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Getting On-board: From opposite sides of the Atlantic

by | 16 Jul 2020

When Kathleen Hampton said yes to an offer from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to be its new Development Manager, Major Gifts, she knew she was taking on much more than just a job.

Kathleen Hampton
Jonathan Kuhles
Kathleen was about to embark on a whole new chapter relocating, along with her husband and two cats, from Portland, Oregon, to London, England. But COVID-19 put Kathleen’s plans of a change in continents and culture on hold. Instead, she started her new London-based job from the other side of the Atlantic.

Deann Stevens caught up with Kathleen and her new boss Jonathan Kuhles, Associate Director of Major Gifts, to find out how they’re making things work, even though they are yet to meet in person.

Q. Jonathan, tell me how you recruited Kathleen to your team.

A. Jonathan: We interviewed a number of candidates, some were in the UK and obviously Kathleen was in the US. We hadn’t necessarily set out to recruit someone from the US but fortunately Kathleen applied for the job. We did two rounds of interviews and what was interesting is that I, and the other panel members, didn’t actually feel that there was a significant difference in terms of what the engagement was like with those who were physically with us and those candidates who were virtually with us. And I think that surprised us a bit.

Q. Kathleen, how was the process for you?

A. Kathleen: It’s the first time I’ve done any kind of virtual interviewing at all, actually. We had some technical glitches at the beginning and the occasional cat interruption but other than that, I think the process went very smoothly.

Q. What was the reaction when the cat walked in front of the camera during the interview?

A. Kathleen: Well, it’s funny, because we had had so many technical difficulties that we were already running 20 minutes late. So once the cat walked through, it was like, OK, well, this is obviously how this day is going to go. I love my cats and I think that shows a more human side to me.

A. Jonathan: I guess sometimes these things can dissipate some of the anxiety that might be on both sides, particularly because we were having a lot of issues with the technology. I think if we were doing the interviews now we’d be much better. And so the cat was quite a nice icebreaker in that sense.

Q. In any relationship, chemistry is a big factor and you are yet to meet in person. How did you both make sure that the ‘fit’ was right?

A. Jonathan: We approached it very much as if everyone was on the same level, whether the interview was virtual or in person. I think we actually found that it was quite natural in terms of building that rapport through the virtual interview process, even though we knew we’d miss out on the general conversations that happen before and after a formal interview that takes place in person. But we certainly felt strongly at the end of the process that we had enough to go on to say that it felt right to make an offer to Kathleen.

A. Kathleen: I know interviews are really nerve wracking things and a lot of times, at the end of an interview, you’re exhausted from all the energy you’ve expended. But with Kew, I would finish our interviews and feel really energised and excited and almost sad that they had already ended. I always had more questions, and wanted to chat more.

There’s a lot that goes into making this sort of decision, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have anxieties at times that popped up and made me a little nervous. But every time I’ve had a conversation with Jonathan, it has completely reaffirmed my decision to take on this position. Also it helps that I feel really strongly about Kew’s mission as it aligns perfectly with my personal passions. And I think for me as a fundraiser that’s really helpful in my work. I still sometimes can’t believe my luck that this is the work that I’m doing.

Q. Changing jobs, as well as moving countries and cultures, is a big decision. Kathleen, how did you know that the opportunity was right?

A. Kathleen: One of the things that really stood out to me in the process is that my contact from Richmond Associates, Sonja Dunphy, played a big role in making the process enjoyable and ensuring that it went smoothly. She was really my constant the entire time, and provided me with great insights on the position. She also gave me clarity around expectations and guidance on some broader cultural and social elements that would be news to me moving from the US to the UK. And it was nice to have that kind of connected but outsider’s perspective on everything that I could then utilise. It was nice to have her in the process the entire time – particularly as it was a virtual recruitment process. It certainly enhanced it significantly. I knew I could ask her anything and that was really helpful. So Sonja and I definitely became buddies through the process.

Q. Kathleen, you are supposed to be working at Kew Gardens in London now but COVID-19 has put a stop to that for the moment. However, you have started work in your new job. Tell me about the on-boarding process.

A. Kathleen: Well, I’ve never started a new job this way before. I’m working on a slightly UK schedule, in that I start my work day at 6.30am. I haven’t quite adjusted to that as I’m not the most energetic morning person, but I have started to establish a rhythm. And I would say that apart from my morning struggles of getting up early, everything has gone really smoothly. And even though I haven’t had the chance to tour the Gardens or share lunch with my colleagues, they’ve made time for me in the afternoon to do virtual calls. I feel like I have had the appropriate induction meetings that I’ve needed and I’ve been able to access the important materials that I need to review. I think it has felt like a really successful on-boarding process.

A. Jonathan: Actually there are a lot of positives to take from it in that it’s allowed more of a structure to the on-boarding in terms of making sure we’re covering off the main elements. And, given the time difference as well, Kathleen has been having video calls at the beginning of her day and then large chunks of the day where the UK is not working has meant that there was time for her to read and absorb and process new information.

