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Vir­tu­al inclu­sion and the val­ue of belonging. 

In the wake of COVID-19, virtual inclusion matters more than ever.

From the day you were born to your first day at a new job, or even that moment you dropped off your child at her first day of kindergarten, you've had the desire to “feel included” and “find your people.” Inclusion is at the heart of humanity. It’s hardwired into our DNA. Yet, 40% of people say they feel isolated at work. American businesses spend nearly $8 billion annually on diversity and inclusion trainings, only to miss the mark. To top it off, the generation gap for how boomers, gen-Xers and millennials define diversity and inclusion is more like a growing trench, according to a new study from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI).

Companies are blowing it. And now for the ultimate twist.

Your entire life up until this point has been centered around family gatherings, sports events, celebrations, work outings and conferences, business meetings, graduations, weddings, friendsgivings, vacays, get-aways, yoga classes, play dates and so much more. Suddenly, it all comes to a halt.

In the aftermath of the World Health Organization’s March 11 designation of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic, our shift into a new way of work, school and entertainment has changed overnight. To avoid gathering in large groups in order to practice social distancing from fellow humans and limit the spread of the virus, we’re confronted with an entirely new view on inclusion: virtual inclusion.

So how does the idea of inclusion change when physical connectedness isn’t an option? What do we gain or lose when our relationships and work environments have no choice but to go virtual? Let’s dig in:

  • What is virtual inclusion
  • Why virtual inclusion matters
  • How to know if you’re getting it right

What is virtual inclusion?

I’ve always liked this analogy: Inclusion is like being at home in someone else’s house rather than just being a guest.

Younger generations view inclusion as acceptance of their thoughts and opinions, and openness from leadership to have them and their ideas included in meetings. More traditional generations view inclusion as a moral and legal imperative – the right thing to do to achieve equality and, often, compliance. This disconnect can sometimes cause business hardship and clashes between people and vertical department levels.

So how can virtual inclusion help with this? First, see it as an opportunity to bring different groups of people together in new ways to build a better way for your team or business to work and collaborate – and not just for today, but for the future. Here you are, looking at yourself in a gallery of faces on your computer screen. This is your chance to do things differently. How will you change it up this time? Will you engage your team in different ways? Perhaps you'll meet more often or structure your time and priorities differently (hopefully better), or even have other team members lead meetings about various topics. Maybe recommend each associate learn something new during this time - or switch your scheduled happy hour for a "virtual" one. Virtual inclusivity isn't the opposite of inclusion just because your platform has changed.

Why virtual inclusion matters.

Experiencing healthy inclusion among your friends, family and colleagues is important. The best feeling in the world is to feel wanted – part of something and valued. Being included and able to comfortably participate can do wonders not only for someone’s productivity and confidence, but also their mental state overall.

In lieu of face-to-face interactions, building a virtually inclusive community can only bring good things. It requires active participation and support from all areas. In the workplace, it’s about doing the right thing for your people during a difficult time, and trusting and treating everyone fairly as you navigate and enforce changes across your organization to work remote. It’s also about ensuring they all have the tools to do their job. At home, it may mean looking into new and fun ways for your children to communicate with their friends or grandparents.

For managers, it could be something as simple as bringing a problem situation to your entire team over a video conference to solve together, rather than a select few individuals. Get creative when it comes to fostering a good workplace culture for remote employees. Virtual-friendly meetings, sharing the future company vision, and celebrating milestones – anything you can do to create a feeling that employees are not just working separately, but are connected to your company and connected to a team – is worthwhile.

If you truly want to show your workforce you care about each and every one of them, you must ask for their feedback: yes, the surprising power of simply asking coworkers how they’re doing.

How to know if you're getting it right.

Inclusion isn’t a feeling that someone has…if that were true then we would never achieve the goal since inclusion would be so subjective...Feeling included or not is a byproduct of an inclusive culture.” - Deborah Plummer, Phd, psychologist and principal consultant at DL Plummer and Associates.

At Assurity, inclusion has long been an aspirational value. We strive every day to create a more inclusive culture for our people, and today we’re working on new and better ways to connect our associates, distributors and customers together through the use of technology.

The best way to know if you’re getting inclusion right – virtually or otherwise – is to ask. Many companies today survey their employees to gauge engagement and overall job satisfaction. An often-cited Gallup study has pegged the cost of disengaged employees at up to $450 billion per year in lost productivity. The impact of the lack of inclusion in your culture could hit your balance sheet hard.

In closing, now is the time to embrace virtual inclusion more than ever. People are looking for guidance on how to stay connected while also being creative in how they take on teamwork and collaboration, all the while managing their life in the wake of school closures across the country.

Check out Assurity’s guide on Best Practices for Working Remote.
If you want to build a tru­ly inclu­sive cul­ture – one that lever­ages every individual’s pas­sion, com­mit­ment and inno­va­tion, and ele­vates employ­ee engage­ment, empow­er­ment and authen­tic­i­ty – you should be will­ing to break down the nar­row walls that sur­round diver­si­ty and inclu­sion, and lim­it their reach. If you don’t know where to start, ask your employ­ees. Every one of them wants to be heard.”

Gallup Organization