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Fostering Connection in a Remote Environment

February 1, 2021

Connection. It’s what binds your people, your work and your values together, moving us towards your shared corporate purpose. And while we live in the most technologically connected era, for some, the prolonged shift to remote work has led to feelings of isolation and exclusion. Often hidden and rarely discussed, isolation and exclusion can afflict remote teams.

A 2020 “State of Remote Work” study, found that the second biggest drawback to remote work was loneliness[1]. What’s more, isolation and social exclusion most often happen in unintentional micro-moments that over time, can compound in the minds of your team members. While these scenarios may be inadvertent and perhaps even unmemorable for you as remote leaders, they can have profound physiological impacts on your team.

In fact, a study from the UBC Sauder School of Business revealed that the feeling of being ignored at work is actually worse for physical and mental well-being than workplace bullying[2]. Thus, while remote work is in many ways a collective experience, it is also a deeply individual one.

So, what do your people need from you to remain happy, productive and feeling successful in a remote context? The simple answer is: to feel connected and included in your organization, while also being confident about their place in it. To address these needs, your leaders can foster an inclusive environment by mindfully making inclusion and connection a daily practice on their teams.

3 Ways to Foster Inclusion Daily

  1. Mind the Micro-behaviors: Exclusion breeds in the subtleties. Seemingly minor acts, such as ignoring a team member’s morning greeting message, noticeably reading a chat message while on a 1:1 video conference or consistently showing up to a call ‘in a mood,’ can have observable negative impacts on your people. In a remote context, minor actions become amplified by the lack of informal interactions to offset these exclusionary behaviors. Combat these micro-behaviors by being:
    • Conscious of how you are being experienced by your employees.
    • Intentional about inclusively inviting team members to meetings, focusing your attention on the discussion and quieting distractions.
    • Mindful that the best leaders manage how they show up in the small moments, not just the big ones.
  2. Out of Sight, Top of Mind: Technology has created the ultimate illusion – that 24/7 reachability equates to increased human-to-human connectivity. Just because you have the ability to reach out, doesn’t mean you actually are – the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ syndrome is very much a real thing. And corporate relationships in particular put a lot of emphasis on the visible and impromptu connection points. As leaders though, you must make extra effort to be cognizant of your own exclusionary contributions to your team – no matter how unintentional they are. Here are some ways to keep your people top of mind:
    • Take 5: Take 5 minutes in your schedule every Friday to video call a team member not on your calendar this week. Think you don’t have time? Tie this habit to another habit, such as while waiting for your coffee to brew or before checking the mail.
    • Connect: Setup your high-potential employee(s) with an informal mentor or thought partner across the business. While you might not have time to connect with your hi-po regularly, someone else might be able to.
    • Amplify: Pay attention to who is quiet on your team calls and actively bring them into the dialogue. Return the conversation to someone who has been talked over or interrupted.
  3. Intentionally Inclusify: Strengthen resolve and connection by proactively ‘inclusifying’ your management practices. Inclusive leaders know that a culture of inclusion is the outcome of the consistent actions you do to create connection and a sense of belonging. Not sure where to start? Try one of these techniques:
    • Ensure Fairness Through Equity: Reorganize your schedule if your calendar or call logs consistently show the same people each week. Ensure you give team members equal time to connect with you and share their progress. Police team meetings to equalize the talking time of your quieter team members.
    • Be Aware of Halos and Horns: Challenge your natural tendency to see certain individuals as being able to ‘do no wrong,’ while other team members can ‘do nothing right.’ If you are always putting a ‘halo’ around your star performer and giving that person all of your attention – you are actively excluding everyone else from your purview. Remember to catch everyone in the act of doing something good and recognize their work.

Author: Carolyn Vasquez

Carolyn Vasquez is a talent development manager at Ascend Learning. She is responsible for the design, management and implementation of ongoing and new leadership and development initiatives across the Ascend organization. Carolyn holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a certified Brain-Based professional coach.