Working at Kew Gardens

Q. How are you making sure that you stay connected?

A. Jonathan: One of my main worries when we made the call to close the office and shift to remote working, which was a week before Kathleen was due to move to London, was to make sure she could access everything. She’s still working from a personal laptop, so we have had to put in place some security measures for that. But otherwise, Microsoft Teams and Office, et cetera, is a really key component of linking everything up. And then the group conversations that we have – hopefully for you Kathleen you feel involved in them as a member of the team rather than just someone who’s working from many thousands of miles away?

A. Kathleen: Yes definitely. We’ve been on Office 365 using basically every tool that’s available on that suite which has been, I think, one of the key elements to the success of this on-boarding process. I have access to my email. I can see shared calendars so I can figure out when I can meet with my colleagues. I have access to most of our important files and we are using Teams to chat and have video calls and share screens. So I feel like that has really been the critical piece that has actually made this a success.

Q. Are there any unforeseen benefits from starting a new job thousands of miles away?

A. Kathleen: Jonathan and I have talked about this quite a bit, given I’ve had the opportunity to go through this process, located remotely in the US, and therefore seeing how we interact and promote Kew on a virtual scale. It has really helped shape what I think and what the priority should be for how we engage donors outside of the UK, which is obviously a key component of my work.

This has given us the opportunity to think through what a program really looks like for a donor based outside of the UK and what opportunities we have available to engage with them. And essentially, in this on-boarding process, we have been testing those things out, which is just phenomenal. So selfishly, this helps me in my work.

A. Jonathan: As Kathleen was saying, in terms of our work as fundraisers, I think it’s really helped to put us into the mindset of a prospect or a donor who might not be physically present. At Kew we’re blessed to have the stunning gardens and everything that goes with that and that’s a really important part of our offer. But if you can’t get there to see it and experience it, then what does the engagement look like? I think this has forced us into really thinking about that. And I think Kathleen’s experience, as she says, has been and will be really valuable in terms of shaping what our offer is moving forward and hopefully we can improve what we’re doing in the process.

Q. Despite some technical issues with your first experience of virtual recruiting, would you consider doing it for future roles?

A. Jonathan: Definitely. If we were doing it again, we might have a stage where everyone does a virtual interview, even if they can physically come in to the office.

Q. What have you learned about yourself, professionally and/or personally, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions?

A. Kathleen: I am missing the office and having interactions with colleagues and feeling that sense of rapport. I’m an empathic person so I really feed off of people and their emotions, which I think makes me a good fundraiser. It’s hard for me to have virtual relationships with colleagues and donors all the time and I’m missing those initial relationship building opportunities. But, I think I could handle being quarantined for a lot longer, which has been a real surprise in this whole process.

A. Jonathan: Before COVID-19 I probably felt that I needed the routine of going into the office to focus my attention. And I still think that’s probably where I personally perform best. But, a combination of office work with remote work would probably be quite a good hybrid, for me at least.

Q. What have you learned about your colleagues?

A. Jonathan: The flexibility and resilience that the team has had and how people have adapted really quickly to working from home has been impressive. You know, it’s been two months now where everyone’s been working remotely and that flexibility and resilience has been a real positive from this.

A. Kathleen: Something that’s been very impressive to me is how my colleagues at Kew have responded to this. Everyone has settled into this new work mode and has been able to focus on getting things done and helping each other. We’re also looking at what we can do to support our donors and the institution, instead of getting frustrated with being stuck at home. So I’m really impressed by the flexibility and there is a sense of camaraderie to being in this situation together, for sure.

Q. What are you most looking forward to once our freedoms are restored?

A. Jonathan: Actually being able to meet Kathleen in person and for her to be part of the physical team. I think it will happen very quickly from your side Kathleen, to feel immersed in Kew, because you’re already part of it albeit from a distance.

For me, being able to be physically back in the Gardens will be great. And I don’t mind having meetings virtually, but actually it will be nice to sit in a room with someone, or outside, and have a normal conversation.

A. Kathleen: I’m definitely looking forward to being with the team and starting my role at Kew. And I miss hugging my friends and I’m looking forward to that again, although I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that before I leave for London.

Inside the laboratory at Kew

BACKGROUND BRIEF

  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a global resource for plant science and conservation and the world’s leading botanic garden. With sites in Kew and Wakehurst, and in countries around the world, its purpose is to safeguard the diversity of the Earth’s ecosystems by understanding and protecting the world’s plant life. 
  • More than 350 people work in Kew Science, each contributing to global knowledge of plant life on our planet. 
  • 15 people work in the Development Department raising approx. £15m annually to support the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s international scientific research and the Botanic Gardens at Kew and Wakehurst.
  • The Development Department is part of the Foundation Directorate, which comprises three other departments; Membership, Engagement and Business Services. Collectively they raise more than £22m per year.

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