Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development

Do Your Remote Employees Feel Invisible? 5 Tips for Creating a More Inclusive Culture

We are living in a fledgling new era. In the wake of a 2-year pandemic, the days of watercooler chats and after-work happy hours have dwindled as a greater proportion of the workforce sets up camp in their home offices, Zoom-ing in for meetings and bidding adieu to long commutes and business casual.

With employees dispersed across locations—and often time zones—easy visibility into employees’ work has become a challenge for managers. While I hope we are collectively moving beyond the “butts in seats” method of evaluating employee engagement and participation, what we have found is that managers don’t yet have all of the tools to ensure that remote or hybrid workers are treated equitably.

At the core of an equitable workplace lies the opportunity to advance. Research indicates that remote workers are promoted less because managers are often biased toward those they see in person. And in fact, as organizations adjust to this new world of remote/hybrid work, in-person workers often do have greater access to managers.

Adding a layer to this is the fact that women and people of color are more likely to prefer and choose to work remotely, intentionally opting out of the microaggressions that often occur in workplaces. This is a slippery slope for these employees, who have historically had less power and privilege, because it poses a very real risk of widening the existing pay and opportunity gaps. Add this to the fact that 1.1 million women left the workforce during the 2 years of the pandemic, and the challenge is quite clear.

In short, your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts just became broader, and a lack of action could easily undermine or even reverse existing initiatives. This is why it is incumbent on organizations and leaders to address inclusivity and bias as they relate to remote workers—and do it quickly. Here’s how.

Advocate for Your Remote Employees Across the Organization

It’s easy to reference direct reports’ great ideas when they are in the room, but make sure to keep your employees top of mind even when they aren’t. Great managers are advocates and sponsors, and you may need to intentionally shift how you think about and regularly elevate members of your team. This becomes particularly important for the members of your team who have historically been underrepresented in the workplace, such as women, people of color, those who identify as LGBTQIA+, or those with disabilities. Traditionally, these groups have been over-mentored and under-sponsored in the workplace, so lean in hard to your role as a sponsor and advocate. You’ll find that your allyship builds confidence for all of your direct reports.

Overcommunicate

Your remote workers aren’t privy to office chatter before an all-hands meeting or on the walk to the car when the workday ends. Whether your organization is fully remote or hybrid, your team members rely on you to fill them in on key developments and cultural trends within the organization. Make sure you set aside time to connect with employees on organizational shifts or changes, and allow them to ask any questions. I encourage you to specifically emphasize and reiterate opportunities for remote workers to participate in org-wide DEI initiatives like employee resource groups or advisory committees.

Have an ‘Open Door’ Policy, and Remind Team Members of it Often

Determine what this looks like for you as a manager. Is it 2 hours on Friday when you are available on Zoom? Are you always open to receiving a text message? Create and communicate avenues for employees to reach out to you outside of a structured meeting, and ensure these norms and expectations are shared across the team regularly.

At Least Once a Week, Have a One-on-One Meeting Without an Agenda

What’s often lost in a remote environment are the casual hallway conversations and the low-risk creative brainstorms that employees and managers have with each other. For remote employees, this time has to be intentionally set aside, but it’s absolutely essential; it gives employees the chance to share their passions, personality, and innovative ideas. So, though it may be counterintuitive at first, remember to schedule unscheduled time.

Remember That Outcomes Are Outcomes

This is an exciting time for managers and employees. With greater autonomy comes greater empowerment and responsibility, and it also means that a greater level of trust is necessary. How do you build that trust? Stay laser-focused on outcomes with both in-person and remote employees. Be absolutely clear about team and individual goals, and manage to those.

This new era offers us the opportunity to create work experiences that are tailored to employees, provide greater psychological safety for those who have historically had less representation or power in the workplace, and allow greater work/life balance—as long as we are intentional and inclusive every step of the way.

What we know for sure is this: Remote work is here to stay, and with this increased flexibility and autonomy of the workforce comes greater organizational innovation, if done right. That’s why now is the optimal time to take the opportunity to build cultures that are thoughtful, inclusive, and creative.

Sharon Steiner Hart is an executive coach with Talking Talent, a global coaching firm inspiring inclusive cultures that allow people and organizations to thrive.