Workplace exclusion

My six year old came home from school upset today. Her best friend didn't want to play with her and instead wanted to play with the friend who was going to tea at her house. My daughter felt excluded and upset. She didn't understand why she couldn't join in too. I comforted her by telling her that I understood and felt the same way sometimes.

Social exclusion is something I've struggled with since being a teenager. I've definitely been excluded by both friends and colleagues in the past. The most painful times have been deliberate. Most of the times I haven't found out the reasons but I've guessed. There were pretty standard reasons why you might choose to disassociate yourself socially with someone in your school years - I was a 'swot', I went to church, I had a weird surname, I had awkward teenager appearance issues - bla bla bla. The workplace exclusion issues were equally obvious - I got promoted over other colleagues, I worked hard and took my job seriously, I stood up for colleagues others bad mouthed - yadda, yadda, yadda.

Since running my own business, workplace exclusion isn't something I have felt quite so much, other than the obvious 'I am your boss not your friend so sometimes you might not like me.' Mark and I tried to create a healthy, honest, collaborative culture at our company. We talked to our team as much as possible, involved them in decision making and asked that they raised issues before they escalated into problems. For the most part, it worked well.

Since our team joined Monotype, we've been exposed to different team cultures and ways of working. We are now part of distributed teams working in offices and remotely across the world. Our team communicate constantly and work very iteratively, other teams are very structured and more formal, some are siloed and very ad hoc. It's really hard to get right and suit everyone's preferences. Inevitably people get left out - this has happened quite a lot to me, quite unintentionally. My role is new and people didn't know to include me! I work at home more than I used to so I have sometimes missed ad hoc conversations. Whilst not deliberate, sometimes it's hard not to take it personally.

Some of the things I find helpful are structured times for face to face conversations so I know I get to have an actual conversation with my colleagues. Daily stand ups are great - both in the studio and dialling in remote workers. The structure of 'what I did yesterday, what I am doing today and what I need from others' is a level playing field and forces even the quietist person to talk. It gives everyone a voice. Likewise weekly production meetings or project catch ups are a great extended version of stand ups - everyone has a say and goals and outcomes are tracked.

For remote teams, social/project software such as Slack, Twitter, Yammer and Basecamp are great for keeping in the loop about things. They can also be a massive time suck and extremely distracting. We are still working on the 'we shouldn't be talking about this here - let's talk in person.' As well as in person meetings, Skype and Google hangouts are great for this kind of talking - hearing the intent in someone's tone of voice and seeing people's expressions! Conference calls are still somewhat buggy and tricky to arrange however with multiple time zones, internet inconsistencies and busy schedules.

Mostly though, nothing beats face to face communication which often means travelling or going into the studio when it would be easier for me to work at home. It's easy to feel paranoid and excluded when I'm squirrelled away at home working on something mostly on my own. I don't know the in jokes, what the latest news is, or what someone's new haircut looks like (because who puts everything online for the benefit of the one or two remote workers?). To stop this, I make sure to spend part of the week in the studio. Likewise, how do my New York or Boston colleagues know I'm not a bossy, annoying person if they never meet me and only get emails asking for things? And how do I stop myself worrying about people thinking these things - get on a plane and get to know them of course!

It's our responsibility to be inclusive in our workplaces and not exclude others deliberately. It's easy to be comfortable and lazy in the way and whom we communicate with. To sustain a collaborative working culture, there should be openness and honesty from everyone. It's easy to place blame on the other party when we feel excluded - I am my own worst enemy in this respect - but we have a duty to ourselves to stop and think whether it actually might be our own behaviour that's causing the feelings. If you feel a divide, or a wall between you and a colleague or boss, it's your responsibility to bridge it or knock it down.


Emma BoultonComment