How Inclusive are we being transitioning back into the Office?

I am a coach in an organization where in-person collaboration was highly valued prior to the pandemic. To a large extent it still is. We were fortunate to have 85–90% of our teams collocated before March 2020 which enabled this. Prior to the pandemic we were not as mindful of how inclusive we were of remote team members. This has significantly changed & we now have a more equitable platform which I’m thrilled about as a coach, but my hope is that we will not slip back to the dark side.

The pandemic & the transition back to the office had me reflecting on what I personally value.

What does work from the office mean to me now? Do I value in-person collaboration or meaningful collaboration irrespective of where & how it happens?

With the world of work having shifted forever what implications will that have on the way we interact with our colleagues? Is the office only for the serendipitous moments we have missed the last 2 years, or can we get any focused work done?

I want to share a personal reflection of what I’m experiencing and what I hope for as a coach.

Understand what we Value

What we value is what we focus on creating around us. Values guide our behaviors. How we treat people affects our culture. One of my top values is “inclusive collaboration”. If collaboration happens to be in-person that’s wonderful but inclusivity ranks high in my book.

When I reflect on the past couple of years during the pandemic, our organization adapted miraculously & collaboration exponentially improved.

Here is what I observed that we experienced:

  • I remember how painful it was to experience suddenly going remote & changing our behaviors of how we communicated & collaborated to just stay afloat and get work done.
  • Our communication channels were immediately streamlined & the result was beautiful — alignment and a shared understanding every step of the way.
  • As a result, our decision making became transparent & started happening as a collective which kept everyone informed.

Had the constraint of working remotely created an equitable environment for everyone?

Be Mindful of Communication Channels

Now that we are transitioning back to the office — we have multiple channels of communication opened back to us. Communication is no longer restricted to a zoom meeting or slack. Since some of us have the luxury of seeing each other in person, that now opens possibilities.

Here is what I’m observing:

  • We are walking down the hallway with a team member or leader while having a conversation. We are in a state of flow and make a decision that affects the whole team.
  • We have an idea and start a spur of the moment white boarding session with the team members who are in person with us & forget to dial in the remote team.
  • We are on our way to a conference room for a meeting & we can’t help but talk to team members on the way of getting there. That makes us late for a meeting with our team & we keep the remote team members waiting.

I admit — there is an inherent excitement & energy that goes along with seeing people in person. It has a “pull” and I’m experiencing it myself when I go into the office. We however need to be mindful of how inclusive we are of our remote team members since our behaviors are sending a different signal. The message we are sending is — including remote team members during in-person discussions is becoming an “effort”. It is something we must consciously think about since we did not have to think about it before March 2020.

So, what do we do? We need to lean on the streamlined communication channels we used during the pandemic & go back to making our communication explicit.

If the communication was not shared in the channel of choice, it’s as good as “it did not happen”.

How we can Approach this

So, will we slip back to old ways of being? We will have to see. How do we prevent that and what do we need to be mindful of?

If we want to continue to be inclusive of remote team members despite coming into the office, we will need to think differently and be more intentional.

It comes down to 3 things:

  • Raise awareness — We need to build awareness of “what we experienced” during the pandemic and how inclusive we all felt. We need to then be aware of “what might shift” if we are not being intentional, as we are coming back into the office.
  • Have an open conversation — We need to have an open conversation about what we value & build a shared understanding of how inclusive we want to be. While talking through that we need to think about what that would look like & feel like for all of us.
  • Build an alliance — Once we understand what we value & visualize what we want, we need to build an alliance & make it a “way of working” for our team and organization.

What we value will guide our behaviors. If we value inclusivity then we must act as if we do.

My Hope …

The pandemic has taught us a lot — our mindsets & values have shifted.

As we are embracing coming back into the office, my hope is that:

  1. We are honest and transparent about what we value so we can keep the best interest of our team and organization in mind.
  2. We have the courage to face our fears about remote, hybrid or distributed work & talk through them.
  3. We go back to our values and have our values guide our behaviors instead of acting out of fear.

I know I have loved in person interactions in the past. I still do. However, as a coach while observing the organization through this transition, I realize that I value inclusive collaboration more than in-person collaboration. A lot of us believe in the magic of in-person collaboration however we still have to face that the world will be distributed forever.

Coming into the office is now more about socializing & building human connections than working — those serendipitous moments that we have missed. I have heard this from several team members & leaders as well.

My quest next is to find out how we can make our remote team members part of those serendipitous moments. After all, if we value inclusivity that is what we ideally need to aim for in every interaction. How we behave affects our team and organizational culture.

For individuals’ character is destiny, for organizations culture is destiny.

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Lakshmi Ramaseshan

Lakshmi Ramaseshan

I am passionate about growing people, building “psychological safety” within teams and organizations.