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Much of the working world has shifted to either fully remote or hybrid workplace models. That brings a variety of benefits and challenges, ranging from increased productivity to reduced overhead costs to greater flexibility. Growing a positive remote culture, however, can be a challenge, especially for organizations trying to build and maintain an inclusive workplace for their remote teams

Decentralizing your workforce and disrupting organic in-person conversations can create new opportunities but also new obstacles related to diversity and inclusion. That is, unless you take the appropriate steps to ensure the health of your D&I initiatives in a remote-first world. 

This article will walk you through how (and why) to do that. 

What is an inclusive workplace?

In short, an inclusive workplace is one that makes an effort to embrace and support diversity as part of its culture. Inclusive workplaces have clear processes and policies in place to integrate and support everyone, regardless of their background or education. 

From a cultural perspective, inclusive workplaces foster an environment that enables and encourages employees with diverse backgrounds to coexist — and thrive — in a mutually beneficial way. All employees feel welcome, respected, supported, valued, and empowered to make a difference in an inclusive workplace. 

The goal of an inclusive workplace is to ensure that all employees feel:

  • They have a voice
  • They belong
  • They are treated as a unique individual 
  • They are valued

Much like the wider concept of company culture, inclusive workplaces take time to develop. They’re created through a combination of systemic efforts like policies, processes, and values, as well as the behaviour of each individual within the company. 

To succeed in being inclusive, company leaders need to ensure they have the proper support and policies in place and encourage employees to practice inclusivity on a daily basis.

How does working remotely impact inclusivity in the workplace?

Company culture evolves organically when people can interact with one another face-to-face in an office. In remote or hybrid environments, that direct communication can take a hit, especially if employees are distributed across different time zones. Couple that with sometimes fragmented communication among people who may not be familiar with remote-first best practices, and it can be hard to build and maintain any company culture, let alone an inclusive one.

Remote work can (and should) be a benefit to communication within companies, not an obstacle. However, transitioning from an office to a remote setup (or any hybrid setup) can be tricky. The resulting communication challenges can directly impact a company’s efforts to maintain an inclusive culture. Some of the risks may include:

  • Siloed teams. Without proper guidance, online collaboration tools can lead teams into silos, wherein employees only communicate with a select few members of the company. This reverses progress toward diversification and inclusivity, making it harder for teams to work cross functionally. 
  • Lack of vision. In a decentralized workforce, leaders must be deliberate and transparent when sharing their vision for the company, including its policies around inclusivity and diversity. Without this shared vision, it’s difficult for inclusivity to become a default state of being for all employees.
  • Inconsistent onboarding. New hires in an office generally receive a dose of company culture by osmosis. Onboarding remote hires requires companies to build that cultural component into the process manually. Without deliberate effort here, new hires may receive an inconsistent experience and therefore have differing expectations of what company life will be like.

Despite these challenges, remote work remains the fact of the future, and diversity and inclusion lie at the heart of what makes every remote work strategy successful.

According to a survey on diversity and inclusion conducted by McKinsey, just 55% of surveyed employees said they feel included at their company. That answer, unsurprisingly, depends on several demographic and seniority factors. Among those who felt less included were employees in entry-level roles, women, and ethnic or racial minorities. 

Couple that lagging statistic with the fact that 39% of respondents said that they have turned down a job, or decided not to pursue one, because of a perceived lack of inclusion at an organization, and you can understand why inclusion is an important factor for all companies. 

Before we jump into how to create an inclusive workplace in a remote environment, let’s back up to look at what the benefits are likely to be from your efforts. 

The benefits of diversity and inclusion 

Diversity and inclusion offer a wide range of benefits for both employees and companies.

First, they help create a more welcoming, productive, and fair environment by making sure that all team members feel equal, regardless of their backgrounds, education, work locations, or job titles. When people feel included, they also become more engaged. Employee engagement, as we all know, is critical to everything from productivity to retention. 

Beyond the benefits to individuals, diversity and inclusion also leads to better financial performance for the organization. This is because inclusive workforces lead to:

  • Boosted productivity and results, thanks to improved creativity, more effective problem solving and innovation, a broader range of skill sets and experience, and more effective knowledge sharing.
  • More diverse candidate pools, thanks to more concerted efforts to target and appeal to job seekers from diverse backgrounds and globally dispersed locations. 
  • Better employee retention, thanks to employees feeling accepted and valued. This leads to deeper appreciation for the company and happier employees who stay longer.
  • Stronger and more compelling employer brands, which signal to all prospective candidates that the company values and supports everyone. This improves your company reputation and makes you more appealing to candidates from around the world. 
  • Breaking down silos and echo chambers by introducing a broader range of voices, perspectives, and experiences. This gives your company a competitive edge, helping you adapt and respond to market conditions from a place of diversity. 

Now that we’ve talked about the challenges of maintaining diversity and inclusion in remote workforces and the benefits of making the effort, let’s dive into some practical advice for creating your own D&I policy. 

Inclusive workplace best practices 

According to McKinsey, there are four factors that are most linked with employees feeling included at their organization. 

