Lead With That: What Inclusion for Remote Employees Can Teach Us About the True Value and Meaning of Community

In this episode of Lead With That, Ren and Allison discuss the leadership lessons we can take from the current societal discussions surrounding inclusion for remote employees and hybrid workers.

Recently, the ethics, productivity, and health concerns related to remote work have been more prominently discussed in the media, due in part to many employers taking steps to put an end to allowing their employees to work away from the office. These changes have been a source of dismay for many of those in the workforce who have had the flexibility to work “unplugged” since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

While there are many different opinions about the value of remote work, the conversation highlights, from a leadership perspective, what the true effects of remote work may be, and who returning to the office really benefits. Join our hosts as they explore the landscape of leadership in the hybrid workplace, its challenges, and how leaders can adapt their focus to the needs of those they are leading — regardless of how they view remote work.

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode, Ren and Allison discuss the current discourse surrounding the value of remote work and the complexities that are present on both sides of the conversation. While workers and researchers have both expressed the benefits they see associated with working remotely, many employers are pushing for — and in some cases demanding — a return to the office. Allison and Ren explore what we can learn from these conversations from a leadership perspective, and lead with that.

Interview Transcript

INTRO:   Welcome back to CCL’s podcast, Lead With That, where we talk current events in pop culture to look at where leadership is happening and what’s happening with leadership. Ren: And today as we commemorate Juneteenth on this month’s podcast, we delve into a topic that resonates deeply with both the past and the future: the transformation of work in the wake of liberation and equality. Now, since the pandemic, a lot of our listeners, and myself included, have been liberated from the office. And work has been changing, and access to work has shifted the conversation to more equitable access to opportunity. And as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of work, it’s going to be imperative that we channel the spirit of Juneteenth in our efforts to create workplaces that embrace diversity and foster inclusivity. But how do I access my team, create a sense of inclusion, when no one’s there sharing physical space. I mean, the Journal tells me the office brainstorm is dead. Elon is convinced that if you work from home, you are a morally ambiguous person at best. Even Martha Stewart is telling me that America will go down the drain if people don’t return to the office. The more disconnected our teams get, the more easily we can lose sight of the team and then lose sight of the mission; and the more disconnected we feel, the lonelier we are. And then the isolation feels more profound than ever. I mean, even CCL research warns that isolation is a pressing trend that leaders have to address in 2023. Loneliness is on the rise, and it’s killing people. “So, send them back to work, duh,” some of you might be saying. I mean, you want community, it’s right through those office doors. But I think we all know it’s not so easy. And so today, with the spirit of Juneteenth guiding our conversation, we’ll look at the future of work battlegrounds, talk about some leadership practices that can shape the new work order, creating environments that are innovative, inclusive, and energizing for all. So welcome back, everyone. I’m Ren Washington, and as usual, I’m joined with Allison Barr. Allison, what’s the worst thing about working from home? Allison: The worst thing about working from home for me do you mean? Ren: Yeah. Allison: What is the worst thing about working from home for me? I like working from home, though I do have to cook for myself, and I don’t love cooking, so I can easily be swayed to the office with food. Ren: Okay. Well, we know that there’s a food truck Wednesday, I think, in our Greensboro offices, and that does seem to bring people in. Allison: Yep, yep. Otherwise, I’m okay to work from home. I’m also okay to work from the office, so I’m maybe not the best person to ask. What about you? Because you’re not near an office, so … Ren: No. Allison: What’s the worst thing about working from home? Ren: The worst thing about working from home are the distractions that I’ve replaced with kind colleague banter. Now I remember in the office, I’d be in the office, I’d have a little room and then my door would be open, and then I’d do a little bit of work, and then someone would walk down the hallway either that I wanted to talk to or that I didn’t want to talk to. But either way, people would engage me and then I would find that I was distracted. Now, I get distracted by my dog barking at squirrels and the UPS man. I get distracted by myself sometimes. I don’t have one of those cell phone lock boxes yet, but I can see the value in it. I have to put my cell phone on a couch in the other room. So, I think probably the worst thing for me is that it’s harder to manage less-acceptable distractions. Allison: So, I want to back up because, may I ask, what is so enticing about your cell phone? Ren: Oh gosh. Well, as I’ve been doing a lot of research on neuroscience, I would say it’s