Today’s episode addresses a very important question: What does diversity and inclusion look like when it intersects with the remote work conversation for companies?
This conversation has a few different components to think about, as it leads to more questions such as: is it necessary to know who a person is outside of the work environment in order to create a psychologically safe workplace? What are some of the work preferences that members of your team have, and are you willing to be accommodating to them? How can we make remote workers feel like they are a valuable and appreciated part of the organization — even when they’re not coming into a physical work environment or in the same timezone or country?
Well, as luck may have it, this is our sweet spot at Inclusion in Progress as a fully remote team that spans EMEA, APAC and the Americas. We’ve taken all of our years of experience and our latest insights from supporting our client partners since before the Covid-19 pandemic to know how to measure equity and inclusion with our remote teams in mind. We’ve been able to help organizations create an equitable, inclusive flexible working environment for their remote teams using the exact same criteria we outline in this episode!
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entrypoint into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
Hey again, friend, and welcome back to Inclusion in Progress! So, before we dive into today's episode, I wanted to share a really quick, but super exciting update for Team IIP. Our fully remote team is going to be officially meeting in person next month for the first time ever! So, at the time of this recording, that will be September 2022. So as you can imagine, we're all super excited to finally get some in-person co-working time - some brainstorming sessions - in, get a little bit of sightseeing together, as well as finally see how tall each of us actually is, Since you only really see waist up on these zoom calls. And, of course, get some real life hugs in! So spoiler alert: I know I'm the shortest on the team at 5’2”, or just shy of 158 centimeters. So there's no surprises there.
And, you know, forgive me for taking a moment to just brag about the team here…. It's a real testament to how we've been able to keep going and growing despite never actually having met in person before all this time. And this in-person trip is honestly a long time coming. And it's really, really cool! I'm genuinely humbled. I'm genuinely excited and just thrilled that we all get to continue to build on what we have the last few years, as well as really celebrate all of the milestones that we have accomplished together in person! So, if you want to follow along to see how the trip goes, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. You can connect with me on my personal page, which is Kay Fabella. So for those of you listening in: that's F as in Frank, A as an apple, B as in Boy, E, double L, A - Fabella. And I'll do my best to post at least one or two photo updates from our in-person meeting on my LinkedIn page if you connect with me there!
So again, I am tooting my team's horn, but I'm genuinely, incredibly proud of what we have all accomplished. Despite our multiple personal and professional setbacks, which have been many over the last couple of years, to continue to make sure that our clients continue to feel supported by us, to make sure that this podcast continues to come out twice a month every month, to make sure listeners like you continue to benefit from our latest industry insights into how the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation is evolving in the companies that we work with, and overall as an industry. We've all worked incredibly hard to continue to create accessible content to support equity-minded listeners like yourselves. It's something that we're passionate about, and we hope that it shows in each one of our episodes. In fact, Sherry from the UK was kind enough to write in recently saying, “I've been listening to your podcast and got loads from it. As I prepare for a job interview doing an L&D - Learning and Development - role in EDI. Thank you!” And we love hearing things like this from you! From our audience of listeners, now from over 30 countries across the globe. And, listen, we are a small but mighty team! And because we are already taking on quite a bit, this podcast really, as I've shared before, is a labor of love. And one of the reasons we love putting out these episodes alongside all the things that go into running a DEI Consultancy and working with one another in different parts of the world ourselves is because we know that, in some small way, even for the people who may not get a chance to work with us directly, we're still in alignment with our mission. We're still offering access to timely and industry-tested and relevant information that will support you and your company or your team on your equity and inclusion journey.
So, if you are a longtime listener, or maybe you're just diving in and digging the first few episodes that you've just binged - Hey, we've all been there with a new podcast! - if you can, please do Team IIP and myself a huge favor and leave us a 5-minute review. It would be amazing, honestly. Just pop it into iTunes or Spotify or wherever you're listening to this podcast right now. Because every review really helps us reach those who would gain value from episodes and discussions that are diving into very open conversations around diversity and inclusion around the future of work. And, of course, working in a distributed team in different cultures, the easiest way to support us in this mission to support greater inclusion at workplaces across the world is to take a few minutes to leave us a review so that more people who need these resources can benefit - because they'll see it pop up in their feed! We’ll leave instructions for you to leave that review at the link in the show notes. So please be sure to check that out.
But back to today's episode: What does diversity and inclusion look like when it intersects with the remote work conversation for companies?
