6 Ways to Foster Inclusion and Engagement Remotely
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
As businesses work to manage the impact of COVID-19, the practices of social distancing and the transition to remote work and alternative customer interaction have dramatically changed our work environment overnight. Employees at all levels have an important role to play in creating inclusive interactions and nurturing a sense of belonging in the workplace.
A lot can get lost in translation when working with people who do not sit in the same office or store as you. Non-verbal cues and the level of interaction afforded through phone, video, and email is limited and can impact engagement with customers and coworkers. There are also basic communication mishaps that can lead to misunderstanding and sabotage a team’s ability to collaborate efficiently.
There are things you can do to foster inclusion and engagement in your everyday work interactions. With the right mindset and best practices, remote teams can improve communication, realize their true potential, engage customers in a meaningful way, and increase efficiency.
1. Be empathetic.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to understand, in a non-judgmental way, the thoughts, motives, and feelings of your coworkers and customers. Understand and appreciate that people see things through the lens of their own experiences which shapes the way they approach their lives and work. Find ways to acknowledge individuals and their circumstances – it can be as simple as accommodating different schedules or communication preferences. The more open and empathetic you are, the better your relationships. Gaining empathy for the culture and perspective of others can help avoid misunderstandings.
2. Build trust.
Trust is critical in remote teamwork. While trust between teammates in the same workspace is oftentimes influenced by familiarity and liking; in remote teams, employees signal their trustworthiness by how they work with others on specific tasks and their level of responsiveness. We should engage in behaviors and activities that build trust - respond promptly to requests, provide substantive feedback, proactively suggest solutions to problems, and maintain a positive and supportive tone in communications.
3. Build connections.
Isolation is one challenge of remote work and can cause employees to feel disconnected. When people feel disconnected, they are more likely to act defensively rather than collaboratively. As remote employees, we should all go the extra mile to share casual interests that build personal connections and camaraderie.
Another isolating factor that remote employees may encounter is the issue of recognition. Oftentimes, when we work in person, we compliment coworkers after meetings or casually when we see them in the hallways. Remote teams have fewer opportunities to receive and give informal recognition. Giving shout outs when a team member has done a good job goes a long way to build connections and create a sense of belonging and recognition.
4. Communicate with intention.
Think about what you are going to say before you say it. It helps us anticipate areas of confusion, examine our reasoning, and ensure our actions are aligned with our intentions. Questions, discussion, and feedback are necessary and should be routine in team interactions, helping the whole group question assumptions and gain clarity together. Clarity promotes openness and ensures everyone is on the same page.
5. Manage miscommunication.
Miscommunication can lead to misunderstanding. With the vast majority of communication being text-based, much is left to interpretation. In the absence of facial expression, tone of voice, and gestures we have very little to help us discern what the other person is trying to communicate. Without these clarifying cues, we frequently “fill in the blanks” with our biases, worries, and assumptions which can lead to unhealthy conflict that hurts team performance.
If we are feeling criticized, we will read criticism into the words. If we are nervous about being rejected, we’ll find evidence of rejection. If we are anxious about demands being made on us, messages will read as imperatives. To prevent these biases from causing problems on your team, practice evaluating emails and texts from a different perspective. Acknowledge that our understanding is shaped by our emotions and internal imaginings. Try to think of an alternative interpretation. Then, ask yourself: Can I understand this message in another way? Create some space between you and your initial perspective; encourage your mind and feelings to redirect. This practice of perspective-taking can offer us the opportunity to minimize defensiveness and maintain objectivity.
6. Be open.
Remote working environments can sometimes prohibit team members from speaking up and sharing ideas, making it challenging to benefit from different perspectives. People may also hold back when they can’t directly observe teammates’ reactions to their contributions. Harness the benefits of diversity and inclusion by building strong relationships within teams and helping each team member see the value of their work.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to contribute to an environment where team members can safely take interpersonal risks without being fearful. Actively solicit perspectives and viewpoints from coworkers and demonstrate openness to different ideas and approaches. When each person feels comfortable sharing their perspective, a variety of ideas leads to innovation and a greater sense of team affinity.
Innovation, collaboration, and inclusion can happen just as easily in remote environments as in face-to-face interactions, but it takes a concerted focus on teamwork, connection, and trust.