Tips for Remote Inclusion
As companies move toward a more distributed workforce, they face a common challenge—how to make remote employees feel included when they’re not in the office. Remote inclusion is especially critical in this present moment, as many organizations are now asking employees to work remotely during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to the physical separation, the uncertainty of our current world is also affecting the mental health and well-being of employees, particularly those who feel isolated from their teams, friends, and families. How do we keep everyone feeling safe, connected, and energized during these times while many of us are apart from our managers, reports, and peers?
Fortunately, there are ways we can all support one another and keep ourselves accountable. Here are some tips that we’ve gathered from our work with dozens of companies with distributed workforces, on how to manage remote teams, how to conduct effective virtual meetings, and how to foster belonging through remote socialization:
Many people have not managed remote teams before, and are now questioning how to keep employees engaged and motivated, especially during difficult times. When working with a remote team, it is important to be transparent, communicative, and flexible in order to maintain a sense of connection. Below are some tips for managing your remote team:
- Remind your team of resources your organization makes available to them (counseling, healthcare benefits, wellness subsidies, etc.) that can help ease some of their concerns and promote personal sustainability.
- It’s especially important that teams keep open communication while working remotely. This can be in the form of collaborating with others on a project, joining team syncs, sharing what they are working on, and providing status updates.
- Transparency is critical during uncertain times. When your team understands how and why you are making decisions, it makes them feel valued and included. It also increases their organizational commitment, which can lead to employees performing at their best.
- Leverage technology platforms to enhance collaboration. Slack and Microsoft Teams are often used for communication. Google Drive, Box, or DropBox can be used for document sharing. Asana can be used for project and deliverable tracking.
- Remember that not everyone is set up to work from home. Consider providing resources like IT support, paying for internet or phone services, and dual monitors. Be empathic to distractions employees may have at home (family members and pets).
- Set expectations about working hours, deadlines, and response times.
- The office usually serves as a barrier between work and home stresses, and now people don’t have that barrier. It’s common for remote workers to be “on” for longer hours than they normally would. To sustain mental health and well being, encourage team members to take breaks and hold time for themselves.
- When assigning work, communicate expectations clearly. Share expected deadlines, and be flexible because we are in a time where emotional and structural barriers to productivity can impact efficiency.
- Set expectations for how quickly you expect employees to respond to messages across different platforms (e.g., email—24 hrs to respond, Slack—3 hrs, etc.)
While meetings may be some of the only times remote employees have to interact with their peers, a virtual medium can amplify some of the challenges that already exist for in-person meetings—e.g., interruptions, and differences in communication styles. How can you help surface ideas, questions, and thoughts from everyone? Many of the tips we shared for conducting virtual trainings are also effective for virtual meetings, but here are a few more:
- If you don’t already have meeting norms around virtual meetings, now is the time to establish team agreements around how to communicate inclusively in virtual meetings!
- Encourage everyone to turn on their cameras, and display people in gallery view (a.k.a. “Brady Bunch” view) so you can see everyone equally, not just the person currently speaking. That helps with seeing nonverbal cues, like when someone raises their hand, unmutes themselves, or opens their mouth to speak.
- Make it a habit to add conferencing links to all calendar invites that you send out, so people aren’t held up trying to get access to meetings.
- Start with an icebreaker! Research shows that beginning with an non-work group activity or discussion improves performance on virtual group tasks.
- Ask people to say their name and pronouns before they speak, so people know who is talking and can better attribute ideas afterwards.
- Allow people to share questions and thoughts in chat, and make sure those get acknowledged by the group. At Paradigm, we ask one team member to monitor chat, and rotate that assignment for each meeting.
- Relatedly, wait 10-15 seconds after questions so people who are unmuting or typing can do so.
- Be cognizant of time zones—if you’re always asking certain people to join meetings early or late in the day, make sure you also make that sacrifice from time to time.
Lastly, it’s important that we remember how socializing with each other can impact employees’ belonging. Research shows that feeling a sense of belonging at work leads to better health, adjustment, and well being. Especially in times of crisis, we should ensure that employees can bring their authentic, best selves to work. Below are a few examples of leveraging technology and social resources to foster belonging with a remote team:
- Remember that team engagement doesn’t have to be about work and deadlines all the time. Share articles, GIFs, and life updates with your teams. (note: It doesn’t have to be about the coronavirus either!)
- Scheduling more check-ins with your teams than you otherwise would, can help with fostering belonging in challenging times, both at work and outside of work. Use this time out of the office to build/rebuild relationships. By scheduling one-on-ones and office hours, this creates a space for employees to connect with each other outside of work and understand how they are coping with the significant changes to our world.
- Leverage virtual meeting technology (e.g., Zoom, Google Hangouts, WebEx, etc.) for virtual workshops to promote well-being and self-care. This can be done by setting aside time for team guided meditation or yoga, virtual “water cooler” chats, reflection circles, internet based games etc.
- Create Slack interest group channels for employees to form a connection with their peers (book/film clubs, self care, pets, jokes, etc.)
- Continue to celebrate with each other! Give recognition for accomplishments, anniversaries, and birthdays.
Our experts and researchers at Paradigm work every day to help our clients cultivate thriving remote teams. During these uncertain times, we can help you make sure your teams are set up for success to weather this storm.
March 18, 2020