How to Become an Inclusive Remote Leader

Flexibility and inclusivity in the workplace are more important than ever following the COVID year. Here's how leaders can help make that a reality.

How the pandemic changed the workforce and job market isn’t a secret anymore. With pros and cons, this forced shift towards remote work set new priorities for employees worldwide.

The recent survey Decoding Global Ways of Working shows a global preference for remote positions because of flexibility in working hours and location. For most respondents, extra time with families and avoiding commuting are more important priorities than a high salary.

Further, the survey shows that the global pandemic wasn’t the only event changing people’s expectations in the workplace. Seven in 10 respondents said that diversity and climate are two key factors to consider when looking for a job. Almost half of the respondents confirm they would not accept to work for someone who didn’t match personal beliefs on equality and the environment.

Protests like the Me too movement and Black Lives Matter highly increased people’s awareness of social values. Especially in virtual teams and remote companies, team members come from different backgrounds and cultures.

The real question isn’t how to integrate the word inclusive in your policy but how to build a company culture based on diversity and inclusion. In short, how to become an inclusive remote leader?

What Does Inclusive Mean in The Workplace?

An inclusive workplace doesn’t need an elaborated definition. To put it simply, a company is inclusive when everyone feels valued despite cultural differences and disabilities.

According to a Clutch.co survey, 23% of managers said that diversity and inclusion improve team dynamics and satisfaction. A smaller percentage said that other benefits include having a better ability to attract talent (18%), increase team creativity (15%), improve the brand image (14%), and boost productivity (12%).

A remote leader that provides an inclusive environment has a competitive advantage to attract new skilled candidates and, most importantly, keep employees with them. Diversity and inclusion initiatives come with improved productivity, creativity, and brand image, enforcing the sense of belonging of team members.

Get Rid Of Unconscious Bias

If you grew up in Western society, you probably heard of bias by now. It is an unconscious mechanism for which we make assumptions when we meet someone.

Do you remember German philosopher Immanuel Kant? As a milestone of Western philosophy, he wrote very complex books that aren’t completely understood even today. Principal subjects of his research? Human consciousness and judgment. That’s right. Kant spent his whole life (neurosciences didn’t exist back then) proving that our mind makes judgments all the time because we need to classify the world. Only after this first judgment, the reason comes in.

So, bias is something that always existed. Why is such a widespread issue today? Because when you hire someone, you need to be aware of this first, spontaneous, judgment.

Assuming that a parent will be too busy for a managerial role or being surprised when a foreign articulates sentences in English are famous examples of this unconscious bias. Being aware of these mechanisms makes the difference between inclusive leaders and blind managers.

Documentation and Clear Communication

We all have different cultural norms. Especially in a remote setting, building a solid company culture is vital to create a sense of belonging. In distributed teams, people come from opposite sides of the world, and it’s hard to communicate your values and mission effectively. This process begins as early as the offer letter, which should clearly express your company values.

That’s why documentation and clear communication are essential to make each team member feel included. If everyone can relate to the same documentation and structure, over time, it will be easy to bring everyone on the same page, despite cultural differences and time zones. Creating a well-documented employee engagement plan can be the key to motivated and productive employees in a remote environment.

Virtual Social Gathering

One of the biggest challenges of remote work is isolation. After this pandemic, we can all relate to that in some ways. But working in a virtual team isn’t the same as working alone.

If you are a remote leader, you need to encourage participation and engage in casual conversation besides working tasks. You can set up weekly virtual coffee chats or use platforms like Slack to promote a more human relationship among your team members. In the long run, casual conversations will strengthen your team connections and, with the proper sense of humor, cultural differences will be the best bridge to bond with each other.

Asshole-free Environment

You don’t need stats to know that being an asshole is bad for team bonding. No one wants to deal with a pedantic manager or an acidic colleague. We all remember those days when being terrified by managers was the norm. Thankfully, the spread of new technologies and the focus on quality services is slowly beating this management style.

In 2007, a Stamford University professor, Robert I. Sutton, wrote an entire book on the negative effects of an asshole environment. There is no wonder why this attitude increases staff turnover. In the long run, dealing with stressful people raises anxiety levels and burnout. In short, assholes make your job as a team leader harder. Bullies cause damage in the physical world and disasters in virtual settings. As an inclusive leader, the first step is creating an asshole-free environment.

Trust

As we mentioned, documentation and communication are pillars of every distributed team. Do you know what’s holding these two pillars together? Trust.

As a team leader, trust has a very specific meaning. If you create a mistake-friendly environment, how you handle these mistakes enforce or break trust. Would you rely on someone who shouts at you for every little thing after claiming that mistakes are human? Probably not. If you’re that kind of leader, your team members will likely stop sharing thoughts and ideas with you.

Being a boss doesn’t mean being a perfect human being. At some point, we all make mistakes or have a bad day that leads to silly decisions. That’s why you need a team ready to tell you the truth when needed. How you handle criticism is crucial to build trust and share honest opinions. How do you take criticism makes the difference between an inclusive leader and a divine guru that cannot be contradicted – does it sound like a bell? Yes, acting as a guru is pretty much acting like an asshole, and it will never make you an inclusive leader.

Hiring Process and Inclusion in Remote Teams

Inclusion is your best strategy to boost your team productivity and bring your company on top of business. Consider that only in the U.S, out of 27.6 million foreign-born employees, 35% work in management and highly specialized roles. Meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that 1 in 4 American adults have some type of disability and 61 million adults in the United States live with disabilities.

When you interview candidates for your team, think about how cultural differences can improve your team. If you see different backgrounds as a limit, you will never build an inclusive remote team – and you will miss all the fun.

Author

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    Sharon Koifman is the founder and president of DistantJob — a boutique staffing agency that helps recruit full-time remote employees. From the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, he believes every company should access the world's top talent.

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