One of the best ways to achieve this is by making your employees, including your contractors and freelancers, feel like part of a team. Start with these eight tips to create a more inclusive atmosphere.
1. Choose and use the right communication tools.
There are hundreds of tools that make communicating with your employees easy. This includes everything from phone, email, text, direct messaging and video conferencing to project management systems.
No matter the tools you choose, make sure your team is using the same technology and knows how to use it well. They should also be aware of the protocols surrounding the use of these tools. For example, sending sensitive information over email without using end-to-end encryption is a big no-no.
Also, make sure to schedule one-on-one time with each of your employees — physically or virtually. It’s a simple and effective way to show you genuinely care. Likewise, if you have remote workers attending weekly meetings, make them feel as if they’re actually present; setting up a table in front of a chair so they “have a seat at the table” via video can go a long way toward making them feel included.
2. Give employees authority to make important decisions.
To show an employee that you truly trust and respect his opinions let him make decisions that will impact your company’s culture and future. Allowing team members to reward and mentor each other or empowering an employee to decide which vendor you’ll use can propel them to take further initiative and trust their own judgment.
As your company grows, you’ll need to delegate more work to others; this is an important first step in training yourself to let go of doing things your way, and it’s a first step toward training your teammates to have the confidence to manage those tasks without you.
3. Encourage each person to contribute during meetings.
We’ve all been in meetings when an urge to speak up struck, only to keep quiet. Eventually, you start to feel as if your voice isn’t valued. As a leader, you can prevent that from happening by encouraging your employees to participate in meetings.
Prep your meetings accordingly by keeping them short and focused. Give your team all relevant materials in advance, and pick productive times of the day, such as 10 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. Only invite key stakeholders to keep the meeting lean and mean.
Assign attendees specific duties for the meeting so they remain involved, and regularly ask for feedback, invite questions and make your meetings interactive. And if you have trouble getting everyone to weigh in, use your powers of persuasion. Get attendees to say “yes” by having everyone agree to something right from the start. Actively listen, be empathetic and let people “own” their ideas.
But that doesn’t mean everything will be smooth sailing — expect to negotiate. Address least important issues first to sweep them out of the way, but keep information readily available and remain open to compromise. Navigate the team to the final decision or outcome smoothly. Offer fewer choices, take a vote or even consider holding the meeting on a Friday so you can move the discussion along rapidly.
4. Foster workplace friendships.
According to Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, jobs bring more satisfaction when they give employees opportunities to form friendships; he noted that research showed that groups of friends outperformed groups of acquaintances. That’s likely because friends have deeper trust and a vested interest in each other’s success.
To foster workplace friendships, give your team a chance to discuss non-work things, like weekend plans or things they’re excited about. Bringing good feelings into the office can foster more good feelings within your four walls.
Also, create shared activities that allow your team to interact. Working out together, going on a retreat, having dinner or volunteering together can all be bonding experiences; celebrating personal events, such as birthdays and baby showers, can also build camaraderie.
To make sure new hires are brought into the fold, launch a buddy program to have existing employees show new hires the ropes. And to benefit all employees, break down silos so your team can collaborate on projects more effectively — if employees don’t recognize each other, they’re unlikely to develop friendships.
5. Recognize each employee’s contribution.
Rather than simply assign a task to a team member, explain why she’s been chosen for this specific task. For example, you could tell her how awesome her design of Client X’s website was and that you have another client who could benefit from her unique skills. Showing how an employee’s specific contributions are helping the business succeed offers new motivation.
Likewise, share feedback from clients, co-workers and other leaders. Because customer service is important to me, I pass along positive customer reviews and comments to my team. This is especially crucial when you start a business.
6. Encourage employees to be brand ambassadors.
Do you plan on attending an upcoming industry event? Have one of your employees attend in your place. The reason? It makes him feel empowered and valued because he’s your brand ambassador.
This is especially true with remote workers. If there’s an industry event or conference coming up in their area, ask them to represent your company. You can also ask them to speak at a school’s career day, attend job fairs or sponsor their membership to a professional organization.
7. Provide professional development opportunities.
You need to know that 87 percent of millennials stated that development is important in a job. All of your employees — in-house or virtual — want opportunities to learn and refine skills. They’ll feel relevant and competitive professionally, and it gives your team a chance to embark on a shared experience when they attend workshops or classes together.
Even if your employees are taking individual classes or attending workshops on their own, provide a platform to share what they’ve learned with the rest of your team.
8. Give out perks.
Who doesn’t enjoy perks? It’s one of the main reasons why employees stay with an organization, and it makes them feel like they’re part of the family — just think how it would feel if a colleague received a gift card and you didn’t.
Perks can be anything from free meals to gym memberships to unlimited vacations. It ultimately depends on what your employees prefer, whether the perks fit your culture and what your budget allows for.
No successful entrepreneur has built a solid foundation with a team of people who feel invisible. Ensuring that employees don’t feel overlooked, ignored or left out can propel not only your company’s internal success, but its external success, too.