Reflective and Responsive: How Team Members Can Contribute to a Hybrid Work Environment that is Healthy, Effective, and Inclusive

By Sarah Lechner

Organizations have been challenged over the last 18 months to continually reimagine how and where we do our work. While the pandemic appears to be far from over, and our need to be adaptive remains, the emerging work environment seems to be clearly defined by a hybrid approach. In many organizations, some people will continue to work fully remotely, while others will work exclusively in the office, and still others will do a blend of both. Many of us welcome the more dynamic nature of this approach and see the potential for it to help shape more diverse and inclusive organizations. We may also find ourselves wondering, though, what it means for our relationships with our colleagues.

I just celebrated my fifth year working at Coraggio Group. As I reflect on what’s kept me at the firm, I often come back to my colleagues. Our relationships with our co-workers have a significant impact on our engagement, our effectiveness and ultimately our enjoyment at work. Strong relationships can also support a more inclusive work environment—one with a sense of connection and camaraderie where colleagues are interested in and have empathy for one another. Cultivating the kinds of relationships that can help keep us engaged, effective and connected isn’t easy though. It takes time, care, intention, and commitment. In a hybrid work environment, that’s even more true.

The relationships I have with my colleagues have been formed over the years huddling around white boards as we develop creative solutions to our clients’ challenges, laughing late into the night at company retreats, courageously sharing feedback with one another in conference rooms, racing through airports to catch that last flight back to Portland, and oohing and ahhing at photos of one another’s kids, pets, gardens, or vacations. Those relationships have been developed organically, over time, and largely in person.  For most of us, building and maintaining quality relationships in a hybrid work environment is totally new. And yet, it’s something we all have a responsibility to figure out, together.

To be a team member that builds healthy, effective, and inclusive relationships with our colleagues in a hybrid setting, we must be even more reflective and responsive than we have been in the past. We must take personal responsibility and action to cultivate the kinds of relationships that may have come naturally before. We must consciously choose how we will contribute to creating a work environment that leaves the team feeling engaged, effective, and connected.

Reflect: Be present and be curious

As we navigate this time of great transition, it can be incredibly helpful to pause and reflect on what it is we’re letting go of, what we’re currently experiencing, and what’s coming. As a member of a team, we can reflect on such questions in relationship not only to ourselves, but also in relationship to our organization, our work, and our colleagues. Actively contributing to shaping a healthy, effective, and connected work environment requires us to be tuned in and thoughtful about both the existing dynamics as well as what’s needed. This can happen through being present and observant—noticing our own feelings and experiences and listening for the feelings and experiences of others. In addition to being present, however, it is also important that we are curious and that we make space for personal reflection, inquiry and discovery.

The range of experiences and needs throughout the pandemic and in the transition to a hybrid work environment is vast. We can’t assume we know what others are experiencing or that they know what we’re experiencing. Being present to and curious about the experiences and needs of our colleagues, our organization, and ourselves involves listening for and inquiring about:

  • What is going on with the organization, our clients, and the work at hand? What are the related needs?
  • What are my teammates experiencing? What do they need?
  • What is my experience right now? What do I need?

Respond: Be open to learning and willing to change

Knowing more about the range of experiences, needs, and perspectives allows us to expand our perspective as well as our understanding of and empathy for others and for ourselves. When people feel heard, understood, and valued for their uniqueness, it contributes to a more inclusive work environment, and we all have a role to play in that. It’s not always enough to just learn, though. Oftentimes, we also have an opportunity and even responsibility to act. As a member of a team and as a colleague we can identify the places where we have some choice or flexibility to shift the way we work or the way we interact with others based on what we’ve learned.

The most effective teams apply a continuous improvement mindset to their work with one another. They spend time having rigorous conversations about how to work together. They try new tools and approaches, they collaboratively reflect, they make changes, and ultimately, they improve. In a hybrid environment, this includes considering things like how and when to leverage technology verses an in-person approach, and how to ensure that all team members feel included and valued no matter where they’re working. We can initiate a continuous improvement approach with our teams, and we can also do it individually. It involves a commitment to ongoing learning as well as a willingness to change:

  • Learn: What have I noticed or heard that changes or expands my perspective? What do I have the flexibility to respond to?
  • Change: Based on the needs (mine, my colleagues, or the organization’s) I’ve identified, what will I do more of, less of, or do differently?

Small shifts can often make a big difference in our experience of our work environment, the quality of our relationships with colleagues, and the effectiveness of our teams. For example, taking steps like adding in some social or check-in time to team meetings, opening our virtual door by typing “open for chats” in the status bar of our IM platform, or taking a walk with a colleague over lunch can go a long way to foster greater connection.

Transitioning to a hybrid operating model is just one of the shifts we’re experiencing in this dynamic and changing environment. There is a lot of complexity to understand and navigate, and it will take time for all of us to adjust to new ways of working together. As colleagues and teammates, we have a critical role to play in this transition. By thoughtfully reflecting on the variety of experiences and needs, and actively responding to those needs, we can help foster the kind of work environment and relationships that leave one another feeling engaged, effective, and connected.