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ATD Blog

Should Remote Workers Be a Protected Class?

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to put a new spotlight on a once hotly contested idea: remote work. Remote work has been around for a while, and numerous studies have illuminated the pros and cons of it, but for many of us, the pandemic thrust this mode of work back into the forefront. While certain remote work best practices can be dusted off and reused, there are new ways of thinking that should be adopted, especially in the context of continuing to build an equitable and inclusive work culture.

Be intentional

The foundation of any great culture is intention, so be intentional about remote work in your organization. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Are certain job families more or less suited for remote work?
  • Should we leave remote work scheduling up to the individuals or ensure company-wide standards are in place?
  • What is the optimal setup to promote success for teammates just beginning their careers or new to the organization?
  • What kinds of investments need to be made to ensure that teammates who work remotely can do so productively and without compromising company data or intellectual property?
  • What are the time zone implications of remote work? Do we need to establish a company time zone to be able to create and protect deadlines?
  • Does the team have published working norms? And has everyone been given the opportunity to input on those working norms? For example, when to use chat and instant messaging versus video calls when someone has a question.


Care and feeding for the culture

Once intentional plans are in place, you can get back to cultural care and feeding. Numerous studies have shown that remote workers often feel disconnected and experience less belonging. To combat this phenomenon, consider implementing these best practices:

  • Zoom in. Sometimes, getting in a word during a meeting is hard when everyone is there in person. It’s even harder when most people are in the office and you are on the video conference line. Some organizations have tried to level the playing field by requiring all attendees to participate via video conference. If this doesn’t work for your organization, another best practice is to ask for the input of those on the conference line, especially if a long stretch has gone by with no input from them.
  • Check the pulse. As a leader, establish regular check-ins with your remote teammates. Some leaders set up daily check-ins. While this might not be the cadence for you, the key point is to establish a schedule that works for you and your teammates then stick to it. Also, revisit the schedule periodically to ensure that the cadence fits.
  • Show more of yourself. Remote workers, especially those who were thrust into this work style, feel vulnerable. And many leaders think that the way to deal with this is for them to show less vulnerability themselves. But research has turned this notion on its head. A recent article in Harvard Business Review cited being vulnerable as a best practice for leaders of remote teams and that by sharing their own angst, fears, and concerns these leaders were inspiring their teammates to do the same, thus increasing the sense of belonging for everyone.
  • Setting up for success. Just as you should be intentional about setting up the environment or structure for remote working, you also need to ensure that leaders are prepared. To that end, be intentional about establishing a learning journey for your leaders that covers topics like emotional intelligence, building trust, effective virtual communication, and incorporating social elements into virtual work relationships. You may also encourage a look at new topics like bursty communications, where ideas are given and responses provided quickly, as these communication bursts have been shown to generate greater productivity when used by remote teams.

You could also create a forum for best practices within your organization and use it to proactively seed the organization with ideas that support equity and inclusion. Lots of organizations are sponsoring virtual pizza parties. Why not sponsor a virtual social gathering where people are encouraged to make dishes based on their ethnic or national heritage? Give each chef 60 seconds to share about their dish as well.

Remote work is here to stay. With a little time and attention, we can ensure that we escape some of the pitfalls usually associated with this work modality. And, it turns out, all we have to do is try.

About the Author

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practitioner and leader, Clayton Sinclair, III has coached and advised thousands of professionals over the last 16 years through coaching, facilitated learning events, and enterprise-wide programs. A Certified Diversity Practitioner, Clayton has designed and led programs for corporate diversity councils and employee resource groups for companies across the United States looking to launch or propel their journeys to becoming a more inclusive and equitable environment. He is a subject matter expert in many areas related to DEI work including understanding group dynamics, having “crucial conversations”, the power of intersectionality, owning privilege, unconscious bias, becoming an “anti-racist”, alignment of intent/outcome, and more.

As director of DEI for Blue Ocean Brain, Clayton ensures that DEI knowledge and best practices are woven into their award-winning microlearning content. He also conducts webcasts and produces DEI specific works across a variety of topics.

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