As companies have shifted into remote and hybrid work models across the globe, the comfort of working from home and having flexible work/life balance has been a blessing for many people.
This is especially true for historically marginalized communities. In the 2022 Rosie Report, 64% of Black workers reported being able to better manage stress while working from home and 50% said they experienced an increase in feelings of belonging to their organization. Additionally, LGBTQ+ employees were 24% more likely to leave a job if hybrid wasn’t an option compared to their heterosexual peers, and women were 10% more likely than men.
It’s clear that remote and hybrid work are forms of inclusion, giving many benefits and peace of mind to members of your team. But in and of themselves, they aren’t enough to create a truly inclusive work environment.
Building inclusive teams: the challenge of remote and hybrid work
A meaningful DEI strategy will take into account how your team works, so you can address the unique challenges that come along with all the benefits of remote and hybrid work.
For example, DEI thought-leaders Laura Morgan Roberts and Courtney L. McCluney explain in the Harvard Business Review that video conferencing may invite employees to have a glimpse of others’ personal lives via their home spaces. In particular, Black Americans who had to code-switch and adapt to their environment while working in person may also feel vulnerable when turning their cameras on, leading to discomfort and a lack of inclusion.
“Videoconferencing has transformed formerly safe, private spaces for authentic cultural expression into focal points of the public gaze,” Roberts and McCluney explain.
Another obstacle is burnout. A recent Gallup study illustrates that hybrid and remote workers may on a whole experience less burnout than their full-time in-office counterparts, but many still experience work-related stress: 30% of hybrid workers and 27% of fully remote workers in the study said they were burnt out.
Why? When not in the office, many workers feel tied down to their computer because they need to “show” that they’re working by being online and available 9 to 5—or more.
How leaders can create an inclusive work environment on remote and hybrid teams
As a leader, ask yourself: “How can I keep the sense of community alive and make all my employees feel welcome during their work hours? What can I do to make work enjoyable for the team, and reduce the pressures of their job requirements?”
Here are some suggestions that can be very effective in fostering a sense of belonging, connection, appreciation, and support (all part of an inclusive work culture) among your employees.
1. Rethink how hybrid should look
Hybrid work models are a great opportunity for you to change things around for in-person workplace navigation.
Allow for fluidity by eliminating the strict 9-to-5 schedule on the days employees come in. Let your team voice their opinions on what office-specific things they appreciate, so they can feel excited—rather than forced—to come to the office.
Are there particular flex hours they’d like, such as working in the office from 11am to 3pm instead of a full eight-hour day? Wellness space? Transit accommodation? Flexibility on which days they come in?
You should co-create your work environment with your team. The best way to do this is by having one-on-one conversations as well as focus groups or surveys with accountable and date-specific deadlines for implementing changes. Remember that comfort is very important for your team so they can perform well and be at ease while working. If the hybrid model is essential to your company, make sure to compromise and meet your team’s needs as well.
2. Be present and build relationships with your people
In a fully remote environment, how can you stay connected to your employees without intruding on their personal lives or giving off an intimidating vibe? A simple, heart-to-heart wellness check via video or phone call is a great way to approach the people on your team. Yes, it will take up precious time on your calendar, but it’s a worthwhile investment. You can schedule these meetings quarterly or even twice a year, doing them all within a short period of a month or two.
The meeting should be an open invitation for each individual to direct the conversation, instead of you dictating how the call should go. Here are a few statements that you can use to make the call inviting for your team:
“I would like to offer you this space to express your goals inside or outside the company and see how I can best assist within my capacity.”
“Are there any processes you particularly would like to change?”
“Do you feel that your current role is allowing growth? If not, would you like to venture into other opportunities?”
Of course, it may take a while for some employees to feel safe speaking candidly. You should keep an open mind about what insights you’ll get from the conversations and assure your employees that this is a time for them to speak freely. You can also encourage them to follow up with email or another call if there’s anything they need. The most important thing is for you as a company leader to take initiative and make these conversations productive. The best way you can do that is by listening.
3. Invest in your team’s self-care needs
Let’s be real: mental health and self-care are top priorities, especially when work is stressful or challenging. But health insurance and specialized services and products in the wellness space can be very costly. You can help your team invest in the activities, practices, programs and products that cater to their unique wellness needs by providing a monthly allowance.
We’re not talking about a $50 gift card once or twice a year, but rather a suitable budget that supports meaningful wellbeing activities and helps their financial planning. Of course, that means more expenses for the company, but think about it this way: if your team is feeling good in every element of their health (mental, spiritual, physical, emotional), that can help them succeed at work, so why not encourage those health-conscious investments by providing resources and monetary allowances for self-care?
4. Highlight recognition and positive reinforcement
Everybody loves a good hype! Words of encouragement and support, a standing ovation, positive feedback and professional development recognition are all things that you can adopt and enhance to promote a more welcoming and inclusive work environment.
Instead of the old-fashioned “Employee of the Month” award, though, how about doing a Human Highlight?
This can be a monthly call where you highlight an individual in your company (regardless of seniority): their successes, achievements, personality traits, attributes, contribution, and their growth journey. You can even allow the employee to share their professional and personal goals so their teammates can be aware and offer support and resources in reaching those goals.
Remember that this is an initiative that should come from your end first but also allows the employee time and space to lead the conversation.
The impacts of inclusion at work, now and in the future
Imagine the difference and impact you can make as a leader by implementing these simple strategies for inclusion at your organization. You are likely to see the benefits in employee performance, retention, trust, and sense of belonging. But these actionable steps are just the start. By listening to your employees and creating a safe and welcoming environment, you’ll discover even more ways to foster inclusion on your team.