probably the excitement that all of the glitz and glamour promises me, as I realize that dopamine gets me excited when I think about the rewards my cell phone is getting. So, I’ve been habitualized to the rewards of my cell phone, but I’d say YouTube shorts is probably the most toxic and time-consuming thing if I let it be. Allison: Got it. Got it. Because I know you’re self-proclaimed not a social media addict, which I admire about you because I am admittedly a social media addict. I’m not ashamed of that either. But was curious what that lock lockbox would do for you. And I’m curious, too, if you find yourself to be productive working from home. Because I know you. I’m asking that sort of as a bit of a tease because I know you and I know how productive you are. So, is it keeping you for being productive? Ren: Well, I think what I’m starting to recognize, and what I think we’re probably going to be able to explore today is, is this work from home experiment actually working? And am I productive simply because I have to be? I work in part of our organization where we don’t have a physical building and I can’t rely on the structures around me to boost my performance or my productivity. And so, I’ve had to try to habitualize some new habits that will let me be productive. I think what’s an interesting question for me is, would I be more productive now if I had an office to go to every day? And, I don’t know, maybe. I think there’s something about being with other people that helps me stay on task. I’m a big fan of public accountability and I need it. So, I don’t know really what that would be. It’d be interesting to test if I came back into it. Allison: It’s interesting, isn’t it? As an extrovert, barely, who’s barely an extrovert, when we were in the office, granted I was in the office for what, 3 weeks before the pandemic hit. So, I don’t know. My onboarding to CCL was a bit unique, but anyhow, as an extrovert, I would go into the office when it was full and go say hi to everybody who was willing to chat with me before sitting down to do my work, because that is something that energizes me. So, I actually don’t know if I would be more productive with a full office. As you probably know, I live pretty close to our offices, so I tend to be up there a couple days a week just for change of scenery and there’s not many people up there unless we have clients in town or a program. And so, I still feel like I’m in a work-from-home environment because the distractions in number are about the same. They’re just different. Ren: Yeah, exactly. I think I’m aligned with you, and the more I read about this stuff, the more I think there’s a lot of science, and I alluded to this idea of this “future of work” battlegrounds, because there’s a lot of really entrenched points of view around how productive we’re being and how much work we’re actually doing. I just read something recently that said, hey, people actually aren’t working more. I mean, they’re getting exercise, they had lunch, they’re doing other things during their workday, but maybe that doesn’t actually translate to more hours worked. And when I think about that conversation, it makes me think about the tensions that we’re going to have to navigate between all that that flexibility offers us and then the downsides of, what I think some people are rightfully claiming, of a lack of community, lack of connection, and this idea of isolation. Our newest research trends are pointing to it. Well, whether or not I need it, if isolation is becoming a problem for people and for most of the population, we need access to people, so is it worth it anymore, I wonder? Allison: What is very fascinating to me is this conversation of isolation, that’s an epidemic, which is, that’s very real. There’s lots of research around that. But why are we, and I don’t mean me and you, I mean we in general, why are we insinuating that community needs to be found at work? Yes, there’s an epidemic of isolation. There’s no denying that. There are dramatic health impacts to that as well. And that doesn’t mean that going to work face-to-face as opposed to work from home or even flexible working arrangements is the solution. So, I don’t know, are we capable of feeling community at the workplace? Probably, for some, yeah. And is going to work the way to combat isolation? I’m not so sure about that. Ren: Maybe it doesn’t have to be work, but I do believe that … just think about the last group Teams meeting or Zoom meeting you were in. And just think about the beginning of the pandemic when all of us went … virtual happy hours were all the rage, and when’s the last time you did a virtual happy hour? God, just the idea of it makes me kind of like, I don’t know. Yeah, I saw the look on your face. We’re like… Allison: Nope. Ren: And I think about it because virtual happy hours aren’t just 2 people talking, one at a time, and then other people listening. And so I think, I don’t know if we have to go back to work, but I can understand some people making a claim like, hey, you spend a lot of time working and if we want to collaborate community or foster a community, then sure, just go into a shared working environment where, then you can engage with people and have access with them, and there’s your solution. You won’t feel isolated if I mandate that you’re not isolated. Allison: If you mandate that you’re not isolated, that’s interesting, because you could still feel isolated, and many people do. You absolutely could. So, it’s tricky, and I’m not trying to argue with you, but what I am