Employees crave a sense of belonging in a remote work environment as much as they would in a physical one.
But having a team to connect with isn’t just socially important. It also helps remote teams remain engaged and enthusiastic at work.
From creating welcoming virtual meetings to coaching on inclusivity, there are several ways leaders can build an inclusive community in remote work environments.
In this article, we’re sharing five best practices remote leaders can start using right away to build inclusive communities in the workplace.
Let’s take a look.
How to build an inclusive community in a remote work environment
Follow these five best practices to build an inclusive remote work environment.
1. Create welcoming virtual meetings
Remote workers look forward to seeing their coworkers’ faces when they first hop on a meeting.
To create a welcoming meeting space, invite everyone to turn on their cameras and start the meeting with a positive greeting.
Identify everyone by name and simply ask, “how’s your day going so far?” before jumping into the meeting. If an employee says they’re having a rough day, be sure to acknowledge their feelings and show empathy. You can also shoot them a direct message in the chat feature letting them know you care.
Then, squeeze in some time for a few icebreaker games or invite your team to share their own icebreaker ideas. Another alternative would be to start a light conversation about a specific topic.
For instance, if the holiday season is approaching, ask your team what plans and traditions they look forward to most during the holidays. Be sure to acknowledge and celebrate any cultural differences that come up during the conversation.
Then, set an intention for the virtual meeting.
What does the team need to focus on during the meeting? What tasks need to be resolved before the end of the meeting? Which questions need answering before the end of the meeting?
You can also pull up a meeting presentation or simply open up a virtual whiteboard and jot down the meeting agenda there.
Once everyone’s clear on the agenda, you can officially start the meeting. During the meeting, be sure to encourage everyone to participate. When an employee shares an idea, always show enthusiasm and appreciation for their input — and invite others to do the same.
At the end of the meeting, set aside a few minutes to recap important takeaways and divvy out assignments if needed. Be sure to also ask employees if they have any pressing questions, final comments, or anything else they’d like to share.
After the meeting, thank your employees for attending and invite them to send you a private message about anything they’d like to cover at the next meeting.
This goes without saying, but if you see or hear discriminatory behaviour at any point during the meeting, be sure to:
- Support anyone who’s been harassed
- Enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination
- Suspend, terminate, or initiate consequences for the offender
- Conduct inclusivity training as soon as possible
2. Start a remote mentoring program
Remote mentoring programs for employees are a great way to build more inclusive cultures. Additionally, formalizing mentorship into the organization gives employees permission to connect with others about their goals and aspirations.
Too often, remote conference calls quickly divert to work. But if you met in person it’s common to have casual conversations before getting into work. Likewise, in a remote workplace, watercooler conversations where ideas are shared and relationships are built can’t happen as easily.
Starting a remote mentoring program doesn’t have to take a ton of work, although it does require some planning. To learn more about starting a remote mentoring program check out our guide on building a mentoring program.
3. Give access to shared resources
For remote teams to operate successfully, employees need access to as many shared resources as possible.
Why? Because information silos wreak havoc on team communication and efficiency. The more barriers to information your organization has, the less your team will be able to operate seamlessly.
Information silos also pose a risk to inclusivity because they eliminate access to key pieces of information. For an organization to be fully inclusive, it needs to have open access to resources.
To get a leg up on information silos, be sure to audit the way your organization views, tracks, and shares information. Then, look for ways to open up any barriers you come across.
For instance, if your project management platform restricts certain employees from accessing key resources, consider switching to a productivity platform that allows all members of the organization to have access to those resources.
Whatever method you choose, be sure to initiate new cybersecurity methods to keep company data safe. For instance, providing employees access to a VPN suitable for work, like Cyberghost VPN, enables all employees to have access to the same resources in a secure environment.
If there is sensitive information that you’d like to hide from some employees, you can always use an extension such as Chrome blur. It blurs areas of the website to protect sensitive data when doing zoom calls or recording video.
4. Teach your team how to be inclusive
An inclusive work environment is a group responsibility, but not all remote workers have the tools they need to be inclusive. That’s why modelling and teaching inclusive practices are imperative to building a workplace that’s safe for everyone.
