We live in a very interesting, but stressful and turbulent times. According to many predictions, the isolation will not last a few weeks, but a few months; with many forecasting the situation to remain as it is today until the end of the year, best case- till autumn. Apologies for being grim and blunt and ruining your plans for holiday vacation.. But!
While it is very difficult for many to accept the inevitable change and disrupted reality, we need to acknowledge that the world will never be the same as it has been 2 months ago. Nothing is certain but death, taxes and an inevitable change. And although I started this article on a pessimistic note, I remain as positive and optimistic as ever; but instead of scaring whoever is reading this humble article, I invite you to embrace this change and think ahead:
How does the current ‘suddenly remote’ situation impact your team’s engagement, happiness, mental health and company culture?
There is no argument about that: it’s not easy for anyone today. For employed and freelancers, entrepreneurs and government workers, medical staff and check-out operators, teachers and parents, kids and students. With the sources like Forbes reporting that the pandemic and self-isolation are boosting mental health issues, sense of loneliness and self-esteem, we are in the need of a community and emotional support more than ever.
To start with it, in my humble opinion, (and everything in this article is my personal interpretation and has no intention in pushing my opinion to others), the term ‘social distancing’ is an extremely dangerous one. Why on earth would you want to distance yourself in the times of trouble/danger and uncertainty? Do you call your mum/dad/friends in the times of trouble or try to avoid them like a plague?
There is no need to come over to your friends house and have a ‘corona party’, but let’s separate the terms ‘social distancing’ and ‘physical distancing’ as they have two very different intentions. For those of you who are team leads, managers or company founders,
Now, more than ever, it is vital to practice social closeness
This doesn’t mean you all need to go back to the office: no physical proximity is required. It simply means you need to make extra steps to communicate with your employees in an informal way, maintaining trust, and ensuring that your employees feel engaged, motivated, included and physically & psychologically safe- something we all need a little more of right now. Now, more than ever, we need support, sense of belonging and a sparring partner. An engaged and inclusive community is the best way not to only keep afloat, get inspiration and manage mental health, but to also see opportunities where you would otherwise see a challenge if you were by yourself.
In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to briefly talk about the roles of diversity, inclusion, belonging, community building and safe space, and how they can potentially support your employee’s motivation, mental health and performance.
To be clear: I am not a mental health specialist; neither do I coach people on how to prevent burn-out or make the right life decisions ( although I am a certified executive coach). In my work as a diversity and inclusion specialist and a professional ecosystem/community builder, I connect people and organizations that have troubles understanding one another; and support diverse and often distributed teams to feel connected and included regardless of their cultural background, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation or personality. We, humans, are social creatures, and we best perform when we feel understood, accepted and can bring our ‘whole self’ to work without the fear of being judged or not accepted for who we are.
To put it simply, the most common misconception about ‘diversity’ that it has a direct positive impact on the teams’ performance, company revenue and culture success, which is generally wrong. Surprised?
Diversity, especially in the virtual setting, is only effective if it is managed.
For anyone who has ever tried deciding on a movie choice at a family gathering would understand- kids, teenagers, young adults, our aunt, your aging cousin and grandpa- all wanted to watch something different. And, unless all wishes are taken into account and someone takes a lead and finds consensus, no decision would be made. That’s where inclusion comes in. Managed diversity = inclusion. Not managed diversity = chaos, conflict & lack of understanding. Or, as some say,’ Diversity is a mix, Inclusion is making this mix work’. Or, ‘Diversity is being invited to a meeting, Inclusion is being asked for your opinion at that meeting, and Belonging is feeling comfortable enough to do so.
Think of your teams as you think of a community
What comes to mind when you think of a community? Most people say, it’s a sense of belonging, trust, acceptance, honesty, tolerance and understanding. Think of some communities you are part of. You probably first visited it with an intention to earn money, solve a specific problem, get fit, learn to dance/play an instrument/improve your public speaking skills- whatever. Why are you still there after several years? You’ve learned to dance, solved your problem, got fit, and are a professional speaker (think Toastmasters). People come for one thing, but they usually stay for a community.
The main objective of any community is to grow together while having a common goal guided by specific rules. A community has guidelines, objectives, strategy, performance and engagement measurements. An engaged and inclusive internal (also external- but we’ll talk about it in the next article) community is not only a great way to stay connected with your ‘suddenly distributed’ colleagues, get inspiration and manage mental health, but to also see a different perspective or opportunity that eluded you while you were all stuck in the office.
A company/university that fosters a sense of community and inclusion now, will be in a much better shape and with more engaged participants in a 6-month time compared to the organizations that do not take any steps in that direction.