trying to highlight here is the ever-changing and constantly differing opinions on this. And that’s what they are, opinions for the most part. When I knew we were talking about this and I went to the old Google to see what was happening in the news, I just want to read to you some of these. So, when I put in the Google search, “is hybrid work dying,” and then I click the news and see, so these are all very, very recent articles. And let me just tell you a couple of the headlines because they’re very contradictory. So, the first one is, is remote work dying a fast death. The second one is, the office is dying, it’s time to rethink how we work. The next one is, full-time office work is dead. The next one is, hybrid work is doomed. The next one is, business leaders say remote work is bad for employees’ wellbeing … and so on. You get the point. So, it’s clickbait, I think, these days. Again, I am not underestimating that isolation. I’m not arguing that it is, I agree with that. It is an epidemic, but I don’t know that returning to the office is going to solve that. Ren: Well, that last headline is something that I think is really interesting, this idea that remote work is not good for employee wellbeing. And it’s such an interesting refrain because I think that the early line was remote work is the biggest boon to employee wellbeing that there has been before. And maybe it was these forced boundaries that we were able to create, because we had to have separation from work in ourselves. And I guess what I’m really curious about is, how honest are those people who believe that community through connection at work, how honest are they being? Are people really telling the truth that remote is not good for your wellbeing? And they’re like, “Hey, no, come into work dude, because I care about you.” Or is it this nefarious thing where, and I’ve read some places where hybrid work is kind of this subtle play that you get people back to the office 2, 3 times a week, they kind of get mad, but then they get calm, and then you hit them with the 5 days back because it’s easier to say, “Hey, what does it matter? You’ve been coming back to work 3 days a week, what’s 2 more days?” As opposed to just jumping right into, you’re coming back to work. Full stop. And so maybe that’s my next question. Is hybrid even safe? Are those people being legit? What do you think? Allison: Well, I have 2 answers to your questions and I want to back up just a little bit to the article, the last article that piqued your interest. So that’s the tagline, right? Let me read the rest of this. Just like the first 2 sentences to you. “Business leaders say remote work is bad for employee wellbeing.” That’s what I read to you. “But workers disagree; remote workers experienced higher meaningfulness, self-actualization, happiness, and commitment than in-person workers.” So, I don’t know. Ren: Yeah, self-actualization. Managers are like, but what about my self-actualization? Yeah. Right. It’s an interesting narrative how they shift. Allison: Yeah. And now I’ve forgotten what the second half of your question was. Could you remind me? Ren: Just, is hybrid safe, do you think that it’s just a trick to get us back full-time? Allison: That’s hard to say. I mean I think there are a lot of industries probably that do see dips in production probably. But there are also industries that don’t. And so, my assumption is, at the end of the day, it’s probably going to depend upon, are we maintaining growth? Are we reducing turnover? Reasonable, right? Turnover is always going to happen, but are we maintaining or reducing turnover? Do we have retention rates? My guess is that that’s probably what the conversation is around. I know there are a lot of companies right now, a lot of our clients talk about this too, who are surveying employees trying to figure out what it is that they actually want and truly trying, like truly trying to accommodate. And so, I’m not sure what the answer is. I mean, I think there probably are some companies who posit that “we’re trying to help you decrease your isolation, come to the community that is your workplace.” And I’m going, that feels like a bit of a manipulation. Also, I know that my job is to work. I was hired to do some work. And so, at the end of the day, if my company says, “We’re coming back to the office,” I’m going to go, “Okay.” But I also sit in a pretty privileged position. I know that there are marginalized folks who feel a lot more comfortable working from home and having hybrid work. There are parents who feel like they can actually maintain a healthy life, to be able to get the things done in a day that need to be done. People who save money based on commute times, etc., etc. I know that I sit in a bit of a privileged position where that wouldn’t impact me as much for a lot of reasons. So, I’m prone to consider my colleagues and fellow people who don’t feel safe at the office, truly do not feel safe at the office. Ren: And I want to keep going on that thread because when you talk about the marginalized, those who might not feel safe, I wonder, I’m curious, is hybrid anti-feminist? Allison: You’re going to have to tell me a little bit more about what’s driving that question. Ren: Is this just another thing that hybrid, or the “come back to work,” is it just another thing that entrenches the status quo and marginalizes those who it used to marginalize? And so, I’m just curious, I’m reading a lot about that return to work is not going to work because it’s anti-feminist and women aren’t going to do that