Creating an inclusive environment amongst a team of 100+ spread across 15 offices presents some challenges. Now, in a world where we can’t travel or work hand-in-hand with our colleagues, a disparately located team could feel even more distant. Since 2017, I’ve served as the leader of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Americas Research team, a diverse group of individuals who partner with the firm’s consultants to execute executive searches for the world’s most prominent organizations. Over the past two years, we’ve grown the team considerably to meet the needs of the bullish economy. Of course, things have shifted in recent months that have presented new challenges.
In the current “Groundhog Day” environment, I’ve come to learn a new way of operating. In honor of Pride Month, a time when we will be fostering inclusion while spending time apart, here are five learnings I’ve reflected on during this crisis.
Have a plan
Having a plan—even if it changes weekly—is important to ensure motivation and productivity. There are those who remain busy while others have growing capacity. But when the work does slow down, it is helpful to outline a plan for continued value-added opportunities, and to provide the team a voice in shaping that plan. Sometimes this means asking for greater flexibility from the team to work in areas outside their comfort zones. Other times it may mean developing longer-term projects to ensure greater productivity when the economy rebounds. Regardless, having a plan can put people at ease, letting them know they are valued and have meaningful work to contribute.
Just because we are alone or separated from our colleagues doesn’t mean there aren’t still things to celebrate. I’ve seen my team hold virtual baby showers, celebrate birthdays over Zoom, put added emphasis on the teamwork related to completing our searches…and a colleague even sent me a jumbo bag of Peanut M&Ms (my favorite) just to say ‘thanks.’ It is important for us to keep up the congratulatory components of our day-to-day, on both the professional and personal fronts.
Gather employees for common experiences
In my 500+ conversations since COVID-19 entered our world, I’ve noticed one thing everyone has in common: we are all working through this situation in our own way. No one person or family has exactly the same challenges as another and we know that women and minority groups are disproportionately impacted in negative ways.
In light of this, it is essential to bring people together for common experiences so they can build connections and have natural support when they need it. Some ideas include enabling small group discussions for those with similar experiences (i.e. teaching their middle school kids, managing life as a single parent, living alone, etc.) and keeping up small group lunches you would normally have at the office.
Make time for the 1:1 conversations
Individual connection is critically important in these times of solitude. Group Zoom meetings focused on common experiences are great, especially for the extroverted crowd, and they do help bring a sense of community. However, as a manager, I’ve gained insight into my team and how they can optimally function through one-on-one conversations. In the “old days,” I traveled to our offices regularly to meet with my team members. Now, 1:1 video meetings allow me to understand diverse perspectives and personalities and how to best position each individual for success in this remote environment.
I am mindful of a few things when making inclusive yet individualized plans:
- Who works best independently?
- Who is motivated by a more collaborative approach?
- What is the appropriate cadence for individual check-ins?
- Are there people who need more guidance or generally exhibit higher levels of anxiety in stressful situations?
- Do people have the opportunity to talk about how they are coping?
Be transparent and honest
This is a time when being vulnerable is okay in a professional setting. In fact, I’ve seen my team be appreciative and open when I acknowledge that I’m dealing with challenges as well. From a more direct work perspective, it is important to be as honest as you can regarding workload management, workforce planning, and job stability. Managers don’t have all the answers, and our bosses don’t have them all either—but we’re in this together. To that point, my biggest learning is that you have to over-communicate, to a point. Provide people multiple opportunities to hear and absorb information, but don’t shove it down their throats and require teams to attend every meeting to enforce a point (the latter will scare people and create additional problems).
If we lose sight of inclusivity in tough times, it creates added challenges down the road and lost credibility both in leaders and in your company. Practicing inclusive leadership, leading with empathy, compassion and courage can only foster a better environment for all.
And last, on a personal note, I’m going to miss RRA Pride this year—it’s a time when our office kitchen is extra-colorful with Pride flags, rainbow decorations, profiles of LGBTQ+ leaders, and when we throw one of the best happy hour gatherings of the year. This June, while plans are still in the works, we’re looking to hold a virtual parade, or hosting a roundtable (or Brady Bunch-esque Zoom call) discussion about LGBTQ+ challenges in the workplace.
The world has come together in ways we haven’t seen in a generation, and it is my hope that this has been a recalibration of our values and priorities. The rainbow has been a symbol of hope through this pandemic, and this hope for a better, more inclusive time is one reason why the rainbow has become a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s harness this hope to continue coming together and ensuring all voices are accepted, heard and, most importantly, kept safe and healthy.