Allyship is an important part of your organizational culture and foundational to the success of your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. But how do we build allies in the virtual or hybrid work environment? It all starts with relationships, and we know that can be done virtually: Here’s how.

Relationships are essential to allyship, and we need a lot of different types of relationships. Getting to know someone who has a different perspective than you is a great way to expand your thinking and your reach.

While most organizations believe in the value of the relationship, few are intentional about helping staff create them.

That’s why it’s important to identify the three different types of relationships that will connect you to others in the organization and help you become or find an ally.

Find Cross-functional Peer Groups

To build virtual allyship, the first type of relationship we need is the cross-functional relationship. As employees, we can become hyper-focused on our own work, our own department and our own team. Yet, that is only one part of a much larger organization. Our team fits into a larger picture. When we meet others from outside of our team, we can begin to learn more about what they do, what they want for the organization, and what keeps them up at night. This begins to expand our perspective of the organization — and of each other.

How can we build cross-functional peer relationships?

We can attend training or staff meetings, volunteer for diverse work teams, or join a professional network or employee resource group where we know other departments will be represented.

As you meet new people, ask questions like:

  • What is your team like?
  • What do you look forward to when you start work every day?
  • What have you found challenging here?
  • If you could do anything or make any change here, what would it be and why?

These questions give you insight into who they are as an employee but also as a person. As you build these relationships, you can begin to see challenges and opportunities from someone else’s perspective.

Why is this important?

In a LinkedIn Relationships @Work study of professionals throughout the world, 46% of respondents reported that having a friend at work was important to their overall happiness.

These relationships help us break down the loneliness that can occur at work. People want to be seen and heard. As you ask questions and build relationships, you are seeing and hearing the other person. And, as that relationship deepens, you are creating a connection that can lessen the feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Identify Cross-Generational Mentors

In addition to new peer groups, another important relationship is the cross-generational mentor. We all have different lived experiences based on many factors, including our age. Finding someone who is older or younger than you to learn from is a great way to broaden our perspectives.

How do we build cross-generational relationships?

  • Identify what you want to accomplish through the mentor relationship. Are you working toward a promotion and want the insight of someone who has been through that process before? Are you learning a new technology and want the insight of someone who uses it regularly? Are you a new parent wanting the insight of someone who has already figured out how to transition back into the workplace and maintain balance?
  • Consider who in your network already has that experience. Maybe it’s a past supervisor or a peer. Maybe it’s someone in another department or team. Consider your options and who may have the interest and capacity to support you as you accomplish your goals.
  • Deepen the relationship. Ask the possible mentor to meet with you, grab a virtual coffee, take a lunch break together, or even walk out the door at the same time in the evening if you’re both working in person. These small interactions can help build a deeper relationship.

Why is this important?

According to a study by SAP, employees who have mentors see more success in terms of promotions and career satisfaction.

Leverage Cross-Hierarchical Influencers

A final type of relationship that is important in building allyship is the one that crosses hierarchical lines. When senior leaders have relationships with more junior staff, they are creating open lines of communication and building trust.

When building relationships across the hierarchy, consider the person’s level of influence. It’s important to have people you can advocate for and people who can advocate for you at work. When you are not in the room, they can share your interests and celebrate your strengths.

Moving from Relationship to Allyship

What do these relationships have to do with allyship and how can they help us build on our DEI efforts? We want workers to feel like they belong, and a relationship is a great way to kickstart this process. We want more diverse voices heard. Again, building a relationship is a great way to begin amplifying diverse perspectives and voices. We want more equitable promotions, which can be achieved when we build relationships with and build up employees from underrepresented groups.

Real, deep relationships lead to allyship – which is the “action” that occurs because of the relationship.  When you know what someone from a different background is experiencing in the workplace, you can keep those experiences in mind, helping you create solutions or make decisions more equitably.

When you know what someone from a different background wants in their career, you can advocate for them more intentionally. When you know what strengths someone from a different background brings, you can amplify their voice and influence more effectively.

All of these actions, which are essential to allyship, begin with relationships. Use the tips outlined above to get started.