Prior to the COVID pandemic, there was a movement afoot to intentionally enhance diversity and inclusion in organizations. For many companies, those efforts then took a back seat to just staying in business, helping existing employees work remotely and keeping the business afloat. Now, as they take a longer view, they are once again thinking about how to create workplaces that look and feel more like the culture we live in. But there’s a paradox few organizations plan for:
Remote work makes finding people easier than ever. Truly integrating them into the team can be substantially more difficult.
Recruiting, selecting and hiring a diverse, inclusive, workforce is hard work. Yet the goal is not just to hire different types of people; it’s to truly include them in the fabric of the team, integrating them into the way you work and think.
Remote inclusion efforts can work.
There are plenty of reasons that remote work can enhance your inclusion efforts. Here are just a few of them:
- You are not restricted by geography or being within an easy commute of the workplace.
- Your pool of candidates may be wider. You can include those with challenges such as mobility that would preclude them working in your traditional office, but with accommodations can be very productive from their homes.
- The interview process may be more protracted when you work remotely, but because it’s being done from a distance the logistics are easier to arrange. It’s easier to do group interviews and bring the team in on the decision. Scheduling is easier when you don’t have to take travel or the commute into account.
Hiring people who enhance the scope, insight and skillset of your team is a critical first step. But, as we point out continuously in The Long-Distance Teammate, sharing a manager or job description is not the same as actually being a high-functioning, integrated team.
Assuming everyone has good intentions, and there’s no intentional bias involved, there are still several challenges to integrating people into a remote team.
The existing team share knowledge, history, and insight into each other.
One of the anecdotal and critical, things people have pointed out during COVID is that when the team all knew each other and worked together in the office, the transition to working remotely was relatively smooth. Folks already knew who to go to with questions, they had long-term relationships that made proactive communication easy, and they had each other’s backs. Someone new entering the team, even without obvious barriers to inclusion, may feel excluded or mistrusted.
Much of the work when it comes to onboarding team members happens by osmosis-it’s organic.
Traditionally, when someone joins a team they have a desk close to everyone else. They overhear conversations, share gossip, and bump into each other at the coffee maker. Social interaction blends critical work with the kind of casual conversation that helps us get to know each other’s personalities and work styles. Differences are often perceived as less of an obstacle the longer people are exposed to them. When we work remotely, we generally have less frequent (and less rich) interaction, which means building trust and feeling comfort requires more effort and may just take longer than we’d like.
When trying to expand inclusion and diversity, people may notice the differences before the commonalities.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the work. The sooner people develop trust in the alignments, capability and motivation of the new team member, the sooner the work becomes the focus of interactions. Leaders need to be intentional about pairing people together on work that will enable the new team member to share success early. Also, encouraging frequent one on one interaction is essential.
As leaders, we can be mindful about addressing these concerns. Expecting everyone to step up, or to instantly welcome all newcomers as quickly as they did in the office might be unreasonable. With planning and intentionality, onboarding and making newcomers integral parts of the team is possible. It just takes some work.
The more intentional you are about becoming a great remote teammate, the more you can “flatten the curve” with integration. 12 Weeks to Becoming a Great Remote Teammate is a great learning program that can help accelerate that process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.