We are living in interesting times when we’ve never been so connected to each other through technology, but so socially disconnected at the same time. Everyone is seeking human connection and inclusion even while they sit by themselves at home or at an empty office. You know we’re in trouble when peoples’ social interaction has dwindled to posting emojis to each other via text or on social media.

The good news is that there are concrete steps that companies can take to promote meaningful, human engagement between employees and build a truly inclusive corporate culture even across remote and hybrid workplaces. Here are a few proven strategies.

1. Be Intentional and Conscious

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the norm was to work together in offices, which created opportunities to socialize and to get to know each other personally. Hallway conversations turned into lunches, and lunches turned into activities outside of work. Because people worked together in physical offices, you could count on co-workers living in your general vicinity. Many friendships (and even romantic relationships) sprung from office connections. And while there were always some percentage of people who felt excluded and marginalized pre-pandemic, there’s now a much larger group of people in this new world of remote and hybrid work who feel disconnected and excluded because we’re lacking those impromptu social interactions that build an inclusive foundation.

In lieu of these more organic situations to form connections, we need to be more intentional and deliberate in reaching out for the sole purpose of getting to know our co-workers as people, not just as team members. That may look like scheduling a virtual coffee or calling at the end of the work day and taking a walk while having a casual conversation with a co-worker. Being intentional and getting to know a team member sparks the empathy and social connection that is a foundational ingredient for building inclusion.

2. Develop and Practice Inclusion Skills

Instead of waiting for the right opportunistic social setting to spark a connection with someone, today it’s imperative to be intentional and proactive via identifiable skills that we can practice and develop. At Emtrain, we have identified several people “power” skills that will create inclusion. These include:

  • Systematic decision-making.
  • Valuing differences.
  • Empathy.
  • Allyship.

How do we practice those skills across remote and hybrid work environments? One way is to build those skills into the work environment itself. For example, Emtrain and Cisco have partnered to build an app within Webex that allows teams to seamlessly integrate workplace training videos into their work day. These video scenes let people see an example of what valuing differences looks like before they conduct a meeting. Seeing these skills modeled in the moment sets people up for success and allows them to develop and practice these skills themselves.

3. Measure the Behaviors and Skills and Improve

You can’t fix what you don’t measure. After modeling and practicing inclusion skills, the next step is to measure how people are doing at implementing them. This is a step that is far too often overlooked. When most of us were in the office working together, it was easier to get a handle on how employees felt about the culture of the workplace. You gathered around the conference table, met in the breakroom and had one-on-one meetings. And while that’s not a foolproof way to gauge how things are going, it certainly provided more data points than a phone call, video meeting or instant message. So, it becomes even more important to find other ways of measuring how well you are doing at creating an inclusive environment when the environment has drastically changed.

Simple and regular pulsing of employee attitudes via online and anonymous surveys are one tool. But even those have their limitations. Broad questions without context can leave things wide open to interpretation. It’s much better to tie those questions to a specific piece of training content that helps to focus their attention and garner more meaningful insights. For example, if you were to ask an employee if they felt like their managers were inclusive, they might broadly say yes, because their overall experience is a good one. But if you connect the question to a specific piece of training content that highlights specific situations, for example a video that models a desired skill or behavior, the employee will be more focused, and the answer could be different. This more targeted approach can help identify tricky culture issues that may not have been visible before.

Creating an inclusive culture can be a challenge no matter what the work environment is. When that environment includes workers who are in the office, at home, or both, it becomes an even greater hurdle. But with an intentional approach that focuses on building skills and measuring the result, it can be done. And in order to compete in today’s job market, and find and retain top talent, it must be done.