Well, if you've been following along, you know by now that this is our sweet spot of Inclusion in Progress. As we shared in Episode IIP093, What Remote Teams REALLY Need to Feel Included At Work? The biggest obstacle to inclusion on distributed teams is psychological safety, which hinges on a foundation of trust. Now, if you want to dive more into the different types of trust that we covered that make remote teams work effectively, be sure to check out the episode after you listen to this one. That's episode IIP093.
We also know that trust takes time to cultivate. And trust, especially in a work environment, can be built or broken in every interaction, whether it's in our asynchronous channels like Slack, or by email, or in a one-on-one with a fellow team member or a manager. Now Brene Brown famously said, “In the absence of data, we will always make up stories.” In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. And that's because our brains are hardwired for survival and self protection, and they chemically reward us with a sense of calm and tranquility when we feel like we have that complete story, even when the story our brains are telling us isn't accurate.
Now, the same is true for those of us working remotely with our teams, if not more. So when we don't see one another, when we haven't even had the chance to get to know one another in person prior to working together on a remote team, it’s even easier for our brains to make up stories about one another, often in a very harmful way. Like when someone needs to step away from the office or from their work environment for their child's medical emergency and the other team member who's waiting on them for a task isn't informed about that medical emergency, that team member could turn that into a story like… “Oh, John is ignoring me!”, which can easily turn into a story of, “John is unreliable, I can't trust him to do anything when I need him.” Or when someone interacts less during an all-hands call or in team group interactions, other team members might label that person as shy or cold or distant when the reality is that they are a non-native speaker working on a team of all native speakers, or they are someone who culturally defers to authority and is uncomfortable voicing a contrary opinion when their manager or their leaders present; or they're not neurotypical and spend more time processing what's being said when multiple voices are present on a call.
See, what happens when you only see one part of your team story, especially when you're working in a distributed environment? Our brains make up even more stories about each other when we're working remotely. And, honestly, waste unnecessary energy that our teams can use to work together when all we need to do is make our stories more available to our team members because those stories actually give us greater context. Having greater context is like - well, you can't see me obviously, because I'm recording this - But imagine horse blinders around your eyes and removing those horse blinders, which allows you to widen your perspective of the people that you work with, and see them as whole humans like us, despite not being physically present.
Because teams that actually work effectively together - that understand one another - achieved superior levels of participation and cooperation, and collaboration because they trust one another. They share a strong sense of group identity, they have confidence in their effectiveness as a team, knowing that they each have each other's backs. In other words, teams that possess high levels of group Emotional Intelligence are able to work more effectively together, but only when they have access to one another's stories and contexts, to be able to fill in the gaps when their brains tried to fill them in for them.
So for today's episode, I wanted to dive into what we measure first for Diversity and Inclusion when it comes to remote teams specifically, and how we help advise teams and increase their effectiveness, and therefore their understanding, of one another. So that despite working in a distributed environment, they can continue to build psychological safety and inclusion in a way that brings out the best in each of their team members. So let's go ahead and dive in.
First, we look at a general audit of team identities. Now by auditing and assessing a team's identities, which include their non-work roles and responsibilities, we can start to measure levels of psychological safety and inclusion on a remote team. So what do we mean by non-work roles and responsibilities? Well, it's essential to know where your people are coming from… who do they live with? What is their lived experience like? What does their work situation look like at home or in their current office space? Who or what do they continue to grieve after the pandemic, because all of us are grieving something? What do they enjoy doing outside of work? What could be potentially influencing or affecting their ability to do their work effectively, and share that with others?
Knowing all of these things - again, these are just a few examples of things to consider - But knowing all of these things may also help you realize strengths or obstacles that could contribute to your team's work situation. And our teams now expect employers and leaders to consider their individual circumstances like caregiving obligations, neurodiversity, native language, and more. All when designing the rules and evaluating the performance in a way that considers them as whole humans, and not just their ability to get their job done. But your understanding of their ability to get their job done requires team members being aware of each other's non-work roles, which is also important in measuring DEI on a remote team.
Another thing that we can look at on a remote team when we're auditing team identities is working preferences. Now, given the different non-work roles and responsibilities of your remote teams, this may require different working conditions and environments for each of them. Some may prefer going to work or going to a physical shared workspace where they're more likely to meet their colleagues instead of working remotely; and others may prefer to work remotely, as it provides them the accommodations that they need that most office spaces lack. Others just want the flexibility to choose where they work, whether fully remote or in-person from day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month… so long as they can continue to prioritize their lives outside of work. It's also important to note that these working preferences may evolve and change over time. So it's worth revisiting these preferences with your teams at a regular cadence. Knowing when and where and how your people choose to work when on a distributed team is also an important part of fostering inclusion and cultivating diversity.
