Fostering inclusion during physical distancing

Fostering inclusion during physical distancing
By Jiten Patel (2020)

Notice I say physical distancing, not social distancing. This is because, in my opinion, they are too very different things; simply from interacting with my family and friends, who are in all corners (can the globe have corners, I hear you asking) of the world. During this pandemic, people are quickly learning what some of us have been doing forever, so to speak. We have been socially connecting across distances.

When my mum first came to the UK, she was only able to connect socially using airmail letters. The whole cycle of her writing and then receiving a reply from my grandparents was about 2 months. Time and technology have moved on. My mum, at the age of 82, connects instantly with her family overseas, but also, with us because we do not live nearby: socially connected, physically distant.
From a corporate perspective, especially with so many of us working from home, Inclusive Leaders take time to remind their teams about some basics that would occur naturally at work, e.g., chatting with colleagues at the coffee point, going to lunch with them etc. This can be replicated with the use of technology such as Microsoft Teams, Go Talk, and Zoom amongst others. Why not engage in a virtual coffee/lunch with your colleagues? Here are some simple tips:

·        Meetings do not have to be organised by your manager. Take the lead and host a virtual coffee or lunch meeting for your team (or a group of your colleagues).

·        This is a virtual coffee/lunch meeting. There is no need for a formal agenda. Think of it as the type of conversation you might have on a Monday morning when you are catching up on happenings with your colleagues, or when you go to lunch with them.

·        Let everyone stay unmuted and allow people to ‘chip in’ with comments as and when. It may feel a little chaotic to start with, but everyone will soon catch on. Some people are naturally shy and may need to be encouraged through appreciative inquiry.

·        Do not worry about what people may see in the background; this is not a video interview. The other day, when I was in such a video meeting, someone commented on a basket of cuddly toys behind me. It was great because I was able to talk about which toys belonged to which of my kids.

·        Try to introduce a fun element that everyone can participate in. I have heard of things as simple as everyone using a really zany greeting… anyone remember the Budweiser ad..…  ‘Wassuuuuuuup’. Check it out here. ‘Wassuuuuuuup’ may be too far out there for some so maybe aim for something that will not take colleagues too far out of their comfort zones. It could be something like everyone has their favourite cup/mug next to them. This is not about making people uncomfortable.

·        If you have children, parents, or others you care for (or even pets) at home, its ok to get them to come and say hello to your colleagues; you and they, are engaging with the new normal.

·        Encourage your colleagues NOT to always keep themselves on mute (either video or audio) while another person is talking. That sort of protocol is appropriate for formal meeting, not team coffee/lunch meets.

·        Finally, aim to avoid ‘shop talk’ during this coffee/lunch meet. We are all human and we all need to take a break; it will help to boost productivity and performance to have this social time with our colleagues.

Inclusive Leaders encourage, and actively promote, this type of interaction because it allows team members to create a sense of belonging and common support which is vital when we are in enforced lockdown.


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