anymore. And as a woman, I’m just curious, what’s your take on that? Allison: Well, that’s a complex question. I think women who are in positions of privilege can say, “No, I’m not doing that.” And more power to them. Like I love that, I love that. And that’s… not everybody can do that. I think if we keep digging a few layers deeper, you have to consider the history of the work world and what “professionalism” is. Professionalism is coded and predominantly in North America and Europe, “professionalism,” I’m air quoting here, was and is defined by white, middle and upper class standards, and predominantly male standards. And it’s okay to just acknowledge. It’s okay to acknowledge our foundation of the work world. That’s going to be very difficult to change. So, I think there’s a trend for companies to try to invite people’s, again quoting, “whole selves” to work. And I just don’t know that that trend is still available for people who are not white, male, upper class or middle class. I think that trend is still coded in those predominant professionalism standards. And with that said, options to work from home for marginalized folks can invite that safety for them to be their whole selves. There are still laws that exist that prevent people from being their whole selves. So, they don’t have to encounter bias, they don’t have to encounter inappropriate comments, so on and so forth. So, I don’t know. At minimum, I’m a fan of flexible work for those reasons. Ren: And so then, is it too fair to say that hybrid then isn’t inherently anti-feminist? Allison: Is or is not? Ren: Is not. Allison: Hybrid is not anti-feminist? Are you asking me if hybrid work is pro-woman? Is that what you’re asking me? Ren: Sure. Allison: It can be, for certain groups, and feminism at its core is intended to have equality for everyone, not just women. So, then the answer would be no, because it’s not inclusive of intersectional perspective. Ren: Yeah. And I think I asked that question too to highlight the cultural battleground in the context of all this future of work. And you spoke to it already I think, quite eloquently then, this idea of what does professionalism look like and what is that imagery geared to? And then how are standards shifting or continuing to shift? And I’m really, really interested to see if there’s any organization or group of people who was willing to just do the back to the office, 40 hours a week. And again too, I understand, listeners, that some of you’re listening right now and you’ve not ever experienced work from home, because your job didn’t afford you the opportunity or the company was like, “Guess what? You don’t get to do that.” And so, I know we’re talking, too, in an interesting part of the conversation, and I think as we’ve alluded to before, the conversation about work is changing and it’s going to keep on shifting. And then, too, maybe the conversation about access and what a leader’s role in managing all this is really going to come to. Because the question of, “is hybrid anti-feminist,” is not just me asking you this. I know people are asking this when they’re being asked to come back to work. I mean we were already looking at some of the policies even for what you consider “smart money,” and how their hybrid policies are being kind of openly mocked by their employees. And so it’s going to be a tense and tight line to walk, and serious questions are coming your way if you’re a manager or team member who’s navigating this hybrid or future of work conversation. Allison: Yeah. It certainly will. And a reminder to our listeners that your manager is likely not the decider of these things. And so, be easy on your managers, because it’s likely not their decision if they tell you that you need to come back to work; it’s almost certainly a decision that was made much higher up in the organization that you have to communicate. And again, I do think it comes down to, are we being productive as an organization? Are we meeting our “goals”? Do we have the retention numbers that we want? And if not, I think this is a numbers game, again for those industries that can be work from home, or hybrid, or flexible. The research that you and I have talked about in previous episodes has stated that people are productive. We’re not losing productivity and companies are certainly not losing profit. So, I’m not sure what this is actually about, if that’s the truth. Ren: And then maybe the question is, what is this about? Is how do we continue to improve something that’s imperfect? And I think the trend of isolation, of loneliness, speaks to our opportunity. I mean the idea that people, let’s say there is someone out there who says, “No, I believe the idea of you coming to work is good for your wellbeing. Community is good for humanity. No one thrives alone.” Our resilience research speaks to that. And so it gets me thinking about the tactical approach that we’ve got to make and take to do this. I am glad that I don’t need community, but I know that if I did, I would not be getting it out here in Chicago at CCL. Where would I get it from? Allison: Right. Ren: And so that’s a real thing that I have to ask myself. And I know people are experiencing that who have bigger interpersonal needs than I do. Allison: And again, it begs the question, what is community? What are we talking about here, and why are we, again, not you and I, but generally, why are we pushing that people need to find community at work? That seems strange to me. I’ve never known community, for me, to be my work. Do I really enjoy