When deciding how to offer training on inclusivity, keep your employees in mind. How do they absorb information best? For instance, do they snore during audio lectures but remain engaged during training videos? Survey your employees to discover which learning methods work best for them.
If you notice some employees prefer one mode while some prefer another, consider offering a variety of training methods. At the end of the training session, invite all of your employees to participate in a group mixer. You can for example give them access to free learning resources like StuDocu.
At the mixer, encourage everyone to share what they thought about the training. During the mixer, be sure to allow plenty of time for deep sharing, bonding time, and emotional conversations.
When training your remote workers on inclusivity, be sure to cover:
- The history of inclusivity
- How to use inclusive language (what terms to use and what to say)
- How to share and embrace ideas
- How to have no tolerance for non-inclusive language/communication or cyberbullying
- How to practice active listening
- How to be anti-racist
- What to say after active listening
- When to stand up for someone and what to say
It’s also important to remove any communication barriers that could get in the way of inclusivity.
Since remote environments are often made up of employees from all over the world, communication styles can vary. Offering a culture and communications class can help remove communication barriers that may harm inclusivity efforts.
In line with this, Toptal highlights in their article on toxic communication in virtual workplaces that messaging on platforms like Slack and Teams can make harsh comments more ambiguous. "Did they mean for that to come off as rude?" It's hard to tell and it can have damaging effects if it happens repeatedly. When educating your team on how to be inclusive, make sure to highlight the importance of how you communicate. Not just what. Perhaps a simple emoji to let someone know you're joking can help.
5. Create ways to show caring and recognition
Remote workers face an array of challenges when working from home. Studies from Sleep Advisor also show that 81% of remote workers are likely to keep working during vacation.
Not only are remote workers missing out on important social interactions, but they’re also missing out on being recognized for their work efforts. After all, isn’t it easier to pat someone on the back for a job well done when they’re right in front of you?
To ease the sting of loneliness and empower your employees to feel good about themselves, it’s vital to create ways to show caring and recognition.
Here are some ideas for inspiration:
- Build-in time for remote workers to interact with each other freely
- Recognize every team member for a specific win they had during virtual meetings
- Send a private message to your employees thanking them for their work when they turn in an assignment
- Consider initiating a working coffee meeting where team members can pop on, mute their mics, and work on independent tasks
- Offer raises, bonuses, and perks as a way to recognize employees for completing big projects
- Send random employee appreciation virtual greeting cards throughout the year
- Show appreciation for remote workers when they contribute to the team or help a coworker
- Offer to pay for co-working spaces so employees can work outside their homes or coffee shops every once in a while
- Humanize your leadership approach by being open about your vulnerabilities and mistakes
- Show empathy and concern when employees go through hardships
- Let your employees know you hope they feel better soon when they call in sick
6. Invite your team to share more about their cultures
Cultural appreciation is the lifeblood of inclusivity. It’s the glue that holds your inclusive community together.
And what better way to appreciate cultures than to invite your team to share more about their own?
Here are some of our favourite ways to encourage remote workers to share more about their cultures:
Rotating cultural coffee club
A rotating cultural coffee club sounds like a mouthful, but the concept is pretty simple. You simply choose a different employee to lead the call each week. And whoever leads gets to share more about their culture and answer questions.
An alternative would be hosting a cultural appreciation day where everyone has the chance to share more about their culture.
Holiday recipe party
Invite your employees to attend a virtual holiday party and swap favourite family holiday recipes. It may sound simple, but you’d be surprised how passionate people can be about the food they love eating.
Have employees host virtual tours of their home environments to describe themselves and their cultures. Encourage the team to stay curious and ask thought-provoking questions about the host’s daily routines, family dynamics, and cultural differences.
Safe sharing space: Inclusivity concerns
Invite your employees to attend an online discussion mixer to discuss common threats to inclusivity in the world at large — or any inclusivity concerns they have. This is a great opportunity for employees to create solutions together for a better, more inclusive world.
Since these types of conversations can be tense, consider hiring a diversity and inclusion specialist to facilitate the mixer.