How do you foster a truly inclusive company culture? And how do you foster one in 2020, with a work environment that’s operating a lot differently than it used to? These are questions a lot of companies are asking right now, and as we continue to learn more about inclusivity and this concept of virtual inclusion, we wanted to share some insights:

Virtual inclusion is a term every company should know.

It’s always been important for companies to create a workplace where everyone feels included, engaged, and recognized. But now, most of us are physically separated from our colleagues and conducting all professional interactions through a bunch of tiny boxes on a screen. Given this reality, many companies are looking to learn more about the steps they should be taking to foster a sense of inclusion in this new environment.

A sense of belonging is powerful.

Humans have an innate desire to feel like they belong in their environment; to feel accepted and connected to others. According to a Harvard study, when people feel like they belong at work, they’re more productive, engaged, and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential. 

A few welcoming gestures go a long way.

Everyone has their own unique learning style, identity, and preferred way of communicating, and there are a lot of ways you can show respect for this uniqueness in a virtual forum. For example, you can invite people to update their username to their preferred pronoun; or let people know they don’t have to use their camera if they’d prefer not to; or invite people into smaller breakout discussions if they’re not as comfortable speaking in front of a large group. 

It’s also important to create space for people to engage. Let people know at the top of a meeting the best way for them to take part in the discussion, whether it be a dedicated Q&A session at the end of the meeting or an invitation to submit questions via chat. The overall goal is to get people engaging the way they prefer to engage. 

There’s no room for discrimination in a truly inclusive culture.

Discrimination is on everyone’s mind right now. Pride Month is upon us, and as Black Lives Matter protests continue around the world, we are all considering the deeply painful consequences of a group of people being systematically marginalized. More than ever, people are looking at company leaders to take a stance on discrimination of any kind, and implement policies that prevent it from happening within their organization.

Diverse employees need diverse content.

Diversity is important in the people you employ, and also in the content you create. If you’re hosting a webinar, consider using panelists that represent a diverse range of voices. Or if you’re planning a company-wide townhall, plan to cover topics that speak to a range of identities and perspectives. Even the images in your presentation should strive to represent a level of diversity that makes all of your team members feel considered. 

You may also want to consider creating or providing content specifically focused on inclusivity. Just because we’re all working remotely doesn’t mean we can’t educate ourselves about inclusivity through virtual diversity training and other learning & development opportunities. As an example, this week we’re welcoming everyone on the Platterz team to sit in on a webinar about Comparative Suffering hosted by successful leadership coach, Natalie Dumond. 

Accessibility is everything.

Some of us take for granted that we have a fast internet connection or unlimited access to a computer. But everyone’s home-office reality is different right now and companies should give a second thought to how they can be accommodating. For example, if you’ve set up a video meeting, make sure attendees know they’re welcome to join by phone, and offer to send any presentation materials ahead of time so they can review on their own. 

Conversations that aren’t about work are actually really important. 

The water cooler chats, the kitchen catch-ups, the hallway run-ins… these daily moments of connection are critical for making people feel a sense of belonging in a company culture, and right now they’re an impossibility for most of us. One way to bring these moments into a virtual forum is to reserve a few minutes at the beginning or end of every meeting and invite people to casually share what’s on their mind and express how they’re feeling in general. 

If you give them a platform, they will speak.

Virtual inclusion (and inclusion in general) is about empowering your employees to express themselves and share their perspectives. One great way to amplify diverse voices within your culture is to create committees that focus on diverse interests. At Platterz we have our Women at Platterz committee, Diversity & Belonging committee and our PlanettLoverz committee, each designed to create space for employees to voice their perspective on issues that matter to them outside of work.

Companies are looking at perks in a whole new way.

Perks and benefits play a big role in making employees feel welcomed in the workplace. But until this year, many of the day-to-day benefits available to employees centred around the office – things like fresh coffee, snacks, catered lunches, and happy hour. Since the traditional office experience is on hold, companies need to reexamine what it means to support their employees on a day-to-day basis. 

Not only are employees’ needs changing with the reality of working from home, but everyone’s home environment is unique, so everyone’s needs are unique too. That’s why we launched Treat, the prepaid card that gives remote employees access to services they value (from groceries to online classes to wifi), while the company controls the budget. To set up a Treat plan for your team, start here

There’s only one way to measure the success of your inclusion practices. 

A lot of companies struggle with measuring how successfully inclusive they are, because there’s no way to measure everyone’s individual feelings. There’s no algorithm or calculator or consultant you can turn to to find out if your virtual inclusion initiatives are effective. The only way to find out how included your employees feel is to ask them. 

“If you want to build a tru­ly inclu­sive cul­ture, you should be will­ing to break down the walls that sur­round diver­si­ty and inclu­sion. If you don’t know where to start, ask your employ­ees. Every one of them wants to be heard.” Gallup Organization

It’s Pride Month and we’re in the midst of an historical global outcry for equal rights, so inclusivity is definitely a trending topic. But it’s so much more than a trend. Creating an environment where every individual feels a sense of belonging – that’s how you build a strong culture. As companies reevaluate how their culture thrives in the wake of a pandemic, now is the perfect opportunity to reevaluate what your inclusivity policies look like too. 

If you read this before June 18, you should definitely book a seat for our next Platterz Roundtable, where we’ll hear from culture leaders on what virtual inclusion means to them.