Building an Inclusive Company Culture With a Remote Team

While remote work makes the working world as a whole slightly more inclusive, such as by removing geography as a factor for job eligibility and opening up more viable opportunities to workers with disabilities, that doesn't mean the inclusivity gap is gone.

Anja Simic on
August 25, 2021

One of the most significant challenges of running a successful company is keeping individual employees happy, productive, engaged, and working towards the company's greater good. And it doesn't stop at the individual employee level. You also have to take a step back and think about how everyone works together collectively and what values and systems are in place to help them do that—because that's what makes your company culture

This challenge becomes even more complex as COVID-19 rapidly reshapes the workplace to being far less office-centric and much more distributed and remote. Countless major companies have already opted to go remote-first or make the office permanently optional, including Microsoft, Shopify, Nationwide, Pinterest, Deutsche Bank, with many more sure to follow.

Being inclusive in a remote work world

Remote work is just one major factor impacting your culture. You also have inclusion to think about and this is the question you have to ask yourself: In this new remote world, are all of my employees being treated fairly and not being excluded from moments, opportunities, and experiences (whether intentionally or not)? 
While remote work makes the working world as a whole slightly more inclusive, such as by removing geography as a factor for job eligibility and opening up more viable opportunities to workers with disabilities, that doesn't mean the inclusivity gap is gone. Far from it, actually. If anything, the current transition to a flexible, work-from-anywhere setup for many companies makes inclusivity within companies—or the lack of it— an even bigger concern for talent acquisition and retention. 
There's research that illustrates why that is.

So what specific things can company leaders do? Here are 3 key steps to building an inclusive remote company culture in your organization:

1. Promote transparency and honest communication

The first step to fostering inclusivity in your workplace is to be transparent about your intentions to become more inclusive and then take time to understand how each employee currently is (or is not) experiencing inclusion. This is crucial in a remote setting because, unlike in an office where things get communicated through the grapevine, remote employees only know what you communicate directly to them.

It doesn't have to be complicated. Promoting transparency and honest communication around workplace inclusion for your remote team is as simple as talking about the topic more frequently, telling your team that it’s a company focus area, and asking for employees' perspectives in 1-v-1 meetings or small team discussions, surveys, or virtual all-hands. The key is to be intentional and consistent as you do these things. 
Remember, too, that communication is a two-way street and that employees may be hesitant to share their own experiences or thoughts about inclusion for fear of being judged or punished. The remedy is to create an environment of psychological safety where employees know that company leaders will listen to what they have to say and won't judge them unfairly. The more people hear and feel that their opinions matter, the more comfortable they will feel expressing them. Open communication is also a great deterrent to stress and burnout, which is rampant among remote teams this year due to the lasting impacts of the pandemic.

2. Check your values, traditions, and systems

Employers can (and do) give a lot of lip service about being and becoming inclusive, also called "virtue signaling”, but what matters is whether they actually back those claims up with meaningful action. And it's not just about what new DEI programs they roll out this year. It's also about assessing long-running company traditions and systems to identify and remove the exclusionary practices and biases built into them.

For example, if your hiring process has always required a college degree, even when a specific educational background isn't essential to the role's success (e.g., most functions that aren't in medicine, nursing, law, and certain sciences and trades) –it's time to do away with that practice. 

Another example is how advancement opportunities and access to leadership look like in your company. Take a look at how many women and minorities work at your company– are they being put in leadership positions and given the same opportunities to grow as others on your team? If not, get to the bottom of why that is and know that it's not because the talent isn't there: women of color are entering the workforce at higher rates than ever before, but representation has yet to reach an equitable level. 

And finally, a set of traditions that every company has that's usually rife with biases and inherently exclusive in some way—employee benefits. In going remote, many companies are fortunately already in the process of revamping their benefits with things like wellness apps and other location-agnostic perks, or more popularly, offering a remote work stipend. Offering the latter is ideal for creating an inclusive culture because it's inclusive by default: an employee stipend allows each employee to choose what's meaningful to them and doesn't tie them to specific vendors, needs, or preferences. So, updating your remote work benefits with a flexible stipend is an easy-to-implement yet impactful way to build the inclusive culture your employees want.

3. Lead by example

When it comes to any workplace culture, including a remote or hybrid one, positive leadership behavior significantly correlates with employee satisfaction and engagement. In other words, don't expect your employees to be happy about the culture and demonstrate inclusive values themselves if those at the top don't also do the same. This matters particularly in manager and report relationships, as 57% of employees quit because of their bosses. 

That said, successfully fostering an inclusive company culture means having a leadership team and individual people managers who:

  • are inclusive in day-to-day actions
  • use inclusive words
  • support and promote inclusive practices throughout the organization

Inclusive leaders build inclusive teams, which is the foundation you need to have for a truly inclusive company culture.

Conclusion

With the future of the workplace already going through massive changes, companies today have an opportunity to reimagine employee experiences creatively. Because while most employers consider fostering an inclusive company culture as only a challenge and a burden, it really is a valuable opportunity. An opportunity for companies to take advantage of this historic shift towards remote work to rewrite the norms in their organization and ensure genuine inclusivity and fairness for all their employees. 

