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How to strengthen inclusion in a remote work environment

Arno Yeramyan

One of the most striking aspects of today’s business environments is the ability to adapt to change. In an ever changing and uncertain century, establishing an inclusive work environment gains more importance as globalization of markets accelerates. Therefore, slowly but surely, diversity and inclusion at workplaces seem to become top priorities of companies whether they have a remote workplace or a conventional office.No matter in which industry and at what size your organization is, you probably would want to spend some time and think about how to create an inclusive work environment.Some of the uncountable advantages of a diversified workplace are;

  • boost in creativity
  • increased levels of innovation
  • improvement in decision making
  • being more credible
  • better hiring results
  • efficient responses to possible hardships

What is diversity in the workplace?

Before diving deeper into the subject, let's clarify the meaning of diversity. So what exactly is an inclusive work environment and how does it relate to diversity? Whether you have an online business or a more traditional offline one, diversity in a workplace means working with a team that consists of people with various national, cultural or religious backgrounds.It also means welcoming different races, genders, languages, sexual orientations, ethnicities and so on. Needless to say, having an inclusive work environment also signifies working with an international team.Think of diversity as a ‘melting pot’ where your employees or colleagues, coming from different backgrounds create a fusion and work towards achieving the same goals by bringing their unique perspectives and culturally relevant problem solving skills into the work environment.

What is the difference between diversity and inclusivity?

At this point you might have realized that we use the terms diversity and inclusion almost interchangeably. These two concepts go well together although they aren’t synonymous. So in advance of taking a look at how to be more inclusive at work it is useful to differentiate between diversity and inclusivity.In short, we can say that diversity is about the composition of the labor pool at your workplace while inclusivity is the set of mindsets and tools that help you achieve a diversified workplace. In other words, the answer to how to be inclusive at work gives us the formula of a diverse working environment.

The importance of the sense of “belonging”

At the beginning of Covid-19, in the course of just a couple of months, millions of people had to start working online with a variety of people connected from all over the world. Although most of us got the hang of working online in a short time, there is a necessity to improve coordination, inclusivity and team spirit.Melonie Parker from Google touches upon the importance of advancing the mechanisms of inclusion while doing remote work. Two of the most important points she draws attention to are to empower employees, despite the hardships of working across time zones through virtual connections, by ensuring that they express themselves in a more articulate manner and to make sure that they share a sense of belonging and being visible.

7 tips for building a more inclusive workplace

Since we talked about the importance and the definition of having diversity and inclusion at the workplace, we can now dive right into the core of the subject and see how to create an inclusive work environment and make sure it functions efficiently. Remember that bringing a group of people with various backgrounds together is only half of the whole deal, the other half is making it work in a productive way.

Educate leaders about the importance of inclusivity

Let’s put it this way: if diversity is about creating an all-encompassing company environment then inclusivity is about making this environment function wholeheartedly. To include people is to incorporate them into everyday practices from communicating effectively to decision making.Here, a great sense of responsibility and awareness should fall upon leaders and managers. Managers, junior and senior supervisors, team leaders and department heads are essential to the efforts of diversity and inclusivity. For that reason, it is absolutely crucial that leaders of all levels get the proper education about the importance of inclusivity.In the long run, the ability of leaders to be unbiased and culturally sensitive will affect the overall functionality of the inclusive business culture that you aim to create in your enterprise. The leaders should not only repeat the customary slogans about diversity and inclusion but also put these ideas into practice and embody them in their daily actions.If we look at how all inclusive resorts work we notice in no time that the language which is used by leaders is as important as all the rest of actions and behaviors that guarantee the wellbeing of an inclusive environment. Encourage your leaders to adopt a non-discriminatory language and make sure that they understand sensitivities of the team members depending on their social and cultural background.

