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Building Inclusive Remote Teams:
Policies for Equity And Success

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Hacking HR Team

Posted on April 05, 2024

Have you ever logged on for a virtual meeting, ready to contribute, only to feel overlooked as office-based colleagues dominate the discussion? Or have you meticulously crafted a proposal that stalls because you lack the informal connections to champion your idea? These are everyday experiences for remote employees, highlighting the need for inclusivity to be a core focus within remote workplaces.

While remote work offers incredible flexibility, it also creates unique challenges for building a sense of belonging and ensuring everyone has an equal chance of success. Unintentional biases can creep into performance reviews, social connection opportunities might be missed, and company culture can become unintentionally centered on those physically present in the office.

The good news is that with intentional design, remote teams can be even more inclusive than traditional workplaces. A study found that 97% of remote workers want at least some ongoing remote work, demonstrating the importance of getting this right. This shift requires every HR professional to reevaluate policies, champion a culture of inclusivity, and ensure remote environments empower everyone to do their best work.

9 Ways to Build More Inclusive Remote Work Policies

Remote work policies are often designed with good intentions – flexibility, work-life balance, and attracting a broader talent pool. However, without an explicit focus on inclusivity, they can create unintended barriers for underrepresented groups, those with family responsibilities, or employees in different regions.

Those inclusive policies consider the diverse needs of your remote workforce and actively combat potential inequities. Let's dive into specific ways to make your company's remote policies a model for fostering inclusion and belonging:

1. Offer Flexible Schedules

True flexibility extends beyond start and end times. Consider flextime (choose your daily hours), compressed workweeks (longer days, one day off), or asynchronous work, where tasks happen independently of a set schedule. This allows for greater inclusivity for employees facing varying personal responsibilities or who thrive with a non-traditional schedule.

2. Address Unconscious Bias

HR teams and managers must have seemingly neutral policies that can have exclusionary effects on remote workers. Hold regular bias awareness sessions, provide tools for self-reflection, and encourage open dialogue about potential biases impacting decision-making for remote employees.

3. Prioritize Accessibility

Accessibility in remote work goes beyond physical needs. Ensure all communication tools, meeting platforms, and documents are compatible with screen readers and assistive technologies. Provide captioning for live meetings, offer multiple formats for sharing information, and design inclusive training materials to benefit all team members.

4. Celebrate Diverse Holidays

Create a company calendar that acknowledges various cultural and religious holidays. Allow employees to request time off according to their observance needs, fostering a sense of respect and inclusion for all members of your remote team.

5. Encourage Inclusive Feedback

Not everyone thrives in video meetings or extensive group discussions. Provide multiple channels for feedback, including surveys, anonymous forms, dedicated feedback sessions during one-on-one meetings, or virtual suggestion boxes. This ensures that everyone has a voice and that valuable perspectives from employees with diverse communication styles are heard.

6. Remote-Specific Onboarding

Onboarding for remote employees needs to go beyond tech set-up. Create a plan that includes introductions to key team members, clear guidance on communication norms, virtual social events, and opportunities to connect with a designated mentor or 'buddy' within the company. This helps combat the isolation new remote hires can often experience.

7. Dedicated Mentorship

Pairing new remote employees with seasoned mentors offers guidance and support and helps them establish relationships within the company. Formalize mentorship programs to ensure remote employees have a dedicated 'go-to' person outside of their direct team, fostering their personal and professional development.

8. Normalize Work-Life Boundaries

Expectations of 24/7 availability lead to burnout. Encourage managers to establish "core hours" when all team members overlap for meetings and collaboration. Outside those hours, empower employees to set boundaries on their availability, respect personal time, and prevent a culture of feeling "always on."

9. Invest in Inclusive Technology

Consider platforms that put inclusivity at the forefront. Features like live captioning for meetings, in-built translation options, and accessibility settings for various needs create a more equitable experience for all employees. Invest in inclusive technologies and encourage employees to make use of available features.

An Infographic titled '9 Ways To Create More Inclusive Work Policies' shows nine text boxes with decorative icons and a summary of the ideas described in the text.

6 Things HR Can Do to Champion Inclusive Remote Work

The feeling of "out of sight, out of mind" can become a reality for some remote workers, impacting their sense of belonging, opportunities for growth, and overall well-being. Hence, you play an essential role in bridging this gap.

Nevertheless, there are ways to support inclusivity and overcome the challenges faced by remote employees. Addressing these issues goes beyond a feel-good initiative—a study by McKinsey found that companies with more diverse leadership teams are 33% more likely to outperform their peers financially. Hence, inclusivity and business success are intrinsically linked.

  1. Lead by Example: Inclusive leadership starts at the top. When leaders model inclusive communication, visibly sponsor DE&I initiatives, and hold themselves accountable for creating a fair work environment, it sends a powerful message throughout the organization. Provide senior leadership with targeted training specifically focused on leading inclusive remote teams.

  2. Advocate for Remote Workers: Remote employees can sometimes lack the visibility or informal networking opportunities of those in an office setting. HR must proactively advocate for their needs, highlight their contributions, and push back against any biases that might create inequities in career development opportunities for remote workers.

  3. Track Inclusivity Metrics: Use HR analytics to track your remote workforce's diversity, engagement levels, promotion rates, and any disparities that indicate gaps in inclusivity. These data-backed insights allow HR to make informed decisions and build a case for addressing areas lacking inclusivity.

  4. Provide Inclusive Leadership Training: Managers play a crucial role in influencing the day-to-day experience of remote employees. Train all managers on inclusive leadership practices tailored explicitly to remote teams. Focus on combating bias, fostering belonging, offering equitable growth opportunities, and addressing remote workers' unique challenges.

