Over the last two years, the way we work has quickly and significantly evolved—and there is no going back. Even as pandemic-related restrictions ease in many geographies, virtual and hybrid working models are here to stay, presenting new challenges to building and maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture.
We recently held the latest in our series of virtual fireside chats to discuss these challenges with Mary McCarthy, Microsoft’s Readiness, People, and Culture Lead, Modern Life, Gaming and Customer Service. Moderated by Concentrix Director of External Marketing Tom Fitz, the conversation highlighted three best practices for ensuring everyone can be their authentic and best selves in virtual and hybrid work environments:
- Make the time and space for connections
- Be aware of how people like to learn and be included
- Be vulnerable, empathetic, and available
Below, we flesh out how each of these best practices can lead to virtual and hybrid workplace diversity at your organization.
1. Make the Time and Space for Connections
Most people deeply miss the social connections inherent to in-office work environments, so it is critical to employ different approaches to maintaining a sense of belonging. Successful strategies can range from fun, planned activities such as virtual coffee sessions and cooking classes to simple time allotments for connecting before and after meetings.
For example, many virtual teams at Microsoft start meetings five minutes later (e.g., 9:05 instead of 9:00) and end them five minutes earlier (e.g., 9:55 instead of 10:00). This gives people the option of joining early / staying later to catch up with colleagues or taking time to themselves for a wellness break.
Nurturing connections is also essential in learning, as the effectiveness of formal learning interventions may be lost in a virtual or hybrid environment. To ensure learning is equally available for everyone in ways that work for them, Microsoft has utilized Ask the Expert sessions, coaching circles, and mentoring circles where people can learn together and from each other.
These types of strategies provide the space and flexibility for people to learn and share openly about the challenges they face. With more connection comes a not only a greater awareness of individual circumstances, but also an opportunity to break down biases and understand other cultures and diverse experiences across your company
2. Be Aware of How People Like to Learn and Be Included
Another component of overcoming biases, fostering understanding, and supporting inclusion of diverse individuals is level-setting across your teams.
Microsoft uses two key tools to make this happen: an Inclusive Introduction Plan and a Team Agreement. To create the Inclusive Introduction Plan, which is done every time someone leaves or joins a team, each team member shares:
- Their background
- How they like to be included (e.g., some people are highly engaged but don’t like being on video, so they may prefer using emojis or thumbs up features in meetings)
- How they like to include others
- How they show up best as part of a virtual team
With the Inclusive Introduction Plan in place, the team then develops their Team Agreement: a playbook for understanding how people like to work (e.g., breaks they need, personal commitments, hours they work). When the time is taken to create a Team Agreement and Inclusive Introduction Plan—and make people feel comfortable enough to contribute to them—they can serve as powerful drivers of a more equitable environment where people don’t become invisible.
Beyond day-to-day team interactions, it is important that virtual and hybrid environments also include more formalized development opportunities to foster equity and a culture of belonging. For instance, Concentrix recently launched the Prism Diversity Leadership Program, a four-month virtual program designed to prepare underrepresented employees for the next step in their career journey. Programs like PRISM help to remove organizational barriers while growing personal and professional leadership skills from a culturally relevant and sensitive perspective.
3. Be Vulnerable, Empathetic, and Available
In a virtual or hybrid environment, people experience the company’s culture through interaction with leaders and managers. So, the best practices discussed above only work if leaders and managers are vulnerable, empathetic, and available for their team.
To build trust and an environment that is psychologically safe—irrespective of a person’s background—leaders and managers must model the right behaviors (e.g., say no to things, balance work/life priorities), coach with empathy, and demonstrate they’re here for their team members. This requires making yourself available more often to listen and understand what people are going through.
But that’s not all. It also requires making it safe for people to make mistakes and talk about things that are going wrong. Higher performing teams are more willing to admit their failures, so managers and leaders must set the example by freely sharing their mistakes. Ultimately, this vulnerability and empathy for everyone’s circumstances will set the foundation for an environment of learning and inclusion where every voice is heard, further contributing to virtual and hybrid workplace diversity.
The conversation on virtual and hybrid workplace diversity doesn’t stop here. We look forward to further discussions about this and other challenges facing today’s companies during future virtual fireside chats.
We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together.