Another thing that we can look at when assessing remote team identities is something called Superpowers and Kryptonite - for any of you comic book fans out there… Knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses can allow further collaboration, where your people may fill in the gaps of others. So one of our recommendations when we're measuring how effective a remote team is… is running a shared Superpowers and Kryptonite exercise. And this applies whether you're a brand new team or you've been working together for a long time and could benefit from a reset. The difference between the usual strengths and weaknesses tools used for teams is that there are no boxes to check. People define their assets or their talents or their skills with their own words. But, most importantly, a Superpowers and Kryptonite exercise isn't using this very binary right or wrong approach. Both our Superpowers and Kryptonite can work in our favor, or they might not. For example: say, your superpower is the ability to quickly diagnose problems and find solutions to them. Now, sometimes that so-called superpower might work against you because your bias towards speed and action means that you might miss out on important information and assessing your team's Superpowers and Kryptonite honestly encourages self-reflection and reminds your team that all of you are human without labeling each other as “good and bad,” or “right and wrong.” Once everyone has taken turns sharing, you can reflect on how the team can leverage everyone's Superpowers and Kryptonites. And this is a helpful measurement for us because understanding that there's already a sense of “All teams are human,” and “All teams have strengths and weaknesses that, within certain contexts, can be assigned in reverse,” is a really important way for us to diagnose whether or not inclusion is present on a remote team.
Now, of course, an ideal team is able to merge all these different talents and skill sets, all of these different Superpowers and Kryptonite into one, super-performing, superhuman hole… with capabilities that are able to surpass those of even the most talented person on the team. Now that ideal team takes work to achieve, but a remote team's effectiveness really hinges on the psychological safety that having an inclusive work environment provides everyone on that team. So the ability to have discussions like things like Superpowers and Kryptonites, team identities, and whether or not your working preference has changed is an important way for us to measure something like the ability to have discussions that foster understanding without judgment, which supports whether or not equity and inclusion is present on a remote team.
Now the next thing that we look at measuring is whether or not there is a shared sense of team identity. What does that mean exactly? So, post-pandemic organizational culture is less about your company's value statements and all the cool things and perks that you received in the office working together, and more about the micro-cultures that are created by you and your team.
So history tells us that culture, before organizations, was built around shared causes, was built around common behaviors, common ground, common understanding of things, and a shared sense of purpose. And now when we talk about your team's micro-culture, we know that people want to belong to something that they think is effectively working towards that cause or purpose and that they feel that they belong to. Our 2021 Whitepaper found that people were more likely to stay at a job where they felt that their manager supported them. So we now know that team culture can foster collaboration and motivate employees, but a bad or a toxic team micro-culture leads to higher turnover and repercussions for the organization as a whole.
Now, the easiest way to identify whether or not micro-culture that's effective and inclusive is present on a remote team is identifying whether or not there is a shared sense of team identity. Now, what does that look like in practice? Well, a remote team identity should be built around a shared Why, or a purpose that grounds your team. Some teams we work with choose to create something like a mantra or a slogan that everyone on the team learns as soon as they join. Something like… “We radically simplify x for our customers”. Other teams use a purpose statement, such as “Focus on the human,” that establishes both how they treat each other, and the clients or other departments and divisions that depend on them in the organization. Creating an effective inclusive team culture should be about capturing the purpose behind your team's work, something that unifies you, regardless of whether or not you're present, and then encouraging your team to participate in upholding your Why and sticking to that. This shared team Why also makes it easy for you to measure your team's progress. And we found that the easier the Why is for your team to remember, the easier it is for your team to feel connected to it, and measure their own progress against it.
Other things that we measure on teams include things like whether or not there is a shared set of values, things that can govern the acceptable behaviors of remote teams and can contribute to inclusion in a systemic way that can correct for behaviors when they no longer fall in alignment with those values.
