Creating a sense of psychological safety in a remote setting may have presented new challenges, but when considered and handled well, it can set out a great path going forward - whether your team continues to work from home, end up going back to the office full time, or, as may well be the case, continue with a viable and workable mix of both options.
Below are some daily practices to consider when working to create an inclusive culture - both in the office and remotely. I’d really love to hear your thoughts and advice as well, so please do share in the comments below.
Key Steps to Take to Create Inclusion in Remote Work Groups
Stay In Tune With Your Team and Communicate
Remote working requires really strong communication but we also know that Zoom fatigue is real. Think about different ways to connect with your team and don't be afraid to change the status quo, try something new. I heard some great advice in a webinar on this topic the other day - think about how you would replicate what you would do in the office but remotely. Can you set an optional meeting to get together once a week virtually for lunch or coffee and purely talk about non-work related things? How can you utilize technology to help people stay in touch and connect? Perhaps a Slack channel dedicated to something fun and non-work related? Whilst considering these options be mindful that people's schedules and availability have changed, there may now be many other factors and responsibilities at play for members of your team. Invite feedback and take an active approach to learn what does and doesn't work - what might work for some may not work for all, continue to question and understand.
Walk The Talk
It is important that leaders commit to walking the talk and role model the diversity and inclusion policies, values, and best practices that have (hopefully) been identified and set out by their organization. Lead with empathy and decenter yourself from the conversation. Be honest about what you don't know, or what you thought you knew but now know is wrong, and continually take the time to learn and re-educate.
By creating and prioritizing a sense of trust, leaders can create safe spaces for their team. One way to foster trust is to encourage team members to get to know each other, to share stories, to commit to learning and understanding each other – creating shared meaning. This can help to build relational understanding between a team and goes a long way to counteract exclusion.
Eliminate The Sense of Hierarchy
When working in a team and building trust, it is important to eliminate any over-riding sense of status so that everyone feels able to have a voice and to share their thoughts - especially in meetings both virtually and in-person. Leaders should not be afraid to acknowledge that they don’t know the answer to every question or business problem and allow space for everyone to speak up. This not only creates inclusion but also leads to far greater innovation and creativity.
Listen, Keep Listening and Engage as an Ally
During meetings and team gatherings work to foster a culture of listening, don't allow team members to interrupt each other and, even more importantly, speak up if someone is being excluded. This is also a great point at which to practice and reinforce positive micro-affirmations, even simple things such as nodding and using friendly facial expressions and gestures. The very act of listening is in itself, a micro-affirmation, and combined with asking for the opinions of others and taking a real and genuine interest in members of the team, can really help to build a sense of genuine inclusion.
Credit Where Credit is Due
Recognizing people’s achievements and giving credit is, and always has been, an important and extremely powerful part of leading and helping people to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion. How might you continue to do this in a remote setting? What will work well for your team as a whole or as individuals? It's important that we don't overlook this as we work remotely and that we remember to credit team members for their ideas, successes, and wins - no matter how big or how small. Recognition is vital.
Learn From Mistakes
Normalize mistakes and work as a team to learn from them. Do not instill a sense of fear related to making mistakes or single people out in a negative way for doing so. This is especially important in a remote setting. You do not want people working at home alone to feel they are unable to ask for help or to suffer from any additional anxiety related to their work. People make mistakes, what can we learn and improve on for next time?
Rotate Working Groups
If your wider team is often split into smaller groups to take on certain projects then ensure that you regularly rotate these workgroups to avoid the formation of subgroups that might exacerbate the feelings of exclusion within the wider team. When working remotely this will also help to make sure everyone is staying interconnected and that no-one feels they are out of the loop.
Use and Encourage the Use of Inclusive Language
This point could certainly be a whole post in itself, but inclusive language in a workplace is often overlooked and is incredibly important - words matter. Language is an important part of inclusion and what might be a small adjustment for you as a leader, could have a huge impact on the team around you - or indeed a negative one if your language is leading to a sense of exclusion for certain people and groups. Take time to learn more about inclusive language and how this should inform your communication as a leader.
This article here is a good place to start: 7 Ways Inclusive Language Creates Belonging at Work.