These include: 

  • Diverse and inclusive leadership 
  • Meritocracy and initiatives to increase fairness
  • Sponsorship and advocacy 
  • Access to senior leaders 

When thinking through your own diversity and inclusion initiative, keep those four factors top of mind.

Here are 10 best practices to follow to address these opportunities. 

1. Set up a remote D&I committee.

Your first step should be to establish a diversity and inclusion committee at your organization to help understand where you are currently, where you need to go, and what your employees want in order to get there. 

Recruitee recently created such a D&I committee to “address honestly and head-on the needs of [their] team, and to help increase equality for all.” The goal was to create conversations and actions that challenged the status quo. 

To do so, Recruitee used an external D&I expert to identify areas of concern by interviewing the people team and other employees. They also ran a company-wide D&I survey to help them craft an inclusion roadmap. From there, the D&I committee was formed with employees from all levels across all offices. The team meets bi-weekly to convene of progress, assign tasks, and ensure that they are following the D&I roadmap. 

2. Include all employees in conversation about inclusion. 

Diversity and inclusion programs will not work unless all employees are consulted. Remember: this is a cultural initiative, and culture is a sum of all of your parts. 

As such, take time to survey employees to get their opinions about the current state of D&I at the company. Ask for advice on how to make a more inclusive workplace. Don’t shy away from what’s good, bad, and ugly at your organization currently. Take that advice and use it to craft a path forward. 

3. Create a formalized D&I policy.

The next step would be to create a diversity and inclusion policy that can live alongside your remote work policy. This should outline what it means to be a diverse, equal, and inclusive workplace and how your company is committed to getting there. Write your mission statement and vision along with your interpretation of what D&I means. 

Next, outline steps, policies, roles, and rules that will be implemented to meet that vision. Make sure to outline how that will work in a remote setting, including what tools and resources are available. 

4. Facilitate open feedback and communication.

No D&I program will succeed without open and honest feedback. As such, you should strive to create a culture of radical candor where employees are encouraged to talk to their leaders and team members about diversity and inclusion.

Follow real open-door policies and create anonymous channels where people can share their thoughts and concerns. Use this feedback to guide your path forward. 

5. Create spaces for non-work chats.

Find ways to replicate the lunch room and water cooler chats that occur in the office. Create open channels and discussion rooms where people can go to discuss issues that are important to them. 

The goal is to encourage open dialogue around important issues, and to provide space for employees to get to know each other on a personal level. 

6. Make time to build organic connections.

Beyond providing space for employees to chat, leaders should also actively find opportunities for teams to get to know one other on a more personal level. Encourage teams to carve out time for casual and 1:1 conversations. This will help employees to get to know each other beyond the surface level and begin to learn new things about their peers. The goal here is to replicate the in-person, organic relationship building that happens naturally when people are physically near one another. 

7. Be intentional about developing all employees.

To be truly inclusive, leaders have to support growth and learning for all employees. That means giving everyone on the team equal opportunity to try new things and expand their skill sets. 

Fortunately, working remotely makes it even easier to include everyone instead of accidentally overlooking people you don’t see very often. Public channels are fully public for remote teams.

Finding ways to make everyone on your team feel included will give them the opportunity and confidence to improve their skills and become more engaged, impactful contributors to the team. 

8. Practice empathetic leadership.

While D&I is a company-wide effort, it starts with committed leaders. Train and talk to the leaders at your organization about what inclusion means and what their role is. Encourage them to take an empathetic approach to their team to ensure that all employees are given the same opportunities and that issues of potential bias or exclusion are identified and addressed.

One great tip is to use weekly 1:1 meetings for check-ins instead of work. Work asynchronously to communicate project updates and save facetime for employee wellness conversations and concerns.

9. Build more representative teams.

In order to have a diverse and inclusive workforce, you first need to hire candidates from a variety of backgrounds. That means taking active steps to remove biased hiring practices, introducing initiatives to support minority employees, and sourcing candidates from a wider talent pool.

When you can hire all over the world, it’s easier to build a diverse team. Now that you have the ability to hire globally, there’s really no excuse not to have a more diverse workforce.

10. Make D&I part of your recruitment strategy.

Diversity and inclusion starts with the types of employees you hire. As such, it’s critical that you actively instill the values of D&I into your hiring practices. 

That means: 

  • Identifying instances where bias occurs in your hiring process
  • Educating recruiters on overt and unconscious bias
  • Implementing more objective hiring processes
  • Auditing and updating the language used in recruitment ads and job descriptions 

The goal here should be to remove as much potential for bias as possible from your recruitment process. By taking steps to acknowledge and address bias, as well as actively expanding your sourcing strategy to seek out more diverse candidates, you can ensure that your talent pools are more representative and inclusive.

Rebecca Clarke is the Head of People at Recruitee, an industry-leading collaborative hiring software. With over six years of experience in HR and talent acquisition, Rebecca is driven by her passion for matching people with the best career opportunities, growing teams collaboratively, and building inclusive workplaces.