Strategies for Remote Allyship in the Workplace

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Many of us are still working remotely or hybrid, and there are unique considerations when it comes to showing up as an ally for our colleagues. Before we dive into what actions you can take, it’s important to define exactly what an ally is. We love this definition from The Anti-Oppression Network:

An active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. 

This means not simply showing up as an ally to help others, but to act in true solidarity with others for the benefit of all. It’s an important distinction to make, and one that’s worth contemplating as you ask yourself how you can show up authentically as an ally for your colleagues with marginalized identities.

Remote work is unique because our physical selves are separate from each other and that can have a significant impact on how we show up for ourselves and each other. Because we’re relying on technology to connect, be in community with each other, and get work done, we’ll need to frame the issues that can come up differently than we would if we were in person.

Here are some examples of the ways we show up differently when remote and how they can impact allyship:

  • RELATIONSHIPS: “Water cooler” conversations, those casual conversations that can connect and bind us in more personal ways have evolved. We connect less and therefore are more disconnected from our colleagues. We only reach out when there’s work to be done, rather than connecting in more happenstance ways that allow us to learn more about each other on a more personal level, and build trust more easily
  • RELATIONSHIPS: The way we show up physically is different – no longer are we full-bodied, but we’re floating heads on a screen, usually staring at ourselves as much as we’re looking at other people for queues and reactions. Many of us can read body language intuitively to understand how the other person is feeling (crossed arms, fidgeting, looking away) and when this goes away, we only see a sliver of how someone is showing up during a meeting, and that’s assuming their camera is turned on. 
  • ENVIRONMENT: We may have different forms of distraction at home and may not be able to be fully present as we would be if we were in a shared physical space. The blurred lines of the at-home/work space for many of us have altered the way we show up for ourselves and for our colleagues. We’re not able to be as focused on not just the work, but the environment that a workplace can create, and therefore we can feel less connected to the people we’re interacting with.
  • COMMUNICATION: We rely more on quick written communication to get work done in place of those verbal interactions (Slack, Teams, Google Chat, etc. are all forms of communication we use to quickly reach someone). Because we’re using the written word, and usually this type of communication happens quickly, words can easily be misinterpreted. We may assume or misinterpret tone, or feel ignored if our colleague isn’t able to respond quickly. There may be feelings of disrespect, or deep harm based on a few keystrokes someone carelessly typed.

Now that we understand some of the ways we’re disconnected from our colleagues, which increases the likelihood that we won’t show up for them as allies, let’s reflect on some ways we can be intentional about showing up.

  • If you’re in a position to do so, carve out time in your workday to connect with people on your team that you don’t typically talk with outside of work. This can look like a virtual coffee date, or perhaps an in-person one if you’re geographically close enough to do it.
  • Hold space for social justice issues – what’s happening in the world is a lot and it’s worth saying just a few words in your communications channel acknowledging the pain that people are in and offering an opportunity to be there to listen.
  • We mentioned tone before – it’s easy enough to type quickly as we’re all going so fast to get work done. Tools exist to check your tone if you’ve been told it’s been off. It can save someone else a lot of emotional labor processing the meaning of someone’s written words if a softer tone is used.
  • In meetings, make sure you’re creating space for others who may not feel as though they can speak up. If you’re running the meeting or their manager, this may look like encouraging them to speak up prior to the meeting, providing an agenda or questions ahead of time so they can process, and checking in to ask about ways you can make them feel more comfortable sharing.