Demonstrate vulnerability and empathy

At the beginning of this article we started with how business environments in today’s world are capable of changing in quicksand circumstances. The same thing goes for management and team leading.The days of all-knowing, authoritative human management are over and the perception that people in charge don’t necessarily have to know everything and be tough is firmly establishing itself as the dominant understanding.As we are talking about new methods of leadership and management, vulnerability and empathy are two key concepts that come our way. While vulnerability can be seen as the ability to acknowledge uncertainty and risky situations, admitting that they may be challenging and letting them go, empathy can be perceived as the ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes.But be careful, vulnerability doesn’t mean not taking action towards potentially risky or harmful situations. It simply means admitting, from time to time, that we may not necessarily be in charge of things even if we are managers and team leaders.Another common pitfall is to take empathy for sympathy. Similarly, empathy doesn’t mean that we should pretend like we understand the opposite person but to make them realize that we are there for them and that we try relating to their challenges.

Encourage a culture of frequent check-ins

Just like the rigid management culture of previous decades, the idea that a workplace should be somewhere where no one shows emotions or feelings is fastly becoming history. No matter how well we think we know our team members we constantly learn new things about them on random occasions.If you aim to establish a better rapport with your team members don’t sit around and wait for such random occasions to come up. Try creating an atmosphere where the culture and the habit of frequent check-ins is sustained without being intrusive.Encouraging a culture of high level attendance will give your team members and employees the opportunity to chat and share their ideas, feelings and concerns. This, in return, can release a lot of unwanted tension and passive aggression.You can enable this by specifically making time for such a culture and habit to flourish. It can be achieved through;

  • regular meetings
  • informal gatherings
  • online events
  • company picnics
  • lunches
  • volunteering opportunities
  • fun activities across teams

These events will open up a window of opportunity so that team members can check-in on each other and know one another better.

Partner with managers to learn more about their teams

Poor communication, lack of leadership and accountability are major obstacles on the way to successful teamwork. Make sure that you and the managers are on the same page concerning issues related to their teams. Transparent and direct communication between managers, leaders and employees form the basis of a strong team. This is valid whether the communication is taking place virtually or face to face as it facilitates forming stronger bonds.Sharing ideas about the strength and weaknesses of a team, knowledge, information and team management experience helps everyone to be on top of their game.  What it especially means for leaders who partner with managers while learning more about their teams is that leaders need to be open and flexible about giving and receiving feedback and attentively listen to those who know the team better.Keep in mind that management isn’t only about telling people what to do but also about being flexible and responding effectively.

Include religious holidays representing  different beliefs

Another great way to make your colleagues and employees feel included is to show sensitivity and genuine interest in certain times of the year that matter to them. The most common way to communicate the message is to include holidays that represent the religious beliefs of your company at large.Whether it is;

  • Chinese New Year,
  • Ramadan,
  • Christmas,
  • Hanukkah or any other religious holiday.

You can wish your team members happy holidays, organize a suitable mini event (virtual or face to face) or let them take a day off in case they express the wish. Endorsing such behavior at your company will not only show others that you respect what your employees believe but also it will make them feel accepted and welcomed.

Recognize and reward everyone’s performance

As a result of personal differences, some people tend to be more noticeable while others are less enthusiastic about showing other people the good things they did. Don't let this sheer fact make some members of your team shine and the others unrealized.It is important to recognize any achievement, no matter how big or small, and to reward the person or people who are the architects of the given success. If you only happen to realize the extroverts’ performance then the introverts will be more likely to think that only those who put themselves out there are worth praisal.The cornerstone to comprehensive recognition and rewarding is up to several things:

  • keen observation skills
  • clear communication of the definition of performing good
  • setting precise goals
  • publicizing achievements

Make time for structured remote team building and networking

Only recently, in recent decades, have we truly begun to understand the importance of networking- let alone online networking. The idea of forging novel professional relations, acquiring contacts and meeting people without meeting them in person first may sound strange and maybe even uncomfortable to some people.But the truth is, considering the fact that thousands of people have probably found new employment or freelance projects during the last two years, remote team building has already become a thing. Why not make your enterprise adapt to this recent phenomenon and make the online networking activities ‘official’?Taking the physical location of the team members into consideration and depending on the schedule and the time that suits most people best, you can structure activities where team members can get to know each other better and actually feel like they are part of a greater operation.This will further encourage people to communicate with one another feeling less uncomfortable or not uncomfortable at all.  Instead of sending an email to a complete stranger or waiting for an urgent response from a colleague who they have never seen, people at your team will feel much more at ease to get in touch with a person who they at least saw once during a remote event.


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