Finally, we also look at whether or not there's something like a shared language that the team can refer to. Now, the number one advantage of a shared or common language, as we know even in working with cross-cultural teams, is efficiency. Because increasing efficiency means you're completing your tasks faster. But it also minimizes the time spent on unnecessary tasks and maybe second-guessing or extra guesswork that's not necessary. So shared jargon and expressions within a common language do something called Chunking, which means those chunks allow your team to compartmentalize information and act on it faster because it clarifies things for them. Simple misunderstandings, as we know, can create conflict in teams or even lead to some of your team members completing their tasks incorrectly. Whereas when everyone can communicate with complete clarity, with something such as a shared language, it minimizes confusion, it can ease tension and uncertainty, it can strengthen ties and relationships, and promote a more unified, supportive, and inclusive team.
Having a common language on your team also increases opportunities for connection and helps remote team members to feel included. For example, on our team, we have a channel that's dedicated to all of our inside jokes called the Team IIP Glossary, which all of us have contributed to, including myself at some point. So, in addition to the processes and protocols that team members receive when they're onboarded, they can also have a glimpse into our team's shared identity and personality once they join. Now, shared lingo goes beyond just sharing cat photos or music preferences because it actually contributes to creating a sense of community and belonging that the team shares with each other, and that even new team members can tap into when they have access to that shared language.
In our experience, the DEI conversation often focuses on measuring individual identities. But whereas individual identities may be challenging to measure across cultures and time zones, especially as our different nuances and identities grow and change over time, we found that a team identity can be measured through things like what we've covered here, whether there is a shared sense of purpose, whether there are clear values that define behaviors and can correct for behaviors when they don't align with the team's values, and access to a common language that helps individuals feel connected, while physically working apart. All of those things contribute to measuring inclusion on a remote team.
So let's take a brief pause here.
At Inclusion in Progress, we know that the diversity, equity, and inclusion or DEI conversation continues to remain relevant as identities become more varied, and nuanced and evolve as more voices are coming into the fold and, of course, as more historically excluded perspectives come to the table. Now as an organization, it's your job to understand what your people need today, to keep them long enough to continue to recruit the best people tomorrow. Trying to tackle all of the different lenses of DEI especially when it comes to tackling all the different lenses of diversity present can often feel overwhelming. But rather than looking at the entire room of options, we recommend starting in one corner and working your way outward, starting with an area that you know can encapsulate as many people as possible while centering equity in the conversation. So, if you want someone in your corner as you're navigating this scenario, we can help!
Inclusion in Progress partners with forward-thinking leaders like yourself. We know that the future of work will require creativity, agility, and consistency to meet the challenges of retaining your best people tomorrow. And one of the ways that we can support you is through our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey. As a fully remote team that is comfortable gathering data across cultures and borders, and knows the challenges and benefits of supporting teams working virtually as we guide the likes of our client partners, such as Red Hat, Instagram, and more with how to implement structures and systems that support your teams in achieving their best, no matter where they come from or where they choose to work so that you can increase the likelihood of not only retaining the best people on your team but also renewing your commitment to greater equity and inclusion that centers you as a great employer to work for future talent as well.
So if you'd like to learn more about our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey and how we can start rolling it out for your global DEI strategy, head to the link in the show notes to book a call to learn more. We're finalizing bookings for client partners in Q4 and have already started to take bookings for Q1 2023. So if you'd like to learn more about how we can support you before 2022 ends, you can book a call with us or email us directly at email@example.com to learn how we can help you gather the data you need for an inclusive, flexible work strategy that allows you to retain your best people and ideas.
So diving back in… we also look at measuring diversity and inclusion on remote teams by understanding whether or not there are channels to instill awareness and accountability. So whether or not individuals have the ability to self-regulate and measure their own behaviors against their team's purpose and values is just as important as us recommending what managers and divisions and leaders and organizations do when it comes to creating inclusion in a flexible work environment.
So, for example, we encourage teams to start with the assumption that someone will do their job well when provided with all of the means to accomplish it, which also means allowing people to set their own deadlines, trusting them to deliver their tasks, giving them a way to share with the rest of the team when those tasks are done, etc. If those channels don't exist then that's something that we look at troubleshooting. If someone on a team is not able to deliver, being able to actually have a conversation with them about the challenges that they faced, or the circumstances that they were in, allows you to talk about how a remote team can help one another so that deadlines are met.
