In our December 2020 article, “The Difference Between Diversity and Inclusivity,” we defined the distinction between diversity and inclusivity. Diversity is “the idea of bringing people together from different backgrounds” while inclusivity is “the action of creating an environment where everyone is welcomed, respected, and included.” With these two terms often being grouped together, it has created the mistaken understanding that diversity and inclusion automatically come together as a pair. However, just because a workplace is diverse, doesn’t mean it’s inclusive. To be inclusive means making a targeted effort to create a community where all identities feel comfortable and valued. And while many companies struggled with this crucial component before the pandemic, the remote world that has been created after the height of COVID-19 forms an even greater barrier. There no longer is a central, physical office that all workers will clock into in the morning and, as a result, communication networks and relationship dynamics have been greatly altered. The question that presents itself now is: how do we create and maintain an inclusive space in this new hybrid/remote world?
Ensure access to mentorship opportunities with company leaders
In a global survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, over half of the respondents stated that access to senior leadership has “aided their career advancement.” Those respondents were also 1.2 times more likely to say they feel included at work. Especially in a remote culture where a coffee chat is only one Google Calendar invite away, creating an accessible pipeline of communication for everyone in the company can be extremely impactful in fostering an inclusive environment as it conveys a sense of support and solidarity. When employees are able to seek mentorship from individuals they draw inspiration from, that is what builds inclusivity.
Plan virtual team events
Virtual terrarium building. Virtual chocolate making. Virtual taste testing. The possibilities are limitless. The fun activities that are completed outside of the workplace will play a huge role in building that welcoming environment at the workplace. Employees should feel comfortable with their teammates and, since in person happy hours might not be feasible for remote workers, virtual activities can build that camaraderie just as well. It’s valuable to know that while online interaction is often looked at as a lesser-than substitute for face to face interaction, it often can be utilized to create a more inclusive, accessible medium of communication.
Understand the circumstances of every remote worker
Making an effort to check in with remote/hybrid workers and understand their work from home situation can go a long way. Company leaders should know of the barriers that their employees might face and how they can best support a worker’s needs to ensure they can contribute with their full potential. In an article, McKinsey consultants and partners offer advice such as asking “team members to share potential distractions or challenges they are facing and what they need to be fully present” or establishing “direct communication with coworkers who may feel like ‘onlys,’ see how they are doing, and make a point to draw them into discussions.” Putting in this effort will not only create a more inclusive workplace, but also a productive one as employees are able to perform highly without hindrance.
Assign remote workers to be project leads
According to Niki Jorgensen, a Forbes Human Resources Council member, “When employees serve as leaders, they feel more ingrained in the culture based on interactions with team members.” Since remote workers might feel like the “odd ones out” or more isolated than others, purposefully allowing them the opportunity to lead projects can promote an inclusive culture. Whether it’s leading a meeting, serving as mentors, or taking charge of a new initiative, ensuring equal opportunities for all workers is important in building inclusivity.
Encourage participation in online meetings
It’s easy to attend an online meeting and stay quiet the entire time. Without any physical cues as well as being in the comfort of your own personal space, it’s tempting — and understandable — to default into an observer. However, inclusive environments thrive on the inputs of diverse perspectives; all employees’ opinions are valuable, and it’s important for leaders to draw on that potential. The same McKinsey employees from point 3 state that sending “out an agenda for the meeting ahead of time, with clearly defined roles and content topics” and asking “every participant for their opinion at least once and acknowledge their answers” are useful methods in encouraging virtual collaboration.
The remote/hybrid workplace proposes its fair share of challenges to those seeking to build an inclusive workplace. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to adapt DEI initiatives into this new environment; all it takes — and all it has ever taken — is a little bit of extra effort.