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Belonging in a remote world

When many of us are working virtually for most, if not all, the week, how do business leaders create a sense of belonging with their teams? It’s an important question, because there’s so many benefits when employees feel like they belong.
Diversity Partners Belonging in a remote world

One recent study, for example, found high belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days[1]. Workplace surveys have also shown that feelings of belonging are consistently correlated with employee engagement. That correlation is particularly strong for under-represented groups in our workplaces[2].

To bring this to life, we recently asked a large group of leaders during a workshop to reflect on a time at work where they felt a high sense of belonging. They used words like ‘accepted’, ‘valued’, ‘confident’, ‘secure’, ‘motivated’, ‘empowered’, ‘free’, ‘productive’ and ‘energised’. It’s not hard, then, to see why performance and engagement improves.

Belonging is ‘the topic of the day’ says global leadership expert Josh Bersin after talking with diversity and inclusion leaders recently. Bersin argues belonging is the most important goal of D&I programs: ‘Diversity is a strategy; Inclusion is a goal; Belonging is a feeling’[3].

“Belonging is a feeling we can all understand, and it makes the D&I program become real. Ask people if they feel they are included, feel they have power over their assignments, feel they are in the know, and feel that their ideas are valued.”

Josh Bersin

Working remotely presents new and different challenges to creating a sense of belonging at work – especially in teams where new colleagues have started without any face-to-face contact with peers over the past six months. Virtual inclusivity is key.

For leaders, this means adapting and learning new skills to build trust and psychological safety, to replicate corridor conversations, to promote diversity of thinking approaches in virtual meetings, and to recognise and challenge unconscious biases that can result in team members feeling excluded or that they don’t belong.

These were the themes of a recent 90 minute online workshop we facilitated with 70 leaders of the Technology division of a national health insurance organisation. Reflecting their significant commitment to the topic, the CIO scheduled the session to follow their opening address for the Strategy Offsite.

Recognising the particular challenges for those of us in lockdown Melbourne, we also explored the importance of prioritising (and adjusting) healthy routines and habits to manage the blurring of work and home, and to maintain good mental health.

Here’s a few comments we received at the end of the session:

“Thank you…with all of these great ideas, our teams won’t know what’s hit them now!”

“Very insightful and useful”

“Wonderful session”

·“Thank you, this was excellent”

“What a great session during the offsite! So much chat and engagement going on…which was so great to see.”

The participants shared a range of actions they’ll take, and insights gained – ranging from immediate practical new habits to more reflective, long-term impacts to create a sense of belonging and connection in a world that is unlikely to ever return to what it was a year ago.

“A quick 15 min call just to chat with someone – no agenda. Refreshes the energy and allows for that coffee break!”

“Commit to a morning “commute” routine to set up the day”

“Being more intentional in my ‘third space’ (between work and home) and looking out for bias in myself and others”

“Not always relying on the same ‘go to’ person – getting a range of views”

“Being more aware of biases that lead to a thought cascade and limit diversity of thinking”

“Shifting my focus to energy management, rather than time management”

“Will try to be more vulnerable and supportive with my team – asking ‘what they are up against’ and ‘how can I help?’”

This workshop, which we’ve called ‘Belonging in a remote world’, draws on our knowledge and extensive experience in working with organisations in the fields of diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias, inclusive leadership, flexible and remote working, business psychology and decision-making. It runs for 90 mins, with lots of opportunities for participation through the chat function, quizzes, reflective breaks, and video interaction.

It’s another way of expanding our commitment to making organisations better – for everyone.

Here’s a few more practical tips to support diversity, inclusion and belonging when working remotely:

  1. Ask the team for the best times to schedule meetings
  2. Invite input from the team on how to maintain informal ‘corridor conversations’ to meet customer, individual and team expectations
  3. Check in with each team member regularly – recreate a ‘bump into’ moment with a quick face time
  4. Run a wellbeing pulse survey
  5. Remember that not-knowing demonstrates humility; it’s a strength of an inclusive leader
  6. Pay attention to the diversity of the team mix – from both the perspective of demographics and thinking approaches – and actively seek out diverse views
  7. Be alert to unconscious biases that lead us to gravitate to people like us, with similar thinking approaches and backgrounds.

If you’d like more information about this new workshop, or any of our services, please contact us at or call our office.

[1] Evan W. Carr et all, ‘The Value of Belonging at Work’, Harvard Business Review, December 16, 2019. 
[2] Culture Amp, Six Ways to Foster Belonging in the Workplace: Taking Diversity and Inclusion to the Next Level
[3] John Bersin, ‘Why Belonging is Such a Big Issue in Business Today’, September 7, 2020.

About Dr Katie Spearritt

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