How to Be a Better Ally in the Remote Workplace

People with underrepresented identities continue to experience higher rates of stress, exhaustion, and burnout. This is due to a number of factors, including the many impacts of bias, microaggression, and marginalization at work.

As we rethink the future of work, leaders must incorporate new ways to build empathy and show up for their teams as allies and advocates. New managers, in particular, have an opportunity to use their influence to initiate positive change.

Our recent research shows that people who have at least one ally at their job are nearly twice as likely to be satisfied and feel like they belong. Allies help create psychologically safe workplaces where there is less turnover and more engaged, productive, and happier employees.

Managers have an additional responsibility to be role models in building inclusion across teams. As a new manager who is likely leading a remote or hybrid team, you may face unique challenges. But allyship actions in the remote world are not so different than the physical office. There are just a few additional things to keep in mind.

Learn, unlearn, relearn.

Allies in the workplace are people who make an effort to learn about their colleagues’ unique experiences, unlearn their biases and stereotypes, and relearn new skills with an understanding that there is an imbalance in opportunity that needs to change in order for everyone to succeed. On teams, this growth begins with managers initiating interactions that develop empathy and open communication.

In remote settings, you and your team are not going to have random water cooler chats or run into each other in the hall. If you want to build better relationships and gain a real understanding of one another, you need to be intentional and schedule those moments.

Re-create the water cooler.

Virtual team-building exercises or informal group activities are a great way to encourage remote or hybrid team members to connect. You might have a brown bag lunch or coffee/tea break where you arrange for everyone to have a meal or drinks sent to their homes, and enjoy each others’ company. This doesn’t need to be a big time commitment. Our team meets weekly for 30 minutes to catch up on each others’ lives with just two rules:

  • We divide the duration of the meeting by the number of people in our group, and use that as a time limit to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to talk.
  • We can’t talk about work.

Pro tip:  If your team is having trouble connecting over coffee breaks, there are plenty of virtual team bonding activities to consider. I’ve heard about teams building gingerbread houses, cooking, creating terrariums, making art, playing trivia or digital games, and more. Another easy option is to create a #water-cooler Slack or intranet channel.

Offer allyship learning.

Our research finds that most people want to learn about allyship through interactive training, and it is generally very successful. Ninety-seven percent of people who work in companies that offer allyship training have allies in their workplace. Many diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practitioners offer interactive remote skills-building workshops. Ask your DEI, human resources teams, or employee resource groups what learning opportunities they offer. As a leader, you now have the power to initiate these kinds of conversations.

Pro tip: Most companies have a professional development budget you might use to pay for learning experiences for yourself and your team. If you don’t have a learning and development budget, advocate for one.

Do no harm.

Allies make corrections to their own words and actions so that they don’t unintentionally harm people through biases and microaggressions. Most biases and microaggressions occur in both remote and physical workplaces, and some are even heightened in the virtual world.

Do not let microaggression go — in any setting.

Not surprisingly, our research shows that people who have experienced discrimination want their allies specifically to take action when someone harms or belittles them. Indigenous people, Black people, LGBTQIA+ folks, and women with disabilities prioritize this particular action of allyship much higher than their colleagues.

As a leader, you must practice consciousness and intentionality by regularly considering how your words and actions might make someone else feel. Be aware that biases and microaggressions are often unintentional and tend to emerge more often when we are stressed, fatigued, or in a hurry. In the virtual setting, a few common verbal microaggressions include: interrupting, taking more than your share of airtime, dismissing or taking credit for someone else’s ideas, diminishing someone’s experience, stereotyping, and using racist, sexist, or ableist language.

Pro tip: Before making decisions, you can check your biases by pausing and asking yourself:

  • What assumptions am I making?
  • How might biases be influencing my thoughts?
  • Am I treating all individuals on my team fairly?
  • Are my responses inclusive, respectful, and transparent?
Interrupt interruptions and other microaggressions.

Engaging in the practices above will not just help you recognize harmful behaviors in yourself, but also in your team members. For example, in video meetings and internal chat messages, speak up if you hear or see something inappropriate. Be mindful of who’s talking regularly and whose opinions haven’t been heard.

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