Being a 100% virtual company, whose staff has been working home-based out of different countries since 2012, we have been dealing with the challenges of remote inclusion from day one. Funny enough though, many of us have never perceived this as a challenge. It was simply part of our daily interactions and evolved organically over time.
This is not to say our team’s journey has been short of bumps in the road: Start-up dynamics, exponential growth, diversity in thought and style, conflict mediation, toxic client relationships, economic uncertainty, restructuring and redundancies – our team has experienced all of this and more in the past decade and we struggled with it, like humans do.
And yet, here we are. Today, our team feels more coherent, connected and united than ever. In fact, our palpable spirit of togetherness and belonging is one of the first highlights even new hires mention after they join – in spite of never having met any of their colleagues face-to-face. So… what does Inclusive Leadership at GAIA Insights look like?
First of all, let me debunk the myth that Inclusive Leadership is one single person’s responsibility. While I, as the company’s founder and CEO, am expected to set the tone or role model certain behaviors, Inclusive Leadership is a team job. When I asked my colleagues, what distinguishes our inclusive work environment they said things like “the way we treat each other”, “how we take care of each other” or “accepting each other’s individual preferences” – and all this can only be achieved as a team. Because every interaction matters. Every moment counts. Moments accumulate to our everyday routine and how we experience our day-to-day is what make us feel that we belong – or not.
Here are some behaviors, team norms or methods that help our team live Inclusive Leadership in a virtual workplace on a daily basis:
- Communicate Smartly
Use instant messaging and specific social platforms to interact with each other, bearing in mind it is helpful to limit the number of channels to a manageable amount and to establish clear practices around what is communicated where.
- Encourage Involvement – Respectfully
Asking everyone’s opinion in a (virtual) meeting is classic “inclusion advice”. Of course, hearing everyone’s voice is a noble intention. However, some people in our team have expressed they don’t like the pressure of being put on the spot and having to speak up. And we respect that, too.
- Connect As Human Beings
Make efforts to truly connect with each other as people despite differences, distance, technology or workload. Be mindful that conveying care and concern has many expressions. Take time for each other and put the human care for each other first. Always.
- Accept Celebrate People For Who They Are
Consider individual preferences and make an effort to acknowledge them. For example, engage in social small talk if you know this helps a colleague to bond with you, even if you’d rather get down to business straight away or accept if people prefer not to be on camera for calls.
- Practice Compassion
(Virtual) work life is so much easier if you assume positive intentions from each other. Your co-workers may not always hit the right tone or find the best words. But they are people. They struggle. They have bad days. They screw up. And if they do, forgive them.
- Honor People’s Private Lives
We are all more than our job. Honor that: Whether it’s helping a colleague by not scheduling regular meetings at a time they have childcare duties, or whether it’s supporting each other through your life journeys, for example by granting people personal space when they need it. (Just as I write this, a colleague has posted in our instant chat channel that his daughter is celebrating her 4th birthday today, she is unwell and he takes the day off spontaneously. The team’s responses are entirely supportive, and this is a perfect example of what I mean.)
- Appreciate Each Other
With most people, small gestures go a long way. Thanking someone for an extraordinary contribution, offering help with a project or a virtual coffee chat, sending personalized birthday greetings, asking about important life events or knowing your colleagues’ family members’ names (including pets!) show that you genuinely care for each other. Find out your co-workers’ preferred language of appreciation and use it!
All of the above is essential for living and breathing Inclusive Leadership in a virtual workplace. What I didn’t mention are “hygiene factors” that are so obvious and self-evident for me I don’t tend to highlight them unless people remind me that, sadly, this I not the case for everyone:
- Equal pay, equal opportunities and equal treatment for everyone regardless of their gender, assertiveness or negotiation skill;
- Flexible work arrangements, trusting people can do their job and they have the intrinsic desire to do it well;
- Hiring profiles with complementary styles and intentionally putting diverse teams together to increase their collective emotional intelligence and better mirror your customer base.
As we acknowledge in our recent EMPOWER video, Diversity and Inclusion behaviors cannot be learned in a day. They are a continuous work in progress. So are we as human beings. And that is perfectly fine.
P.S.: All of the above applies in a non-virtual workplace, too!
Authored by Martina Mangelsdorf, Chief Strategic Dreamer at GAIA Insights