How You Can Prioritize Diversity and Inclusion While Working Remotely
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
I am no stranger to working remotely. A few years ago, I was working as a remote team member for a large company. I would mostly work from home, surrounded by family and vulnerable to the distractions that come from working from home.
My son, who was 2 years old at the time, suffered from frequent ear infections, and, as part of my job as a dad, I would console him and make sure I was doing everything I could to make him feel better. As we all know by now, working remotely means a lot of phone and video calls. So, when it came time to connect with my team, I was often holding my sick son.
From my experience, I know that there is a lot more we can do to help people feel included as a part of the team, even when circumstances at home make it difficult to connect.
We have all been pushed into a new normal, and many people have been forced to work remotely when they are not used to it. Now more than ever it is important that you make sure your team is a diverse and inclusive environment, and make an effort to help your co-workers feel a part of that team.
Encourage unconditional diversity
When we talk of diversity in a workforce we mean there are people with varying ages, genders, backgrounds, races, abilities, education, and so much more. When working on a diverse team, it is essential that each member feels recognized and accepted.
There are many variables that come into play when working from home that are not present at the office. People are now being invited into co-workers homes with every phone and video call. Co-workers are now sharing aspects of their lives that would not usually share to this extent at the office.
From pets making their presence known during a meeting, to showing your home as a background on a video, to telling your team that you are stepping away from your desk to watch your kids while your spouse steps out, people are sharing more aspects of their home lives. We, as teammates and leaders, must be understanding and respect each person’s unique circumstance.
Evaluate how you are conducting business to identify and address possible biases early on. By addressing these biases, you will help teammates feel recognized and valued. Take into account each team member’s unique circumstances before you set a meeting or delegate work. For example, consider a teammate’s needs when deciding between a phone or video meeting.
Not everyone is the same – that’s the beauty of diversity! Recognize that co-workers have a different work from home set up than you do, and accept that.
Practice conscious inclusion
To be inclusive, while working remotely, focus on ways to help your co-workers feel included and valued as a member of the team.
Like I said earlier, you are literally in people's homes. So, you are interacting with them in a way that feels, in some ways, more personal. Make sure you are a respectful guest in their homes and not coming across as a judgmental intruder, by being consciously inclusive.
It is possible that if there is an unforeseen home-life circumstance that interrupts a workday or a meeting, people may feel embarrassed and detached from the team. Reassure them that they are valued as a team member.
A great way to make people feel included is to let them be visible. This doesn’t necessarily mean literally visible but rather to make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak and share their perspective on the subject.
If you’re leading a team, make sure that you are as available as possible to your team members. Set up regular check-ins to talk through their workload, and send individual instant-messages or emails to connect. This type of outreach helps teammates feel recognized by your leadership and valued for the person that they are.
Focus on people
You work with people. Not robots.
People do not want to talk about work all the time. It’s why casual non-work-related conversations around the proverbial water cooler are so popular. These conversations also serve a higher purpose to work culture, understanding diversity, and being inclusive.
When co-workers talk to each other about non-work topics, it helps them understand each other and develop trust. People need opportunities to build and preserve these connections when they cannot hang out in the office by the "water cooler."
Offer opportunities for your co-workers to feel this connection by outlining specific times to have these conversations. From setting a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting for people to talk about a non-work project they’re working on, to inviting your team to a virtual happy hour, these opportunities will help build your team feel closer to each other while working remotely.
However, make sure you are making these efforts during appropriate times. Work-life balance is just as important when working at home as it is at the office. Just because you know your teammate is at home, this does not give you permission to call outside of work hours. Respect existing office hours, so you are not disrupting your teammates' work-life balance. By keeping standard office hours, you’re showing that you respect these boundaries and that their time and effort is valued.
Another great way to make teammates feel included and supported is by recognizing their hard work and achievements. Make sure your teammates’ efforts do not go unnoticed, by giving them a shout out in an email or on the next team call.
People all over the world are being forced to work remotely. And in some of these cases, they're working from home for the first time in their careers. Diversity and Inclusion are just as relevant now as ever to maintaining a productive team and a positive culture.