Equity and inclusion challenges that already exist in non-remote working often show up in new and different ways when in a virtual context. This guide explores remote office ‘norms,’ gives tips for virtual meetings, explains how to foster engagement virtually, and helps you consider your teammates' varied and unique needs.
While guides to better remote working practices are now widely available (explore The Hybrid & Remote Work Playbook, The Comprehensive Guide to Remote Work, and Resources for companies embracing remote work for leading examples), we want to take a bit of a different approach - how can we ensure that remote working is equitable and inclusive? Equity and inclusion challenges that already exist in non-remote working can be exacerbated or show up in new and different ways when in a virtual context. Organizations must consider the varied and unique needs of their team members and make intentional choices to ensure that no one is excluded or marginalized during the process.
Creating a standalone guide that details the practices, processes, and resources for remote working in your organization will greatly improve trust and reduce anxiety, confusion, and dysfunction among your team members.
We recommend that you collect some data about your teams’ changing needs to learn how to best support them. We have a 5-minute remote working survey that can be embedded into your existing employee engagement platform or that you can utilize on our surveying platform. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
With some data in hand, we recommend you crowdsource with your team members to shape the final document and incorporate aspects of these tools and resources in this guide to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices extend to your remote working practice. This resource is not exhaustive - it focuses on the types of jobs that lend themselves to remote work. Continue to adjust your remote working guide as your teams shift, learn, and grow.
All workplaces have implicit and explicit norms, standards, and expectations - whether offline or online. Be sure that your remote working culture is sensitive to your team members’ diverse experiences and needs.
Setting expectations around communication, collaboration, and productivity are incredibly important for minimizing conflict and confusion.
Remote team members often find it more difficult to unplug than office team members, leading to stress, overworking, and burnout. Having defined schedules enables team members to have clear expectations of when they need to be available for work. Be mindful that your team members’ remote work schedules might differ from their office work schedules, as they may be balancing work, caregiving responsibilities, or other simultaneous needs. Further, the blending of personal and professional life is more comfortable for some than others, so keep this in mind.
“Caregiving” is often only associated with childcare. However, it is important to expand an understanding of caregiving to include family members of advanced ages, non-immediate family members, partners, and more. For many team members with caregiving roles, their responsibilities are likely increased with more time at “home.” As a leader, it is important to normalize caregiving expectations across your teams while they are working virtually.
“We know that fathers are 3x more engaged than the generation prior. We also know that we are the sandwich generation (taking care of parents and children at the same time). However, caregiving remains stigmatized for many men in relation to their careers. In order to normalize this, especially as a male leader, I set my OOO (Out-of-Office) auto-response to highlight the times that I have caregiving responsibilities. Plus, we always ask to see dogs and babies on our calls.”- Jake Stika, Executive Director Next Gen Men & Equity Leaders
If you have team members who work across time zones, coordinating and accommodating working schedules can be tricky. Doing so, however, helps to ensure that team members are not left out from critical activities and decision-making that should involve the whole team.
When working in remote teams, it may be harder to notice when a team member is struggling with mental health such as increased anxiety and/or depression, wellness, and/or domestic violence. Leaders must remain mindful of these possibilities and provide resources to ensure team members can access the help they need.
Not all team members will have equal and equitable knowledge of, and access to, tools and resources to work from home. This means you may have to get creative with budgets and methods to provide support.
"As a person with a disability (I am legally blind), when we first went fully remote earlier this month, I was scared about being unable to do my job, show impact or support my colleagues, as my accommodations would not be in place. To have these worries on top of our collective fears in this new global reality felt especially daunting. I have had the support of my lead, our Disability specialist, and Wellness team at Shopify to help me get a virtual workplace accessibility assessment and the required accommodations in place in my home. But I recognize I am privileged: I work for an organization committed to accessibility with the resources to act on this commitment. I know that in the current context, not everyone enjoys the same experience." - Prasanna Ranganathan, Diversity and Belonging Lead at Shopify
When moving from in-person work structures to virtual ones, accessibility and inclusion within communications formats need to be addressed and adjusted. We must be intentional when participating in virtual meetings to include all team members and their diverse needs.
Encourage everyone to turn on their cameras whenever possible during virtual meetings. This helps with nonverbal cues, such as when someone raises their hand, unmutes themselves, or attempts to speak. Turning on video has various benefits, such as combating isolation, providing a sense of community, and the opportunity to lip-read.
"Remote working models prove that all work can be made accessible to everyone, and they prove that disabled people can be productive even if they are not in an office. Leaders should strive to make remote work the norm from now on for disabled and immune-compromised individuals, without question. Also, leaders should work closely with disabled team members during the creation of remote work strategies because disabled people are, and have always been, experts in this particular area." - Andrew Gurza, Disability Awareness Consultant
It’s important to have a process to ensure that tasks are shared equitably across the team. Whether it’s note-taking, preparing an agenda, or turning on or typing up on Closed Captioning, too often, it is women and racialized folks who end doing more of these extra tasks.
