Working from home can, for some, be an incredibly empowering and liberating experience, they are able to work the hours that suit them and align with the other pressures in their lives while also being productive. For others, the work from home experience can be a socially isolating and stressful experience as they battle the sense of separation from their colleagues and struggle to maintain focus in an unfamiliar situation.
Which ever side of the work from home experience individuals find themselves, the challenge of avoiding marginalisation can be real and show up in many different ways.
What is marginalisation
Marginalisation, both in the broad virtual teams and the specific work from home context of these articles, refers to the intended or unintended disconnection of one or more team members from their normal decision making involvement and participation in the collective group. It can occur through unintended activities such as when team members are physically or virtually distant from their colleagues and are omitted from discussions, it can occur when a team member, though personal choice or workload to disconnect from their colleagues for a period of time, it can occur when a group, by mistake, excludes a team member from discussions and decisions and, in the worst of situations, it can occur where a group intentionally chooses to exclude a team member from discussions.
Whatever the cause, marginalisation can become a stressful and socially isolating experience for the individual or individuals involved and can quickly lead to losses of team effectiveness. Yet, it can happen slowly and really without notice, a team member misses a meeting because they are busy, at the meeting decisions are made and subsequent meetings calendared without the team member being involved, more meetings and discussions happen, time passes and suddenly the individual has been disconnected from the rest of the group for weeks and potentially has missed critical discussions.
Causes and management of marginalisation
Marginalisation in more conventional virtual team situations can occur where one individual or group calls in to a meeting, the meeting concludes, those who have called in leave the call and those who are physically together continue to discuss things, perhaps reaching additional decisions without the participation of the personnel who have left the call. These creeping marginalisations can rapidly lead to personnel feeling isolated and disconnected from their colleagues and organisation.
In the new work from home environment many businesses are adopting the opportunities for marginalisation are similar, but in some instances different.
It is relatively easy for an individual to marginalize themselves through not participating in group meetings when they are held on line, no end of reasons can be presented for being unable to attend, none of which can be tested since everyone is working remote from their colleagues, and over time their absence becomes normal, with them potentially dropping off other meeting invitations.
As a manager or colleague in this situation the first thing is to realize that someone is missing. This can be challenging in larger teams, but once identified it is important to reach out to the individual and endeavour to bring them back into the group. For some, the causes may be discomfort with the technology or social awkwardness which others may have deeper reasons to cease participating. As such it can be hard to identify the root cause of this behavior, but through ongoing dialogue, possibly offline of the main meetings, eventually these self marginalised personnel should be able to be drawn back into the group meetings. It may also be appropriate to change some meeting behavior to accommodate socially uncomfortable team members by not specifically inviting them to contribute as you may do with others. For instance, it is very common and seen as good practice to invite all meeting participants, by name, to contribute or provide their thoughts in an online meeting, but if a team member is clearly uncomfortable in this situation, leave the off the circulation.
Marginalisation of a team member by the group
Working in the other direction is the challenge of not marginalizing colleagues from the organisational perspective. Prior to the enforced work from home, the big risk here was a single team member working at distance from their colleagues who may be missed from meetings simply because of the complications of having them dial in to participate. After all, when the rest of the team is there in one place, sometimes it is simply easier. With practically everyone in many organisations now working from home, the norm is to have to coordinate everyone into a common electronically mediated meeting, providing actual real parity for these remote members.
However, the risk still exists of either accidental or intentional marginalisation of some colleagues, except now it may be someone who would normally be co-located with the bulk of the team. So as the leader of the group or as the person assigned the role of coordinating meetings it is important that everyone who may be needed for a particular discussion is invited to be part of it and is given the same opportunity to contribute as their peers. If, organizationally, people are intentionally or unintentionally excluded, disconnects and marginalization will once again occur and the team will become fragmented.
Take care not to overshare
With all of this discussion around not marginalizing personnel it may be easy to simply invite everyone to every meeting, this is really not good practice. People who are disinterested in a subject or who know they have nothing to contribute may start to feel pressured around their calendars and ability to deliver their core tasks, this could result in them choosing not to participate in meetings and missing meetings they should be part of as well as those they don’t need to be in, so oversharing can be just as dangerous as exclusion.