Compt is employee stipend and rewards software that helps companies offer fully customized stipends for health and wellness, learning, family, and more. Compt streamlines monthly payroll reimbursements, ensures tax compliance, and automates employee communications so that supporting your team feels more like fun and less like work.

One of the most significant challenges of running a successful company is keeping individual employees happy, productive, engaged, and working towards the company's greater good. And it doesn't stop at the individual employee level. You also have to take a step back and think about how everyone works together collectively and what values and systems are in place to help them do that—because that's what makes your company culture

This challenge becomes even more complex as COVID-19 rapidly reshapes the workplace to being far less office-centric and much more distributed and remote. Countless major companies have already opted to go remote-first or make the office permanently optional, including Microsoft, Shopify, Nationwide, Pinterest, Deutsche Bank, with many more sure to follow.

Being inclusive in a remote work world

Remote work is just one major factor impacting your culture. You also have inclusion to think about and this is the question you have to ask yourself: In this new remote world, are all of my employees being treated fairly and not being excluded from moments, opportunities, and experiences (whether intentionally or not)? 
While remote work makes the working world as a whole slightly more inclusive, such as by removing geography as a factor for job eligibility and opening up more viable opportunities to workers with disabilities, that doesn't mean the inclusivity gap is gone. Far from it, actually. If anything, the current transition to a flexible, work-from-anywhere setup for many companies makes inclusivity within companies—or the lack of it— an even bigger concern for talent acquisition and retention. 
There's research that illustrates why that is.

So what specific things can company leaders do? Here are 3 key steps to building an inclusive remote company culture in your organization:

1. Promote transparency and honest communication

The first step to fostering inclusivity in your workplace is to be transparent about your intentions to become more inclusive and then take time to understand how each employee currently is (or is not) experiencing inclusion. This is crucial in a remote setting because, unlike in an office where things get communicated through the grapevine, remote employees only know what you communicate directly to them.

It doesn't have to be complicated. Promoting transparency and honest communication around workplace inclusion for your remote team is as simple as talking about the topic more frequently, telling your team that it’s a company focus area, and asking for employees' perspectives in 1-v-1 meetings or small team discussions, surveys, or virtual all-hands. The key is to be intentional and consistent as you do these things. 
Remember, too, that communication is a two-way street and that employees may be hesitant to share their own experiences or thoughts about inclusion for fear of being judged or punished. The remedy is to create an environment of psychological safety where employees know that company leaders will listen to what they have to say and won't judge them unfairly. The more people hear and feel that their opinions matter, the more comfortable they will feel expressing them. Open communication is also a great deterrent to stress and burnout, which is rampant among remote teams this year due to the lasting impacts of the pandemic.

2. Check your values, traditions, and systems

Employers can (and do) give a lot of lip service about being and becoming inclusive, also called "virtue signaling”, but what matters is whether they actually back those claims up with meaningful action. And it's not just about what new DEI programs they roll out this year. It's also about assessing long-running company traditions and systems to identify and remove the exclusionary practices and biases built into them.

For example, if your hiring process has always required a college degree, even when a specific educational background isn't essential to the role's success (e.g., most functions that aren't in medicine, nursing, law, and certain sciences and trades) –it's time to do away with that practice. 

Another example is how advancement opportunities and access to leadership look like in your company. Take a look at how many women and minorities work at your company– are they being put in leadership positions and given the same opportunities to grow as others on your team? If not, get to the bottom of why that is and know that it's not because the talent isn't there: women of color are entering the workforce at higher rates than ever before, but representation has yet to reach an equitable level. 

And finally, a set of traditions that every company has that's usually rife with biases and inherently exclusive in some way—employee benefits. In going remote, many companies are fortunately already in the process of revamping their benefits with things like wellness apps and other location-agnostic perks, or more popularly, offering a remote work stipend. Offering the latter is ideal for creating an inclusive culture because it's inclusive by default: an employee stipend allows each employee to choose what's meaningful to them and doesn't tie them to specific vendors, needs, or preferences. So, updating your remote work benefits with a flexible stipend is an easy-to-implement yet impactful way to build the inclusive culture your employees want.

3. Lead by example

When it comes to any workplace culture, including a remote or hybrid one, positive leadership behavior significantly correlates with employee satisfaction and engagement. In other words, don't expect your employees to be happy about the culture and demonstrate inclusive values themselves if those at the top don't also do the same. This matters particularly in manager and report relationships, as 57% of employees quit because of their bosses. 

That said, successfully fostering an inclusive company culture means having a leadership team and individual people managers who:

  • are inclusive in day-to-day actions
  • use inclusive words
  • support and promote inclusive practices throughout the organization

Inclusive leaders build inclusive teams, which is the foundation you need to have for a truly inclusive company culture.

Conclusion

With the future of the workplace already going through massive changes, companies today have an opportunity to reimagine employee experiences creatively. Because while most employers consider fostering an inclusive company culture as only a challenge and a burden, it really is a valuable opportunity. An opportunity for companies to take advantage of this historic shift towards remote work to rewrite the norms in their organization and ensure genuine inclusivity and fairness for all their employees. 

Compt is employee stipend and rewards software that helps companies offer fully customized stipends for health and wellness, learning, family, and more. Compt streamlines monthly payroll reimbursements, ensures tax compliance, and automates employee communications so that supporting your team feels more like fun and less like work.