/7, and that’s been really helpful to our employees. Thinking about mental health, as an organization, is going to be key throughout all of this for sure.

9 Is there anything we didn’t cover that you want to share before we close out?

I would love to hear other tips that people have had. I think we all are doing different things to help us get better and be more productive and be valuable to the companies that we work for. I think that’s a big thing for everybody who might be watching this so, if you have other tips I want to hear them, too.

That’s the whole reason why we started doing these videos and we’re talking to everyone – from people who have been doing this for years to people who just started – to see what people are doing because that’s very true. We’re all in this together and we’re all learning and so hopefully you get to learn something from the other videos, too. I know that I’ve learned a lot from you today and I know other people will too, especially on the empathy side and I love the idea of doing those coffee buddies and intentional breaks so thank you so much for sharing all of that.

10 Where can people reach you or find out more about KeepTruckin?

LinkedIn is probably the best place. You can find me at Kelly Wolf Gonzalez on LinkedIn and KeepTruckin is there, too. We have a lot of information about diversity on that site and what we do in the groups that we have. So, I’d love to connect more.

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