How To Foster Psychological Safety Remotely

Clashing personalities, office politics, conflicting work and communication styles—as it is, providing a psychologically safe environment for your team may have been challenging enough before the pandemic.

WFH, though, seems to have inevitably complicated matters. With drastically less face-to-face time and far less non-verbal communicative cues—which, research shows, constitutes 93% of all communication—it may be enough of a challenge just working through communication breakdowns and technological disruptions.

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Now, though, surveys show that most Singaporeans have comfortably adjusted to the new normal of WFH; employee productivity, for instance, has more or less returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Yet with no clear indication of an end in sight for WFH, the need to start thriving as a team—as opposed to simply getting by together—is more dire than ever. Here’s how to do just that.

P.S. Lead your team to collaborative excellence SSA’s WSQ course on facilitating effective work teams today!

 

Defining psychological safety

According to Amy Edmondson, who coined the term “psychological safety”, collaborative success necessitates creating a virtual “climate in which people… feel comfortable sharing concerns or mistakes without fear of assessment or retribution.”

Research has consistently shown that such environments are critical to team performance and innovation, both of which are indispensable in a time of crisis like this.

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Fostering psychological safety remotely

 

1. Model authenticity & vulnerability

For people to feel psychologically safe with their team members, there has to be a level of established trust and intimacy within their working relationships. People need to feel like they can be themselves around each other and to have their guards down to a certain extent. This doesn’t happen within a vacuum, though, particularly with newer team members.

Authenticity can’t be faked; it requires you to walk the talk. A leader who only pays lip service to the concept of psychological safety, without himself demonstrating a willingness to be vulnerable and staying true to the values he espouses for the team, will not inspire much respect, let alone trust or intimacy.

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Managers need to spearhead efforts to model the kind of relatability and vulnerability that creates psychological safety. That means:

  • Connecting with people more often and with more depth than you did before
  • Taking on a more active coaching role with your team, especially one-on-one
  • Sharing your own stories on how you’re coping with the new normal
  • Admitting that you don’t always have all the answers

 

2. Instill positive norms around helping, failure, and asking questions

As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”

Now, more than ever, mutual interdependence is vital for your team. People need to know that it’s okay to rely on one another for help in a time of crisis. Everyday cultural norms, though, tend to emphasise self-sufficiency more than anything else.

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  • Reversing the situation by instilling positive norms around helping, framing failure, and asking questions is crucial:
  • Make it a norm to look out for one another
  • Embrace failure as a learning opportunity to encourage calculated risk-taking, greater creativity and higher adaptability in problem-solving
  • Align everyone on the team to a common purpose and mission that helps them band together the tougher things get

 

3. Use digital anonymity for better information sharing and feedback collation

A huge reason why people often hold back from expressing their true opinions or asking their burning questions is that no one likes to be judged or appraised negatively by their peers.

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Remote work, however, offers the possibility of digital anonymity, which greatly reduces the threat of social judgment. Indeed, in her work in providing psychological safety in virtual meetings, Edmondson has found that “anonymous polls make it easier to express an opinion without fear of being singled out.”

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