Psychological safety describes a workplace attitude that employees can feel comfortable and empowered enough to make some of their own decisions, and even risk-taking within the scope of their jobs, without feeling like they may get fired if something doesn’t work out. It’s, primarily, a strengthened sense of trust, being able to share a common feeling between employee and employer that is “I know you’re doing your best, and even though a mistake was made, it was made with the company’s best interests in mind.”
Garnering this in a remote setting has some added levels of difficulty, but when a company can reach that level of increased communication and trust, statistics prove time and again, that a company will be more successful when everyone feels empowered, or “psychologically safe.” On the other side of the proverbial coin, psychologically safe employees won’t hesitate to admit their errors, and thus, others can be aware of those errors and prepare themselves to avoid making the same mistakes. In a workplace where being reprimanded is part of the gig when errors are made, employees often try to hide errors, meaning no one really grows from these mistakes.
Psychological safety stems from a few different mindset practices, including parts of performance psychology, a growth mindset, and teamwork. Here are a few ways you can help your own team feel more psychologically safe, even in a remote setting, so the company can reap the benefits.
Comfort in all forms of communication is the key metric to fostering psychological safety. Encouraging your team to ask questions is a simple-yet-effective means to empowering them to share all of their feelings about a given project. In the remote meeting setting, it’s a little more difficult to see who has that question sitting on the tip of their tongue, so be sure to take a few extra seconds when you ask your team if they have any thoughts. Chiming in can take a little longer in a remote setting for a variety of reasons.
Another way to show that you are truly welcoming any and all feedback is to provide your own, and be candid about it. If you don’t like something, it’s okay to say it, just do so constructively and always end with positivity and recognition that your team member was trying to do what was best. Encourage said team member to continue thinking out of the box, and be appreciative of the positives that came from whatever she or he may have created.
At the beginning and end of every Slack or Zoom meeting, encourage everyone to share a little something about their quarantine experience that may be unique, hopefully sparking conversation beyond the (now metaphorical) workplace walls. Join in with these conversations, and even sharing some topics to discuss that are loosely related to work (“What would you do with an extra week of vacation?”) and let the dialogue flow!
These pre-and-post-meeting rendezvous are also great opportunities to share passions and reasons that your team enjoys being on the team. Beyond a given person’s work, there are often other things she or he is looking to achieve, and knowing these goals can help team members align on things beyond the scope of work, ultimately making them better team members within the scope of work. A silver lining to COVID-19 is that work colleagues are, for most, the only colleagues people are having regular contact with at the moment, so it’s a natural time for most to want to interact a little more.
Discussing diversity, just like psychological safety, as a whole, is both morally sound, and a good move for employee retention and business. Cultural expression may be another aspect of the workplace that is a bit easier to share in the remote setting, as relics, family members, and even food are easier to “Show and tell” from the comfort of one’s own home. Sharing the food, of course, will have to wait, but anticipation is always good for conversation!
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