How to Keep Remote Workers from Becoming Second-Class Citizens

Image description: Two women working on a laptop in a living room. Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

According to a recent study by the UK Office of National Statistics, remote workers put in more hours of unpaid overtime and take fewer sick days.

They are also less than half as likely to get promoted or receive bonuses as those who work mostly in-office. This is true even if you take age, industry, and occupation into account.

And if this weren’t concerning enough, consider why employees might elect to work from home. Members of federally protected groups could go remote to escape microaggressions, cover gaps in childcare, or work in spaces that better accommodate a disability.

If employers aren’t careful, they run the risk of further marginalizing these groups. This is wrong on a human level. It’s also risky from a litigation perspective.

Process is the New Sexy

The good news is that you can do things to keep your remote workers from becoming second-class citizens in a hybrid company. And it doesn’t even have to cost much. Creating an equitable office is more about retooling processes and mindsets than buying shiny software.

For example, think about how you hand out glamour assignments. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re the jobs that get people in front of leadership, and give them a chance to show high potential. In an inequitable hybrid workplace, a manager might see someone in the halls, and ask if the employee wants the assignment. The remote folks never get a chance to raise their hands.

A manager interested in equity has many different options. He or she might rotate assignments through the whole team. That way, everyone has a chance to participate. If you favour a more democratic approach, you can make a channel on the company messaging platform for upcoming opportunities, and post assignments that are up for grabs. If this option appeals to you, be sure to leave enough time for people who work flexible schdules to see and respond to the message.

This latter example is what we mean when we talk about an asynchronous, remote first workplace. And managers are often the difference between a company that says it’s remote first and actually behaving remote first.

Asynchronous Work Lets You Rob Peter to Pay Paul

The UK study mentioned earlier says that “homeworkers may be overlooked when being considered for a promotion due to reduced face-to-face interaction with colleagues and managers.” If you want to make sure your remote people get more face time with the people who can promote them, then you have to find the time for those activities somewhere.

Look at all of the meetings that you control. How many of them can be replaced with better documentation? If the information needs to be conveyed in a meeting, can that meeting be asynchronous?

Companies like Gitlab and Buffer have been using this type of meeting style for some time now. Gitlab says they use asynchronous communication for weekly announcements, new team member introductions, planning, quarterly team results recaps, and even as a way to cover workers who go on paid time off.

Use this reclaimed time to get your folks in front of leadership. Oragnize meet and greets, nominate your people for cross functional projects, or invite leadership to remote events to celebrate wins.

The Equity is in the Details

Making work equitable for your remote staff doesn’t have to mean taking big, splashy actions or spending a lot of money. Even something as simple changing how you push out announcements can have an outsize impact on equity.

Which is great, because that means you don’t have to wait for your company’s CEO to get on board before you invite that manager to your team meeting. You don’t have to wait before you tell your direct reports you’re going to try asynchronous weekly reports. With a little planning today, you can make your team more equitable, tomorrow.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

I have a 100 word story coming out in Scotland-based Epoch Press’ upcoming Transitions issue. I’ve started submitting to places with longer turn around times and I’m pleased as anything that I finally say that a story of mine is in a print mag.

Speaking of exciting developments, the trees are starting to change colour in earnest around my house. We’re always playing a game of Fall chicken in Vancouver. Will the leaves change before the rain washes them all away? Will the sun come out long enough for me to grab my kids and the camera? If everything aligns just right, tomorrow I’ll drag the kids into the forest so we can find some proper leaf piles to pillage. Wish me luck!

How to Tell if Your Remote Company Culture Needs a Reboot

Does your company culture energize or suck the life out of workers? Photo of a woman sleeping at her desk by Marcus Aurelius via Pexels

In the 1996 movie ‘Phenomenon,’ John Travolta plays George Malley, an ordinary man who develops the ability to learn and retain everything he reads. In one scene, he’s sitting in his house when some neighbors drive up and wave a book at him. “George!” They yell, “We need you to learn Portuguese!”