  5. Support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): ERGs provide community support and advocacy for underrepresented groups within remote teams. HR should actively encourage their formation, provide resources and visibility, partner with ERG leaders, and highlight how these groups contribute to a more inclusive culture company-wide.

  6. Centralize DE&I Resources: Create a dedicated resource hub for remote employees focused on inclusive practices. Include articles, toolkits, and best practices for inclusive communication, addressing microaggressions in the virtual workplace, combating bias in remote feedback, and creating inclusive virtual events.

12 Actions Individuals Can Take to Promote Remote Inclusivity

Inclusivity within any team isn't solely the responsibility of HR and leadership. Every employee has a role in fostering a work environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and comfortable contributing. This becomes even more vital in remote settings, where opportunities for informal connection are reduced.

Let's delve into specific actions that individuals, regardless of their title or role within a company, can take to champion inclusion within their remote teams:

  1. Recognize Your Biases: We all have them. Explore tools and resources to understand your unconscious biases in communication and decision-making.

  2. Be a Conscious Communicator: Respond to language, tone, and assumptions when interacting with remote colleagues.

  3. Champion Colleagues from Diverse Backgrounds: Publicly acknowledge their contributions, amplify their voices, and advocate for their advancement.

  4. Embrace Inclusive Feedback: Ask for input from various team members, especially those less likely to speak out in large settings.

  5. Accessibility: Consider diverse needs by providing captions, using clear visual aids, and describing images during presentations.

  6. Learn About Different Cultures: Demonstrate curiosity about your colleagues' cultures, holidays, and communication styles.

  7. Be Proactive in Building Relationships: Schedule virtual coffee chats informal check-ins, or utilize dedicated social channels to foster connection.

  8. Speak Up Against Inappropriate Behavior: Don't tolerate microaggressions or exclusion; address them directly or seek support from HR.

  9. Mentor Remote Colleagues: Share your knowledge and experience, especially with those new to remote work or early in their careers.

  10. Create Inclusive Social Events: Plan virtual activities that are accessible and enjoyable for a wide range of employees.

  11. Normalize Asynchronous Work (When Possible): Allow tasks to be completed independently of set schedules, benefiting those across time zones or with caregiving responsibilities.

  12. Advocate for Inclusive Policies: Collaborate with your manager or HR to propose policy changes that benefit the remote workforce.

Action Plan: Steps to Build a More Inclusive Remote Work Culture

Inclusivity within any workplace is an ongoing journey, not a checklist to complete. However, a strategic action plan empowers HR and individuals to create significant change within remote teams. Here's a step-by-step approach to guide your efforts:

1. Assess Your Current Situation

  • Inclusivity Audit: Review existing policies and practices through an inclusivity lens. Identify potential barriers and areas for improvement.

  • Gather Employee Feedback: Conduct surveys or focus groups tailored explicitly to remote employees, asking about their experiences of inclusivity.

  • Analyze Inclusivity Metrics: Track data on the diversity of your remote workforce, engagement levels, and promotion rates to pinpoint any disparities.

2. Set SMART Goals

  • Specific: Define clear goals for improving inclusivity in your remote workplace.

  • Measurable: Establish metrics to track your progress, whether qualitative or quantitative data.

  • Achievable: Set realistic goals given your company's resources and starting point.

  • Relevant: Ensure your goals directly address the pain points identified in your assessment.

  • Time-Bound: Set deadlines for goal achievement to enhance accountability.

3. Implement Targeted Actions

  • Prioritize High-Impact Changes: Select the strategies identified in previous sections of this blog that will have the most significant impact on your specific organization.

  • Pilot Programs: Consider testing new initiatives with a smaller group before a full company-wide rollout.

  • Build Buy-In: Communicate the business case for an inclusive remote work culture to all stakeholders, emphasizing the link to innovation, retention, and success.

4. Monitor, Evaluate, and Adapt

  • Regular Data Review: Track the inclusivity metrics you identified; are you progressing toward your goals?

  • Gather Ongoing Feedback: Continue proactively seeking remote employees' input to identify what's working and where challenges remain.

  • Iterate as Needed: Be prepared to fine-tune your plan based on results. Inclusivity initiatives are never "done" but instead constantly evolving.

Key Insights

  1. Inclusivity Drives Success: Remote teams prioritizing inclusivity outperform those not. Research shows that diverse teams make better decisions, are more innovative, and achieve more substantial business outcomes.

  2. Policies Are Only the Start: Inclusive remote work policies lay the foundation, but it's the ongoing actions of HR, leaders, and individual employees that truly shape a culture of belonging.

  3. Inclusion Requires Intentionality: Inclusivity in a remote setting only happens organically. It requires proactive measures, data-driven decision-making, and a commitment to combating biases.

  4. Everyone Has a Role: Building inclusive remote teams involves each contributor's leadership support, HR initiatives, and conscious actions. Every employee can be a champion of inclusivity.

Key Questions To Ask

How can I identify unconscious biases in my company's remote work policies and practices?

Review policies critically, request diverse employee input, and utilize online bias awareness training and resources.

What are effective strategies for building connections and fostering belonging among remote team members?

Implement virtual social events, structured mentorship programs, and dedicated "watercooler" chat channels, and celebrate cultural diversity within your team.

How can you measure progress toward a more inclusive remote work environment?

Utilize HR analytics for diversity data, track engagement and promotion metrics for remote vs. in-office workers, and conduct regular inclusivity-focused surveys.

What resources are available to support employees in remote teams who experience microaggressions or lack of inclusivity?

Ensure HR is approachable and trained to handle these situations, offer anonymous reporting options, and provide resources on allyship and addressing harmful behavior in a remote setting.

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