Many remote teams are also aware that their teams are getting burnt out living at work, so to speak, because as we know the lines have become increasingly blurred between work and non-work lives. Now, many people aren't willing to admit when they're burnt out. But when they are, as we know, it affects judgment. It's a big part of the reason why the team and I took a break in July 2022, to give ourselves time to recover from when we were teetering on burnout ourselves. But it's not comfortable to talk about. So a number of leaders are now modeling that for others. We're seeing remote team managers who are consistently rating higher on engagement scores with their employees doing simple things such as asking people on their weekly meetings or even in their one-on-ones… “How do you feel? Where are you at today?” The likelihood that a remote team is admitting to their colleagues their personal anxieties, their vulnerabilities, their stories when appropriate is also a marker of inclusion and psychological safety that we can actually measure and act upon. We found that when leaders help their teams understand that it's the circumstances and not a sense of failure or a personal shortcoming that's explaining their feelings of burnout or disconnect, which allows that leader to create a more open dialogue where their remote team can troubleshoot together and offer them support.
It's important to establish comfortable group-sanctioned ways to express the inevitable misunderstandings, whether it's anger or tension, or frustration that arises from working in a team with fellow humans. Because it happens, we've all been there. But it's about measuring and guiding how we can positively redirect that energy and whether or not that is actually present on a remote team. So, inevitably, a team member may indulge or engage in a behavior that crosses the line somewhere, that doesn't align with the team's shared sense of values or purpose, and a team must feel comfortable calling attention to it and resolving it together. A distributed team, especially, needs to have an outlet to express their frustrations or collide with one another with a safety net, which is fundamental to psychological safety in innovation, whether that's offered by the team leader, the organization, or the team's own shared working agreements that they have all specifically sat down and outlined together.
In our experience, we found that when a team lacks a clear disagreement pathway, this actually perpetuates a lack of psychological safety and a lack of inclusion and creates a work environment that undermines the team's effectiveness. We've also noticed the focus of many DEI conversations in the remote work or flexible work context tend to put the onus on just the organization, on just the DEI or HR Division, or on just the remote teams, often overworked manager. But individuals on a remote team also need a pathway to self-regulate, to determine when they are overextending themselves, or to assess when they are responsible for perpetuating harmful behaviors that don't align with their team's purpose or values.
The reality is there are more harmful assumptions that can be made that may compromise equity and inclusion in a remote environment because people aren't working alongside one another and they can't see each other physically. But when we give individuals the opportunity to correct for and remove those assumptions, we're giving them access to a toolkit of sorts, which allows them to prioritize their own psychological safety and well-being, the entire team benefits from shared accountability and responsibility, and creating a more inclusive workplace for everyone.
So there you have it! What remote teams really need to measure for us to understand whether or not diversity and inclusion is present, and a few of the ways that we measure it to support our client partners in their commitment to DEI. Now, obviously, this is a much more nuanced conversation that depends very much on team organization, country, culture, timezone, even states of mind. But at Inclusion in Progress, we know that the DEI conversation is wide and varied, which also might make it feel overwhelming and daunting for those who are leading these initiatives or organizations. Because everything feels urgent. Everything feels urgent because companies and leaders taking on a new role and defining a future workplace that works for everyone requires all of us to be aware of what's coming and react to it accordingly. But as a forward-thinking leader, it's your job to not only react to what's in front of you but to proactively anticipate and understand what your people need today, that keeps them long enough to contribute their best ideas, and helps recruit the best people tomorrow.
Listen, trying to tackle all the different lenses of DEI can feel overwhelming. But rather than looking at the entire room of options available to you, we recommend starting in one corner and then working your way outward. So again, if you want someone in your corner to specifically tackle how to make flexible work inclusive for your teams, no matter where they are, or where they choose to work, we can help! We partner with forward-thinking leaders like yourself through both data-driven and qualitative strategies that center the well-being of your people. And one of the ways that we can support you is through our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey, which we're making available for the first time in an effort to try and make the whole process of remote work effective and efficient, but also accessible for those who are trying to leverage it to support their larger global DEI strategy. As I've shared multiple times on the podcast, we are a fully remote team that is very excited to meet in person next month, but is also comfortable gathering data across different cultures and borders! We span APAC, EMEA, and the Americas, and we know ourselves as a remote team the challenges and benefits of having a team that works virtually. And we draw from our own experience when we're guiding you on how to implement structures and systems that support your teams and contributing their best to your company so that you can retain your best and live up to your desire to create inclusion for all.
If you'd like to learn more about our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey and how we can start rolling it out to support your global DEI strategy as you move into 2023, head to the link in the show notes to book a call to learn more. We're finalizing bookings for client partners in Q4, so if you'd like to learn how we can support you before 2022 ends, or learn more about how we can partner together at the beginning of next year before our calendar fills up, email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a call with us.
As always, thank you for listening! Thank you for sharing these episodes with others, and we'll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress.