LSE report identifies best practice for virtual inclusion during pandemic

Enhanced inclusion can maintain employee morale during lock-down, allowing firms to re-start from a better place when the COVID-19 response is over.
- Dr Grace Lordan, Director of The Inclusion Initiative at LSE and Associate Professor in Behavioural Science.

35 CEOs and other senior leaders in financial and professional services in the City of London have taken part in LSE research to identify obstacles and best practice for managing a team virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Grace Lordan, Director of The Inclusion Initiative at LSE and Associate Professor in Behavioural Science, virtually interviewed senior leaders from big City firms such as Allianz, Citi, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, NatWest, Standard Chartered, and UBS with the aim of examining how they are managing teams in an inclusive way to ensure that all employees’ voices are heard for the most effective teamwork and bottom-line outcomes.

Dr Lordan’s report, Virtual Inclusion in The City, explains: “We need to have people with different perspectives and life experiences at the virtual table. Empirical evidence from the lab and field suggest that this does not usually happen in physical settings, implying the outcomes we get from these discussions are sub-optimal. There is no reason to then expect anything different when we move to virtual discussions. The aim of this report is then to think about how we can enhance virtual inclusion during the COVID-19 response, in a manner that does not distract from the core business of the firm during this stressful time, but enhances both traditional business outcomes and employee wellbeing.”

The report identified ten major obstacles reported by senior leaders, corroborated by the thoughts given by 59 workers of varying levels of seniority, each accompanied by a set of three independent actions that can be easily pursued to enhance virtual inclusion in the firm:

Problem 1: Physical distance can lead to psychological distance. Actions: Take steps to humanise interactions with colleagues; actively seek feedback; open the virtual door.

Problem 2: Presenteeism may be replaced by virtual presenteeism. Actions: Rethink attitudes to working at home; have daily set times free of digital disruptions; opt-out of being green online.

Problem 3: Communication. Effective communication of key messages is difficult due to information overload. Actions: Give certainty; make salient what is important; pay attention to messenger effects and framing.

Problem 4: In-groups. Their formation causes hoarding of information, exclusion from key conversations, impact on who gets assigned key projects and tunnel vision. Actions: Make salient that diverse perspectives add value; identify weak ties to bridge information silos; audit who gets what and why.

Problem 5: Virtual groupthink. Actions: Intervene to ensure that all voices are heard; discourage an over-focus on shared information; embrace dissent.

Problem 6: Unfamiliar context. The uncertainty as to how long virtual working will last affecting motivation and resilience. Actions: Fundamental attribution error; celebrate small wins; re-focus your attention.

Problem 7: Work is now home. This causes people to fail to switch off or makes it harder to concentrate. Actions: A designated workspace; maximise home workspaces; discuss what works.

Problem 8: Maintaining motivation. Actions: Identify meaning at work; link meaning to own skills and abilities; use narrative or visuals to illustrate meaning.

Problem 9: Beware of illusory correlation. Actions: Confidence is not competence; quality over quantity; don’t log every ball that gets dropped.

Problem 10: Re-start with inclusion. Actions: Stay connected to customers and clients; speak to a different type of shareholder, client and customer; create post-COVID-19 priorities.

Dr Lordan commented: “As well as leading to more creative and innovate solutions that benefit the bottom line, enhanced inclusion can maintain employee morale during lock-down, allowing firms to re-start from a better place when the COVID-19 response is over.”

The Inclusion Initiative is a three-year innovative partnership programme bringing together research and practice to build more inclusive work environments. 

Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, commented:  “Inclusion is a pressing issue for all organisations, and rightly so. We need to understand and reflect the society we serve. Yet, all of us have experienced the frustration of well-intended initiatives that do not achieve their aims. I welcome this work by the LSE Inclusion Initiative which should help us to improve our ability to tackle inclusions.”