the people I work with? Absolutely. Would I hang out with you any day of the week, Ren? Yes. But when I think about community, if you were like, what are you doing for your community today? That’s where I live. It’s the groups and the things that I do outside of work that are my “community,” my family, and so on. So, I feel strange talking about community being found at the workplace. Ren: I think I’m tracking with you. You said that earlier, and I didn’t think I fully internalized it, but now I think I’m tracking with what you’re saying. It’s like, hey, maybe before the solution is bosses, let me create community at the office, what could I do to facilitate your desire of connecting with community outside of work hours? But wouldn’t that be an interesting idea if an organization said, “Hey, we know you need people, here’s a link to all of these local organizations where you live, where you could meet people that you live near”? Allison: Yeah. And that’s the thing, I mean, work from home and flexible working, and this was the case for me too, it still is, affords me to be part of a community more, because I’m not commuting, right? I can just be at home if my neighbors need something, which I could tell you some hilarious stories about just some things that happened with my neighbors during the pandemic, getting creative around supporting each other. It afforded me the ability to build deeper connections in my community and I’m grateful for that. So, if my workplace really is truly committed and really wants me to not feel isolated, then my argument would be that they would continue with flexible work arrangements. Again, I don’t have biological children, but my family members do, and a lot of my friends do. And it gives them the opportunity, [for example, for] Roger, to go to his daughter’s graduation that was in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. I don’t know why, who puts a graduation in the middle of the day on Wednesday? That’s not the point. But it affords parents, for one, to be able to do these things with their children. It affords people in the queer community to not have to feel isolated at work. So, I don’t know. Ren: I think that’s maybe the biggest revelation that I’m having right now and grateful for you. I know that I can be really, sort of in my mindset of, “if it ain’t broke, let me operate in it.” I don’t know. And I forget that, because I don’t really have a lot of interpersonal needs, but such an interesting idea as we start to think about a tactical approach for someone who leads people who are feeling isolated, what can you do to help them feel connected to where they live and breathe every day? And that, I think, is such an interesting a-ha for me is, if companies are really invested in wellbeing, and they have an employee like me who’s in the “Chicago office,” who maybe has 2 other people that attach to the organization but don’t live and work here, help me feel connected to people by finding places where I live to stay connected. And then that naturally raises the challenge. And I think, as we start to shift our attention of what can someone do, is on managers and then the leadership structure, you are going to have to work harder. I think that is going to be the truth. And a manager’s like, “I already work hard enough, what do you mean? I got to do all of this stuff?” And it’s like these are the things that you’re going to need to do a little bit more to help people feel more invested, which is to know your people, to help them find that community and then to do that groundwork for them sometimes. Allison: Yeah. And I’m sort of noodling on what you’re saying here, is it a manager’s responsibility to make sure that someone feels less isolated? That’s 1. And 2, how do we know that our teams are feeling isolated? How do we know that? So, there’s the research that says isolation is an epidemic now, period. But that’s probably inclusive of work, but a lot of other things. Work is not the only thing. So, I bring this up again just because that research is not stating that isolation at work is a problem. It’s saying isolation is. And so, a manager who cares about me feeling isolated, that’s a really lovely thing, and I don’t know that it’s his job to make sure that I don’t feel isolated, generally speaking. Ren: I would say it’s probably not a manager’s job alone, not their responsibility alone to have that conversation or to be honest about it. But I think the best people managers know their people. And so you ask, how do I know people? I might ask, “Hey, how are you feeling? I read this weird article about isolation being this pandemic. Are you feeling isolated? Are you feeling lonely? And, can I do something for you in the context of work to help alleviate that?” And if I can’t, then maybe I can start to say, “Oh cool, Allison, tell me about those organizations that you want to be attached to in your home or in your community so you can feel connected.” Allison: Yeah. Got it. So yeah, let’s play this out then. Let’s say you and I have the same title. Let’s say that all of us LSPs are together and Jere and Chris are saying, “Are y’all feeling isolated?” And more than half of the people say,”yes.” What would you want? The thing is, this is hard for me to role play a little bit because I don’t feel isolated. So, I’d be curious to see how that would play out for managers and companies, which is I think what we’re getting to, what managers can do, what leaders can do. And you highlighted probably the most important thing, which is simply asking, how