"With the technology available today, there is no excuse not to have accessible content in your video recordings." – Jordan Monaghan, Managing Director, Angle Media
Pronouns are one way we express gender and how others perceive our gender. We cannot always know someone’s pronouns by looking at them. Sharing pronouns helps alleviate potential misgendering and normalizes sharing gender identities. Learn the spelling and pronunciation of team member’s names. When encouraging people to bring their entire selves to our communities and workplaces, putting in the effort to learn names helps make people feel respected and included.
When having virtual meetings with team members across the organization, share your pronouns when doing introductions, and ask others to do the same if they are comfortable.
Research shows that beginning meetings with a non-work group activity or discussion improves performance on virtual group tasks. Before diving into work-related discussions, give folks an opportunity to share updates.
As a manager, you may already hold one-on-ones, but they are more important with remote teams than ever before. If you already do these, great, keep it up, but now is the time to start if you don't. This time is an opportunity for your team to discuss life outside of work, challenges of working from home, or any other concerns they might not feel comfortable sharing during the larger group meetings. This is an important part of checking in on your workforce and making sure they feel valued and heard despite the distance.
"Food, shelter, clothing, income, and health care are the required basics at this time, so I do not want to minimize these needs. I do, however, believe there is a need to maintain the connectedness that we get from being part of a community -- whether it is by going to a workplace, playing sports, attending a place of worship, or just spending time with friends. There is now an immense opportunity to re-evaluate our core values as people -- to reassess what is important to us and how we spend our time. A harsh reset like this moves us from comfort to a focus on what is truly important, and leaders can play a significant role in this process." Danny Guillory, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dropbox
Loneliness is a real concern for remote team members. You can combat social isolation with experiences of team bonding.
Recognition of meaningful work goes a long way. This simple act greatly boosts feelings of belonging and engagement in the workplace.
"A leader's level of psychological resilience relates to their ability to mentally and emotionally cope with a crisis, and this directly impacts how well supported and included their teams feel during times of transition. Globally there are millions of remote workers who are adjusting to a "new normal," and this is a unique opportunity for organizations to support their people leaders to ensure that every team member has access to the support and tools they need to continue contributing in a meaningful and productive way. I believe if leaders can focus on putting people first, companies will build a more innovative and creative team, one where everyone feels like they belong." Karlyn Percil, CEO KDPM Consulting Group INC & Creator of The WEll-Being Playbook
Virtual co-working is useful for people on your team who are extroverts or who benefit from working alongside other team members.
Try keeping an open video call so team members can opt into a focused environment.
The casual environment of a platform like WhatsApp might make it easy to forget it’s still a professional setting. Take purposeful steps to educate your teams on how to use your chosen communications platforms and develop codes of conduct to ensure the virtual spaces remain free of harassment and discrimination.
Read our Quick Guide to Inclusive Emoji Use to ensure virtual chats are fun and safe.
Sometimes our use of GIFs and certain slang terms can perpetuate stereotypes against marginalized groups. Learn more about how to prevent this by reading Using BVE as a Non-Black Person Is Appropriation.
Be aware of siloed communications. Create channels for multiple team members to stay informed (e.g., public channels on Slack or groups that involve all project team members) and encourage the use of public channels rather than one-on-one messages when discussing work matters that should involve others.
Learning is not limited to the office. It is more critical now—than perhaps ever before—to continue DEI education that engages team members to think critically and reflect deeply. Keeping DEI top of mind can encourage team members to be intentional about equity and inclusion when interacting with them virtually and when engaging with customers, clients, and the world around them.
Consider sharing a DEI-related word or theme of the day, week, or month. As a starting point, to support your team in speaking out against various forms of discrimination or social inequity that arise during times of crisis, consider words such as "racism" and "xenophobia" as well as "privilege." This can help your team understand how being able to work remotely instead of being out in the field in times of crisis is a privilege.
Check out our various resources.
“We can make remote working models more accessible and inclusive by inviting everyone to outline what they need to do their work and thrive. Uncertainty feels like the only thing we can be certain of right now, but by allowing people to share, we can build empathy and foster understanding that lasts beyond this moment and forever transforms our approach to well-being and work.” - Prasanna Ranganathan, Diversity and Belonging Lead at Shopify
This resource reflects a particular moment in time, North America in 2021, and like most things in life, will eventually need updates. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, and languages. As such, this resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date.
Please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com if you have any thoughts, questions, or comments.