7 Best Practices to Foster Inclusion in Remote Work
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
During physically and emotionally stressful times, it’s critical for organizations to continue to foster inclusion and make their employees feel psychologically safe. The rapidly spreading COVID-19 has forced companies and organizations worldwide to re-evaluate and adapt to alternative ways of working. Many companies are following the governmental guidelines of social distancing and fully embracing remote work, if possible. Uncertainty and fear is crossing the minds of people in every organization.
Although the option of remote work has increasingly been growing worldwide for years, never has it been implemented on such a large scale. This has affected each and every one of us, no matter where we are located or what our status is in the organization. Remote work is no longer an alternative favored by some, but it has become an important means of work for many businesses.
Not all companies can provide the option of remote work, but if your organization is able to, an inclusive company culture is a key factor in making remote work actually... work. Effective and inclusive remote work starts at the top. Leaders and managers need to set up clear rules, to correct non-remote friendly behaviours, and implement inclusive processes. Fostering psychological safety online will ensure that everyone still feels a part of a successful team. Here are 7 best practices on how to foster inclusive remote work culture:
1. Set clear guidelines and best practices for remote work.
How do we mark our availability? When do we use slack or other chats? When is it appropriate to call? Setting up clear guidelines and best practices needs to be a joint effort that takes into consideration different stakeholders and shows flexibility when possible. Never assume that something works without any guidance, establish guidelines together by listening to feedback, apply trial-and-error, and re-iterate. Use all the tools available for making remote work accessible to all team members, regardless of their background. Use video, audio, or text thoughtfully and flexibly. With shared guidelines and best practices, you can create clarity during uncertain times and provide a safe environment.
2. Use video to strengthen team connection. Up to 10,000 nonverbal cues can be exchanged in a one minute face-to-face interaction. Online, a lot of these cues can be lost in translation, which can easily lead to misunderstandings. Video meetings are essential for building and fostering relationships. Seeing the other person sets the right tone and makes it easier for everyone to be on the same page. Sharing your home office view or showing off your cute puppy to your coworkers gives the online conversation a more human touch. Give a minute for catching up. Develop video call guidelines and hold on to them. Mute your mic when you’re not speaking, keep your video on to stay engaged, and avoid places with loud background noise.
3. Foster empathy by supporting each other.
Working online does not turn us into robots. We still need to be able to create a sense of community, even though separated by distance. At the end of the line there is a human being with emotions and reactions. One may perceive a chat conversation as an argument where another sees it as a normal conversation. Not only are organizations facing uncertainties, but so are employees. Supporting each other and being flexible will result in better outcomes. If you want to give constructive feedback do it over a video call so that your intentions come across clearly. Unaddressed underlying issues can build a lot of resentment over time, which may lead to misunderstandings and feelings of hurt. Encouraging empathy is key to good and healthy communication.
4. Make sure that everyone has equal access to quality tools. It’s important to ensure that we all have the same starting line to make remote work possible and smooth. Every team member should have great quality and ergonomic tools: a set of headphones for high quality audio (it’s important to hear clearly what everyone is saying!), a working laptop, a supportive chair, a reliable internet connection, etc. If your team members don’t have these, be proactive – invest and provide. It’s worth it. Organizations should allow best practices and tools to be thought of collectively. Creating e.g. a slack channel for suggestions is a great way to learn about new ideas and ensure that everyone has equal opportunities.
5. Provide flexibility and respect the diversity of circumstances. Clear communication allows us to respect the diversity of life circumstances. COVID-19 has forced everyone to isolation, which means that many are staying home with their children, pets, parents or other family members. Ask team members about their daily routines and agree on times when everyone can be available for meetings or other tasks. Prep well in advance before meetings, keep them short and effective, document, listen, allow everyone to speak up, and be present.
6. Be proactive and facilitate team communication.
It’s easier to resolve misunderstandings face-to-face. We understand context better; we can tell if someone is tired or uncertain and asking questions is easier. Virtual circumstances are naturally more limiting, therefore it’s good to keep those limitations in mind. Be proactive in asking for comments and feedback. An effective way is to have a comment round at the end of each meeting. Clearly set the agenda at the beginning of a phone call and set guidelines on how it is appropriate to ask questions in between conversations. Check-in with team members daily through platforms and times that work best for all.
7. Trust that work is getting done.
Remote work can create a lot of pressure and anxiety for team members to feel like they constantly need to be visible online to prove that work is getting done. Every notification should be answered within a few minutes or it may be seen as slacking off. Of course, this is not the case. Make sure that this unnecessary anxiety does not build up and that employees feel safe, valued and appreciated. Leading by example always works.
If anything, this global situation is allowing organizations to take a good look at their values and find new ways to operate in a situation that affects everyone. Based on these values, a sustainable and inclusive culture can be created collectively, providing the best rules, guidelines and practices. These rules and guidelines allow us to form social norms which provide us certain expectations of how things will get done and move forward. And creating this certainty, a feeling of safety, is what will help us get through this. Together.
For other tips on working remotely check out Remote Work Wiki.
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