are you? Developing those relationships. I mean, we see that play out in all of our programs. I’m just coming off a program from last week where we ask them on day one, how are you feeling, when they come in and they say, “Anxious, a little unsure, we don’t know what we’re doing, what’s happening, we don’t know each other.” And then on day 5, this group is so tightly bonded, they live all over the globe, and they want to stay together. They want to be together. And they’re so inspired by one another, having been together. So, how can we take our own advice at CCL and play that out? Ren: I mean, that, the idea would be to bottle that experience and then just ship it to all of your people that you work with and be like, every time you’re feeling lonely, take a hit of this. And then you’ll be like, “Oh, sweet. I feel that connection that I forged over 4 intense days of being deeply connected with people through work, reflection, conversation, free time.” And so, I think that speaks to the very essence of why there is that lingering tension in the back of all of our minds of the benefit of that human connection. And then when I go back to … the benefit of the human connection is, even a man like me who is an island, and don’t tell me otherwise, I know that maybe the best kind of management or conversation that I can have in that context is going to be someone asking me… a manager who realizes that their job is their people. Now, you need an organization that supports that kind of thought. But that’s what I meant earlier by a manager who has to work more. It’s… how can organizations support that 4-day intense connection experience and then bottle some of it and then keep us feeling tethered together to mission and team. Yes, that is. I don’t know. I don’t know. I wish I did. Allison: I think some of the research that CCL found, and that certainly has trickled into other articles that you’ll probably find out there, are what you just said and then some, creating opportunities to have meaning in your work. So, managers can help connect their teams to a shared sense of understanding. And some of the research also found that even celebrating, just celebrating people’s accomplishments… because to your point, Ren, we would get into conversation in the office just by happenstance. “What are you up to? What doing?” And not that there would be some big celebration, but at least there would be that acknowledgement of work, and acknowledgement of work is a way that managers can create opportunities for meaning. Another point that you’ve already alluded to is finding times to check in. And, this is a big one. Do you remember when we used to call people instead of being on Zoom, getting on a phone call, instead of being over Zoom and taking a walk, being outside. If you and I have a call that we don’t need to see each other’s screens, get on the phone and take a walk. So having the opportunity to step away from a screen can be very, very impactful. And the last thing is offering mental health assistance. So that one was of interest to me, because what does that mean for a manager? And simply put, what it means is just understanding what resources your company has — and that’s it. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to tell me your deep dark secrets, unless you want to, of course. But being able to tell people, these are the resources that we have, here’s where you find them, this is anonymous. Because some people still have a lot of shame around admitting that they need help. So, creating a bit of a normalcy around talking about those things. Ren: Yeah. The continued focus, I think… there’s this phrase and this thought, some of the hardest words to say in English are, “I need help.” And so, I think, as a manager too, or someone who works with people, is that things change. I’m allowed to be cool with it, and then not be cool with it. I could have been really enjoying remote, and then now I don’t. And I’m not saying that’s for me personally and not like I have a choice. So, whether or not I do or not, I’m remote. That is my existence right now. But I think as we navigate this, and we work with people, it’s reminding us of that people connection. And I guess what we can do is try to build the spaces between us, where if I’m in pain or not feeling my best, that I just have an environment or someone to say, “Hey, this isn’t currently working for me as well as it used to.” And I don’t know if it’s a trend forever, but it’s a trend for now. And so, I again think around the leader who’s listening to us, and you may not be the one calling the shots, but you’ve got people who are looking to you, or even a team member and you’re not calling the shots, you have people looking to you, you can model some of this behavior by making sure that if people are feeling lonely and isolated, that if you’re available to them, how can you stop? And I think for me it’s still like you said, why do we have to think about it at work? Can’t my job be to help you feel fulfilled everywhere? Maybe. Allison: I mean, that’s a big job. That is a big job. And I appreciate that you think that way, too, because you are embodying the essence of, I think, what can be missing from leadership, which is understanding that your people are human beings, the people that you lead are also human beings. I think sometimes we go into autopilot and forget that, and you and I have talked about this before and I will reiterate it, that the skill of listening from a place of understanding versus the skill of listening to prepare for