For many, the pandemic in March was our collective George Malley moment. We were going about our lives when suddenly we had to work remotely without a social safety net. Those first few months we were in survival mode. There was no time for deep thought or best practices. Business leaders and employees needed hacks and cheat sheets, not an esoteric conversation about meaning and fulfilment in remote work.

But here we are on the cusp of August. And honestly, some people still don’t have a lot of space for deep questions. Some of us are working while parenting. Others are trying to work in cramped living conditions, or in the ringing silence of isolation. Employees who haven’t been laid off are doing the work of multiple people. And all of us are dealing with the psychological effects that come from living in a pandemic.

Lead with Curiosity First

Good news for the time-strapped: Rebooting a culture doesn’t start with a grand gesture or a ten-point plan. Begin with reflection. When your company is at it’s best, what does that look like? Is the company friendly and productive? Energetic and data-driven? Write down some descriptive words or sentences.

Next, think about what those qualities look like on a day to day basis. If you said your company at its best is ‘a safe place to collaborate and try new things,’ then you might expect to see employees at all levels leading projects. Or perhaps you would see leadership asking for–and acting on–honest feedback. Write these ideas down as well.

There’s one very important caveat to keep in mind as you work through this exercise. It’s all too easy to stray from neutral actions into overly prescriptive descriptions of the “right” way to work.

Let’s take collaboration as an example. Saying ‘I expect that employees in a collaborative culture would reach out to different stakeholders when working on a project’ is neutral. Saying ’employees in collaborative cultures brainstorm in daily live meetings’ assumes that this is the only way to collaborate. Stick with the former and avoid the latter.

Next, Observe Your Company’s Current State

Once you have your list, it’s time to observe your remote company culture in action. When a company is distributed, it often uses different channels to communicate and disseminate information. Look at email strings, instant messaging chats, and video meetings. You might find it helpful to create a column for each communication channel and take notes over a period of time. How (and when) do employees and leaders talk to each other? Who gets to ask questions? Who influences decisions? What is the general tone in each medium?

Once you have this information, compare the results to your pre-pandemic company culture. Do things look better, the same, or worse than before COVID? Try to disprove your results. For example, you may decide that your company culture is just as collaborative now as it was before the pandemic, because you see employees talking through projects on Slack. Ask yourself, ‘Are the same three people influencing all of our project decisions? Are any groups consistently silent–or absent–during the collaborative process?’

As many of us have recently learned, testing can come with false positives and false negatives. Putting your conclusions through a second level of scrutiny can help you to minimize the level of error.

So how does your company culture stack up? Does your culture need a reboot? In my next post, we’ll discuss things you can do to tweak company culture, even if you aren’t the person in charge.

Behind the Scenes: Goings-On in the Douglas HQ

For those of you who are here just for the business articles, I’ll see you next week. The rest of this is pure frivolity.

Image is of three out of four Douglases laying out on a blanket at the beach. The fourth one was out swimming. Some of us were more excited to be there than others.

First, and most pressing, we are still pet rat-less. And my Betta fish of two and a half years died. I bought Mac the fish when he was already mature, so I’m hoping this was old age, but between the lack of rats and the death of my fish, I feel like I’m in the middle of a COVID-themed country song. The kids were less disappointed this week because I did a better job of managing their expectations. Fingers crossed that I have more rats in my house next week. And who would have ever thought that sentence would come out of my keyboard? Weird times, y’all. Weird times.

In more positive news, I won a grant to bring kids’ books to my local community. I run two little free libraries in my neighborhood and I asked the fine folks at UTown for funds to buy books for 6-12-year-olds. Saturday is the day I get to purchase the books. Next week I’ll start dispensing them. Feel free to call me Teresa Claus, because that’s what I feel like right now.

The kids are taking more online classes. About three weeks into my satire class I noticed that my son is basically trying to build his own comedy skits. So I put him in improv. As one does. He loves it, and we’ll probably continue with it once the school year starts. My daughter is taking Spanish from a teacher from Mexico. That last bit is important to me because I want her to pronounce things the way my family does. We can’t visit our loved ones in the States, but at least we can cuddle up to our shared heritage.

Hasta la próxima semana.