Virtual Inclusivity Blog

Building an Inclusive Virtual Workplace Requires Respect, Civility and a Few Simple Rules


Inclusivity is grounded in individual and collective selfawareness and showing regard for each other as valued human beings. Building inclusivity in a virtual workplace requires a special effort — committing to certain behaviors, aligning expectations and adopting some simple rules. When this isn’t done, or isn’t done well, staff may experience lower engagement individually and with their work teams, potentially leading to decreased communication and productivity. 

Respect and civility are the foundation 
At the foundation of inclusivity are three simple behaviors: Acknowledge others, actively listen, and act with respect and civility — polite and courteous behavior. These behaviors, or the lack thereof, can impact other’s sense of competence and very identity. If you want to promote and sustain an inclusive workplace, you have to model these behaviors continuously. It begins with you, and others will follow your lead. 

We all have pretty clear ideas about behavioral norms in the onsite workplace expectations of how we should behave. A virtual workplace requires the same. In Tips for Leaders to Manage Virtual Teams, Suntiva recommends establishing ground rules and expectations. To do this, start the discussion with team members around assumed expectations and collectively agree to shared expectations that demonstrate respect and civility. Include time on the meeting agenda to determine how the team will reinforce and sustain commitment to shared expectations. Clarify what is negotiable and non-negotiable. Following are five examples to get you and your team started. 

  1. Follow the Platinum Rule

First and foremost, everyone should live by the Platinum Rule – treat people how they want to be treated versus the Golden Rule of treating people how you want to be treated. This will require engaging with teammates. Demonstrate your interest in understanding how they want to be treated by asking colleagues questions. Improve your understanding of what is important to them and how you can support their success. The key to building this rapport is approaching individuals with curiosity and without judgment. The challenges of a prolonged virtual workplace vary greatly depending on each individual and their circumstances (i.e., juggling work and young children, caring for a sick family member, coping with anxiety or depression). Being considerate and showing interest in others, proactively asking what they need, and being patient and understanding demonstrate active civility and respect 

  1. Turn on the computer video — and plan ahead

Humans lose a great deal of understanding and even trust when they cant speak face-to-face. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian developed the 73855 communication model explaining that voice intonation and volume influence 38 percent of the message, body language about 55 percent, and words — the message content only 7 percent. Without video, people can miss more than half of the sender’s intended message.  

Used appropriately, video increases connectivity. When people see each other’s facial expressions and the words being mouthed, they better understand the message. That being said, people should be mindful of their expressions and actions that may convey disrespect or incivility — an eye roll, head tilt, furrowed brow or frown. Also, it’s critical to plan for meetings by minimizing distractions. Team members can advise family members they need privacy during the meeting. They can mute the audio if the dog barks or doorbell rings, mute their mobile phones, and excuse themselves for the interruption and deal with it quickly so the meeting can continue.  

  1. Actively listen with empathy and a desire to understand  

An essential component of showing respect and civility is to actively listen with empathy, seek to understand and be nonjudgmental. Because people listen with their eyes as well as their ears, they watch the body language to understand what is being communicated beyond the words to inform how they proceed. They can see passion or frustration on a colleagues face and show empathy and support. They can see the humor in someone’s eyes even before they hear the joke. They can better comprehend what is being said and paraphrase the message to validate understanding. The effort of validating serves several purposes: the sender feels heard, appreciates the effort the receiver makes to validate understanding, and provides an opportunity for clarification to occur for shared understanding. Once there is mutual understanding, the receiver can calibrate accordingly to respond in a thoughtful manner. Active listening also involves hearing from all team members. Its important to be respectful of those who may not engage as readily and find ways to get their perspectives heard by sharing topics/questions in advance for staff to reflect on and using a variety of virtual meeting tools, such as polls, chat function or breakout rooms where appropriate.  

  1. Stay present and resist multitasking 

Multitasking can be considered a disrespectful, uncivil behavior when conducting a virtual discussion. In a virtual environment, the temptation to multitask can be difficult to resist. From a multitasker’s perspective, it’s a way to accomplish as much as possible, as effectively as possible, with limited time in the day. Multitaskers may think it’s not obvious, but the tip-offs are lack of eye contact, clicking of the keyboard, not being engaged, giving one-word responses, and asking for things to be repeated. Teammates may perceive it as not valuing them enough to provide full attention or that the meeting or conversation is less important than whatever else is being done. When everyone is completely present in the moment, it communicates that team members matter, what they have to say is important, and it deserves complete attention.

  1. Speak up and ask for what you need

Working from home is full of distractions. Speaking up about what is relevant in the moment can help team members understand someone’s behavior. If people know they won’t be able to give their full attention, but don’t want to miss the meeting, they should say so at the start. The reality in the moment may be that a mother needs to have one ear on the meeting and one ear on young children navigating distance learning. This means she may miss an important point and ask a question that was already answered. In these moments, a colleague can show a little grace by offering to get her up to speed after the meeting or simply answering the question again. By the same token, if you disclose that youre not able to be fully present, you can follow up after the meeting to obtain anything you missed rather than having the team backtrack. Speaking up and disclosing circumstances can help build trust, empathy and patience, and strengthen relationships rather than damage them 

What you do now will impact your team’s in-person effectiveness. 
While the country has flipped to long-term remote work for much of its workforce, it won’t last forever. We can expect in-office work to look different for many, with telework and flexible hours likely becoming more common options. That said, inclusive, respectful, and civil behaviors are relevant and critical to a healthy team dynamicin both virtual and in-person interactions. Suntiva’s consultants use behavioral science knowledge and business experience to solve workforce challenges, develop leaders and enhance organizational performance. We have a depth of understanding of the government workforce and customize our approach based on our clients’ needs. This is just a small step in optimizing how teams work together in a virtual workplace and build organizational resiliency


Written by Katherine Coles and Ariann Harrison