what I’m going to say next, those are 2 different things. But listening to understand will start to create that foundation of trust with you and your teams. I think about people who are in marginalized groups, and why and where they may not feel comfortable speaking up. If I say, “How are you?”, they might say, “fine.” Because they’re not comfortable telling me that yet. So it’s really important if you do want to have an inclusive style of leadership to listen from a place of understanding, ask the questions. And if people aren’t responding to you right away, that’s okay. These things take time. And the second part is transparency. And what I mean by transparency is not necessarily dumping, rather saying, “this isn’t my decision right now, Ren, but let me see what I can find out for you” or “this is the information that I have right now and I apologize, I don’t have the rest of the story, I don’t have the rest of the information, but let me see what I can find for you.” I think sometimes people can feel shut down at work when they’re told to do something with no context. “Hey, we’re returning to the office, period.” And that’s the end of the conversation. That’s it. You and I, I think, are similar in ways even though you are remote. If somebody told me I have to return the office, I’d go, okay. I’d say okay, but I understand that not everybody handles change that way. And people need to know the why. People need to know that. So, communicating as best you can, the why’s around decision making, and if you don’t know it, admitting that you don’t know it, then that’s okay. Ren: And for those of us receiving it, I guess, if anything, I think the pandemic and this post-work and this endemic that we’re in, it gives us all a chance to say, what are we here to do and what do we care about? And what can we do in the confines of that? And some people are going to have to shrug and say, okay, they’re coming back to work and it will hurt, and it will steal away from them things that they had been able to foster. And for some it will be a boon. And I think the toughest part of that will be continuing, for us, to feel included, valued, and seen even in the spaces where we feel unseen and devalued. And again, I think a leader (and reminder to all of you that you don’t have to have to have a title of leader to be a leader, we all play that role in the social process of leadership) as helping all of us feel supported. And maybe you know someone, and you work with them regularly, and you’ve got eyes on them and other people don’t, and they’ll tell you the truth, and they’ll tell you not, “I’m just doing fine,” but “I’m doing other.” And maybe that’s the thing that we can start to do is share more of the burden that we all experience. Allison: Yeah. Gosh, I feel like you just sort of mic dropped right there. Yeah. Ren: Well, you’re welcome. Allison: I don’t know if I could say it any better myself, sharing the burden, looking at leadership from that perspective in that anyone can be a leader and to share, not necessarily just the burden, but share the work, share the obstacles, do it together. You mentioned earlier too, Ren, that people don’t thrive solo. So, whether you are remote, or hybrid, or in the office, we do know that people thrive together, in whatever way that looks like at your workplace. So, Ren thanks for the conversation. Any lingering thoughts? Ren: I’d just say, the thing that you said earlier is still sticking with me, and if I could encourage all of us to try this, is reach out to someone and see if they’re feeling isolated or alone, and then maybe help them find connection where they live and not necessarily through the office. I don’t know why that’s such an a-ha for me, Alison, but I think maybe it’s because I so much and so frequently compartmentalize my work and my personal and they don’t intersect. But wouldn’t it be such a virtuous cycle if someone cared about me enough at work to help me have a better personal life? And then, who would imagine, a better personal life makes me more effective at work? Shocker. So, I don’t know, just a restating for that. I was like, if I could challenge any of you today, I’d say reach out to someone, see how they’re feeling, and if someone’s feeling lonely or isolated, partner with them to feel connected in their community where they live before you say, “Well, let’s get a virtual happy hour going.” I mean, unless that’s your bag. But yeah, so that one for me, that’s really sticking with me. Thanks though. Allison: Yeah, I love that. And I think we can probably leave it at that. I mean, we spent the past 10 minutes or so talking about steps that managers can take. And I like the idea of leaving it at that because I admit I’ve never heard anyone say what you just said. And so, I think that’s a unique leadership tool that any leader can walk away with, which is helping people find community where they live. Regardless of where you live, you can still support people in finding community. So, thanks for the conversation, Ren, as always, and to our listeners, thanks for tuning in. You can find all of our show notes and additional podcasts on ccl.org. And a special thanks to Emily and Ryan who are always working diligently behind the scenes to make our podcasts happen, and find us on LinkedIn, tell us what you want us to talk about and we’ll look forward to tuning in next time. Thanks Ren. Ren: Thanks Allison. Thanks everybody. Find Allison on TikTok. You thought I forgot. Allison: Thanks, Ren.

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