Five Ways to Integrate DEI into Virtual Workplace Practices

The chaotic rush to transition from an on-site to an off-site workforce has long since calmed. In 2021, companies have comfortably settled into the routine of connecting via virtual meetings, chats and other communications tools. Employees like the extra time they have gained to sleep in, exercise, or be with family and friends as well as the flexibility to work from any location with a Wi-Fi connection. Many company leaders recognize that staff productivity has not suffered and has frequently improved.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts have found this to be an interesting time for corporate DEI efforts. They say that the jury is still out on whether a 100-percent remote workforce helps or hurts in building a true culture of inclusion. However, some researchers are learning that it has had an equalizing effect. For one thing, employees can gain recognition based on the quality of their work rather than how good their office-networking skills are or how close they sit to their manager. In addition, wide-spread use of virtual communications tools can minimize signs of power during team and company-wide meetings: everyone’s image is the same size when it pops up on the video conference screen, and there is no seating hierarchy to show status. People can contribute ideas or opinions via a video meeting’s chat feature if they are uncomfortable speaking up. And using a chat/IM tool to touch base with or ask questions to workmates or managers throughout the day can feel less intimidating than knocking on a closed office door.

DEI experts stress that corporate leaders need to consciously leverage these technologies’ capabilities to help all employees feel seen and heard. It’s still possible to dominate a video conference or to cherry-pick employees for special projects. And teleworking staff may be feeling the stress of juggling work with family obligations, such as children attending school remotely or having to share a workspace or even computer resources with others.

Here are some ways to integrate inclusion into virtual workplace practices.

  1. Utilize video conferencing interactive features to increase engagement. Encourage chat comments throughout meetings and actively monitor them, pausing the proceedings to read and respond, and credit the poster. Use “raise hand” to solicit input and feedback, and call on participants to explain their choices.
  2. Establish casual, nonwork-related channels for open communication. Besides providing a platform for ongoing chats, these are good virtual venues for happy hours or coffee breaks to touch base, pass on kudos, and ask/answer questions. These could include ice-breaker activities such as games or quizzes, and everyone should be encouraged to attend, with the chat feature available for additional interaction.
  3. Regularly check on employees and colleagues. Ping team members to see how they are doing so no one feels forgotten or overlooked. Encourage them to feel free to contact you any time.
  4. Record and share important meetings. This lets employees in different time zones or those with family obligations that require staggered hours to stay in the loop.
  5. Ask for input and participation on corporate DEI efforts and initiatives. Make it clear these efforts are ongoing and that management welcomes suggestions and participation on training and awareness activities.

It’s likely that a majority remote workforce will continue to be the status quo. But this does not have to sideline corporate DEI efforts if managers intentionally incorporate inclusive practices into how everyone works, regardless of where they work.

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