Reduce the effects of social distancing by reinforcing Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

As individuals work remotely and adjust to workdays without in-person face time with peers and colleagues, we anticipate that we will all feel the effects of social distancing.

Like you, the Diversity & Inclusion team at Vanguard is experiencing this first hand, and we’ve been asking ourselves:

  • How can I feel a sense of belonging during this period of social distancing (which can feel very exclusive and disconnected)?
  • How do I stay connected to my work and my colleagues?

We have 6 suggestions to consider for living the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) principles with your teams.

1. Establish a positive mindset.

While you are setting the course aligned to your company’s mission and providing parameters for your team, it’s important to amplify a silver lining. You can acknowledge that adjusting to change can be difficult, but remember (and remind your team) that there are many advantages to working remotely.

Studies show that employees who telework report lower stress levels (granted, that may take a while in our current environment) and higher productivity. Promoting your and your colleagues’ health and safety should be top of mind.

2. Enable connections to happen.

The best way to ensure that connections happen between you and your team is to be authentic. Weave personal, relatable themes into your everyday interactions and encourage your team to do so, as well.

Creating belonging for individuals who are working on a partial or fully virtual team requires a leader to enable moments for employees to connect digitally on a personal level. Reserve and devote explicit social time each week for your entire team to gather, check-in, and continue to get to know each other “outside of work.” This ensures that the interpersonal connections that normally occur face-to-face each day will continue to happen in a virtual environment. It is those interpersonal, social connections that will help promote inclusion and minimize feelings of isolation.

Allow each team member to voice his or her feelings. This is important not only for more established team, but also for those who have a new member joining the team or company. A weekly video session can really make a difference. These can be distinct, separate events, or perhaps it can be time devoted during recurring staff meetings. Your team can decide what schedule works best.

3. Champion inclusion and flexibility.

Our current circumstances will most likely impact you and your team(s) differently. Some may have children, elders, or other family and friends who need different levels of attention and support during this time. Asking everyone to be candid about their unique situations can promote empathy among the team.

If possible, provide opportunities for your team to flex their work time as needed, so they can balance their work and life commitments. Depending upon the team’s work, role, and need for collaboration, encourage your team to leverage their diversity to help solve for any concerns. Remember and reinforce that the diversity on your team is an advantage, and share helpful resources when you find them. A few examples for working parents:

A Working Parents’ Guide to Handling the Unexpected

How to Work from Home with Kids Around

4. Recognize, recognize, recognize.

Consider how you may need to approach employee recognition differently. Some research suggests that remote workers feel they receive less recognition than non-remote workers. When we interact with our teams in person, we tend to share praise and compliments after meetings and when we pass each other in the halls. Remote workers have fewer chances to receive this kind of informal feedback. Find the opportunities, whether directly or on a team video chat, to recognize a job well done. This can go a long way toward building a sense of belonging, for both an individual and the team.

5. Make sure everyone on your team receives critical information.

Each day, pause to consider who on your team may not have the latest information they may need to do their work. Vanguard is a highly relational organization, and normally, a considerable amount of information exchange happens in person, before or after meetings. What normally occurs in a sidebar conversation in the hallway or at someone’s workstation will now likely occur on the telephone or via video conference. If your company is similar, invite everyone impacted to join by phone or chat so that everyone is given the same opportunity to learn and participate. If this isn’t possible, ensure there is a method to collect information that needs to be shared with everyone afterward.

6. Exercise emotional intelligence.

Consider the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) at play for you and members of your team. Mature emotional intelligence skills will put you and your team(s) at an advantage during this time, as well as when things return to normal. The strongest leaders understand how to help others manage their emotions, and how to use their own emotional awareness to navigate, build, and maintain positive relationships.

If EQ is a new concept to you, or you simply need to refresh your understanding and familiarity with it, spending a few minutes reading an overview of EQ will be helpful in integrating the DIB principles.

One example of EQ is how you acknowledge and control your own emotional response(s). You have the ability to control strong emotions by not acting on raw feelings or impulse. Instead, consider sitting with uncomfortable feelings and giving yourself time to decide how to alleviate or reduce them. This discipline develops self-confidence, and also allows time to reflect on potential solutions to a situation or problem.

Suppressing an immediate reaction based upon an initial, emotionally charged state helps lead to better decision-making outcomes. As everyone adjusts to our new work environment, you or your team may have periods of unexpected fear, anxiety, uncertainty, or frustration. Understanding how to control emotional responses will be important.

Another example of EQ is your ability to empathize with the individuals on your team, which will go a long way to developing deeper relationships with them. Empathy is the ability to recognize how and why people feel the way they do, and it allows us to anticipate how our actions and behaviors influence others. Empathy skills enhance our relationships, both with each other and ourselves. Ultimately, self-confidence increases, and a sense of belonging grows.

Most importantly, make sure you are hearing from all of the individuals on your team. Sometimes when working virtually, it can be easy for some employees to “hide” and not speak up, and you may have to do more in the way of initiating communication from them. Leverage tools, like going around the virtual room, to ensure you hear from everyone. Call someone’s name if they haven’t spoken up, and if this isn’t appropriate given your team dynamic(s), make sure you follow-up individually with anyone who exhibits this behavior or behavioral preference. If someone is quiet, we caution you not to assume that they are okay and feel connected to the team.

Thank you for devoting time and hard work to bring the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging principles to life! We wish you all the best in your journey.

—Rosaleena M. and Chris H.

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