I recently chatted with the producers at Google about practical ways to create a culture of belonging.

In thinking back to the kids we have cared for in our Spare Room, I shared three practices that have worked for our family. As we welcomed orphaned or vulnerable young people into our home, we were particularly mindful of how we were able to help our Spare Room occupants feel welcome. Not as a guest, but as part of our family.

1. Embrace with language.

Instead of pausing to ask someone, “Would you like to join us?” simply proclaim, “Let’s go!”

In 2012, we welcomed Lexi to our Spare Room, a teenage girl we barely knew. She could be difficult to read and we did our best to include her without overstepping her personal space. Through this experience, we learned a valuable lesson.

Asking Lexi if she’d like to join us on a family activity actually isolated her by calling out her difference vs. the group, even with our best inclusive intentions. On the other hand, when we naturally assumed she was part of us and embraced her with casual, familiar language, she felt much more at ease.

At work, we can resist the impulse to “separately include” another. Instead, we ought to consider how we might embrace another by cultivating a language of belonging.

2. Mind the optics.

Plan ahead with consideration, to ensure no one is accidentally called out or left out.

In 2018, we cared for Lotus in our Spare Room, a girl who was preparing for the Zhong Kao, an important Chinese exam that earns entry into high school. This meant that she often stayed at school until after 7PM.

With Lotus, we learned to think ahead at events, ensuring she had a reserved seat waiting for her when she arrived. This would avoid uncomfortable logistical rearrangements and awkward, unwanted attention.

In the workplace, especially for new hires or interns, let’s ensure enough seats, space, and consideration for those joining the group. Planning ahead will ensure they feel a sense of belonging and care.

3. Acknowledge contribution.

No one wants to feel like a burden and a great way to help folks feel a sense of belonging is to highlight their contributions to the group.

In 2010, Jaesin lived in our Spare Room. He was pretty self-sufficient and as one of our older occupants, required very little support. In fact, he adored Laini and often delighted her with little surprises. On weekends, I often noticed a bowl of watermelon salad thoughtfully left in the fridge, each black seed carefully extracted.

Intentionally noticing and expressing gratitude for Jaesin’s consideration highlighted his contributions to our family. We wanted to stress that not only was he not a burden in our home, but that his very presence enriched it.

In your work group, who’s the unsung hero? Is there someone trying to find their place on the team? Consider their unique contribution and give a shout out!

#diversityandinclusion #belonging #sociallegacy #myspareroom