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7 ways to balance leading inclusively and working from a distance

By 16th May 2022Blog
Mother working from home with daughter

Research tells us that 70% of the variance between one team’s performance and another’s is a result of how those people are managed.1

As leaders, what we do – and don’t do – significantly influences how included, engaged and happy our people feel, and that impacts their performance.

Being an inclusive and engaging leader makes us more effective, but it also unlocks the performance potential of our people.

A combination of unprecedented circumstances and extraordinary technology has gifted us an opportunity to forever transform where, when and how we work.

But engaging and inclusive environments don’t create themselves. And while tech is a great tool, that greater connectivity doesn’t necessarily lead to greater engagement.

Creating an inclusive team culture, where everyone feels safe, valued, and respected, whether we’re working in the office, at home, or from a distance; it’s down to us to get the balance right.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’

It can be easy to forget people or problems when we don’t share a physical space. Working from a distance or in a hybrid way requires conscious and continuous effort to build inclusive and engaged teams.

But where to start?

Axiom has been partnering some of the world’s leading organisations for more than 25 years to help leaders engage and build inclusive teams – often dispersed across counties, countries and continents. So, here we offer seven sure-fire ways to lead more inclusively, engagingly and effectively.

7 ways to be a more inclusive leader and build a better balance

1. Agree ways of working

Working at a distance, sometimes across time zones, gives our teams greater flexibility to work wherever and whenever is best for them. We don’t work in isolation though, so we still need to agree when and how our teams work together so everyone gets a fair chance to meaningfully contribute, access stretch projects and be in the running for promotional opportunities.

A simple team agreement can provide a more equitable framework for how and when people will be available to work collaboratively or be online to respond to requests. Once these parameters are agreed, it’s much easier to shift our attention to recognizing and rewarding output rather than input – i.e. rewarding results over the amount of time someone’s online, often at unsociable hours of the day.

2. Give our people equitable and consistent time with us

When our teams can’t see us or ‘pop by’, we need to give them certainty and consistency as to when we’ll spend time with them and for what purpose.

Little and often beats lapsed then lengthy, with more time needed in a virtual setting for one-to-ones. We also need to be equitable with our time, ensuring we don’t bias it in favour of some team members over others.

Giving colleagues real time and specific and actionable feedback is worth its weight in gold, as is giving credit when it’s due and recognising and celebrating success.

3. Acknowledge the wider context

There’s no disputing the world beyond, as well as at, work feels challenging right now. We don’t work in a vacuum. External factors impact how we think, feel and act. They also affect us all differently depending on our personal circumstances.

Acknowledging this difficult macro environment and letting people know it’s okay to talk about it and share how they feel can help ease minds and tensions and facilitate better focus.

4. Make time for informal conversations

Water cooler moments matter. Work is more than a pay cheque to most. If the pandemic taught us one thing it’s that the social aspects of work matter as much (if not more) than the money.

How included and engaged we feel at work is greatly determined by social snippets. When these can’t happen organically at the coffee machine, by the water cooler, or as we amble along corridors between meetings, we need to create time for them – either before meetings begin or by scheduling informal virtual coffees and catch ups.

5. Encourage everyone to show up authentically

Tech enables us to reveal more of ourselves when working remotely – our homes, our kids, our pets. These things not only impact our work, they also humanise us and make us more relatable.

As leaders we can demonstrate that it’s safe for others to show their true selves by using tech to reveal more of who we authentically are. This blog offers practical tips on how to use your camera to best effect in virtual meetings.

6. Make it easy for everyone to contribute

We each have different ways of working, learning and participating. If we don’t plan our interactions with intent, we can be exclusionary – designing all our meetings and communications as we prefer them, not how other participants might. Then we wonder why people don’t speak up or contribute!

Some techniques proven to promote inclusivity in meetings include: asking open questions, staying quiet for longer so others speak first, enquiring if quieter team members have anything to add, opening up chat boxes so people can contribute without having to speak, delaying immediate decision making to give reflectors time to feedback after meetings, and rotating who chairs.

7. Champion healthy debate

Teasing out different thinking and perspectives is what brings diversity and richness to our conversations. That leads to better outcomes and greater success. Employing a coaching style is useful for asking the types of questions that elicit healthy debate. Questions like:

  • Are we at risk of group think here?
  • What are we missing – I’m sure someone has an alternative view?
  • What challenges would our critics/competitors bring to this debate?

An inclusive, engaging and psychologically safe environment is largely created by our behaviours as leaders. Working from a distance provides us with an opportunity to recalibrate our teams, to work in ways that consciously promote inclusivity, which ultimately leads to happier people and higher performing teams.

Axiom’s passion is helping organisations realise their full potential through the actions of their own people. We inspire and equip leaders to take their teams with them on their journey to excellence. We provide leadership coaching and leadership skills development programmes that help cultivate inclusive, digitally-savvy and purposeful leaders. If you are a leader looking to develop yourself or your team, we’d love to partner with you

¹ Managers Account for 70% of variance in employee engagement, by Randall Beck and Jim Harter, Gallup, 21 April 2015.