How to Foster an Inclusive Remote Work Environment

Author and Transformation Consultant Shantera Chatman explains how to implement inclusion in a WFH environment

With the current situation, remote work environments have become the norm for most companies. Over the past few months, leaders and team members alike have tried to blend their home and work culture to strike the right balance.

For the most part, people have gotten use to the idea of working remotely. Most companies have even found ways to network and host team events virtually.

The one thing that some are struggling to implement is inclusion. How do leaders ensure they are fostering an inclusive environment when the environment is in someone’s home?

In this article, I will outline a few tips that will help leaders create a more inclusive remote work environment.

Make Inclusion a Company Policy

The Society of Human Resource Management defines inclusion separately from diversity as:

“the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

Companies are having to rewrite remote work policies to cover the current situation.

Why not add to the policy what it means to be diverse, equal, and inclusive?

Explain your company’s views on diversity, equity, and inclusion and how you plan to live the values therein. Once the policy is written, share it with your staff.

Send out a global message to the company explaining the new remote work policy and highlight the section(s) on inclusion. Stress that the policy is not simply for show but how you plan to embody the words.

Start by ensuring there is diversity on every level within the company.

Note: If your executive level is all white men, that is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly.

Your recruiting tactics should also reflect this new policy and make every effort to recruit a mix of candidates that represent different thought patterns as well as ethnicities.

Foster Empathy

You must work hard to ensure working online does not make you insensitive. You need to be able to create a sense of community even though your team is separated by distance.

For instance, one may perceive a chat conversation as an argument where another sees it as a normal conversation. Its about recognizing that we are all human and have emotions that cause reactions. Remember, it is not just about the company.

COVID-19 is affecting many employees different than others and the racial injustices and unrest has caused the black community to explode emotionally. Providing feedback during these times can be tricky. It is a good idea to host a video call, so your intentions are seen clearly.

Empathy is the key to healthy team communication. Unaddressed underlying issues can build a lot of resentment over time and may lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. None of which are good for the team.

Think of the current racial issues that have occurred over the past couple of months. Some companies have chosen to stay silent, not address the issue and not acknowledge their black employees’ feelings. This is not good for team morale nor does it look good for the company.

Just because you are uncomfortable addressing the issue does not mean it should not be discussed.

Use this as an opportunity to grow as a person and a leader. Remember, no response is a response. Be sure you are sending the right message to your employees and team.

Be Flexible & Respect Unique Circumstances

COVID-19 has mandated isolation, which means that many are staying home with children, pets, and other family members.

Ask your team about their daily routines and agree upon times to meet to get tasks completed. Keep your meetings short and succinct.

Document all key decisions, listen, and allow everyone to speak. Being present is key while working in a remote environment. Hence, getting the team’s buy-in on meeting times and dates.

After watching George Floyd die by the hands of the police, many black employees needed time to process. Some took a couple of days off while others simply checked out from team meetings as they did not want to speak to anyone.

Understanding the unique circumstances and proactively excusing the team from meeting for a couple of days would have been an excellent gesture that would have fostered inclusion among your team.

Also note, the George Floyd incident did not only affect the black community, people of all ethnicities were outraged and needed time to process their feelings. Truthfully, many are still processing.

Final thoughts

Inclusion is about the social norms that make us all feel welcome. Think about the last time you felt welcomed in a new environment personally or professionally.

What did the host or leader do to make you feel that way? Mimic those sentiments with your company and team. It will surely provide a more productive work environment where people want to give their full 100% which is what a good leader strives for.

Know your team and take the steps necessary to ensure inclusion is not just a buzz word for the moment. Your efforts will be reciprocated with a team that works hard and are mentally stable during an unstable time.