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6 Ways to Foster Inclusion at Work While Social Distancing

As COVID-19 continues to impact how businesses throughout the nation operate, organizations—like us at Extra Space Storage—have had to adjust how they interact with and engage employees on the fly. Many have allowed or even instructed their employees to work from home, drastically altering the employee experience. Though employees can effectively communicate digitally, things can sometimes get lost in translation without face-to-face interaction. If not addressed, these gaps can lead to misunderstandings that fracture inclusive work environments and decrease productivity.

Fortunately, there are steps organizations can take to engage and connect with employees despite the physical distance during this uncertain time. That’s why we recommend using these six tips to foster inclusion, improve communication, and increase efficiency while working from home.

1) Be Empathetic

When communicating with employees, try to consider the thoughts, motives, and feelings they’re experiencing at the moment. Everyone is dealing with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in their own way. Exercise patience and compassion when interacting with others, and be open to accommodating different schedules and communication preferences. Practicing empathy can help diffuse tense situations, avoid misunderstandings, and create stronger bonds among team members.

2) Build Trust

Trust is essential with remote teamwork. Teammates must be able to count on each other to accomplish tasks without the frequent updates that naturally occur while sharing a physical workspace. Be present, respond promptly to requests, provide substantive feedback, and establish continuous rapport to ensure team members don’t feel separated and become disengaged while working from home.

3) Build Connections

Physical separation from coworkers can cause employees to feel isolated from one another. You now need to make a concerted effort to build personal connections. Use video calls, emails, and chat applications to check in with employees about their lives, offer recognition for strong work, and ask about roadblocks employees are experiencing. You can also look for ways to connect the team, such as virtual lunches and digital group breaks. The more positive interactions you can create between employees during this time, the more they’ll remain connected and engaged.

4) Communicate with Intention

Think through what you’re going to say before you say it, and consider how someone might receive the information. This can help you anticipate confusion and ensure actions are aligned with the work you’re doing. Encourage discussion, feedback, and questions among team members to make sure everyone remains on the same page. Also, strive for openness so that everyone feels comfortable communicating.

5) Manage Miscommunication

Clarity is important in all workplace communication, but it becomes even more vital with remote work. Much is left to interpretation in text-based communication, and employees can’t use tone, facial expression, or nonverbal cues to add context to a conversation. To prevent misunderstandings that can hurt team relationships, practice evaluating emails and texts from a different perspective. Maybe even allow some time between writing an email and sending it so you can think about it some more. Being empathetic and understanding other perspectives can help you minimize miscommunication and maintain objectivity.

6) Be Open

Physical separation during social distancing can make team members cautious about sharing ideas, giving feedback, or asking questions, which removes opportunities to gain valuable perspective. Build strong relationships and make an effort to routinely source employee feedback while also recognizing good ideas. The more employees feel heard and valued, the more likely they are to communicate their thoughts and build the team’s collective knowledge, which creates a more cohesive unit.

Innovation, collaboration, and inclusion are just as possible in remote environments as in face-to-face interactions, but it takes focus to build and maintain good connections and trust while social distancing. The more empathic, open, and intentional you are, the more successful your team will be.