Why Remote & Hybrid Teams Need Psychological Safety and How to Create It



Organisations across Ireland are busy figuring out what mode of work to establish going forward, now that almost all sectors are returning to the office.


A lot of talk is happening around hybrid models, increasing flexibility for the employees. We love to see the discussions and the recent work of the Irish government to support the right to work from home is a welcome move to strengthen employees' choices to design a work-life balance that is right for them.


However, what concerns us are reports from some of our clients that they are worried about having to go back to the office for a 5-day week. This idea is creating worry and anxiety for employees who have come to appreciate the flexibility as it allows them a much healthier work-life balance. Many people are worried that the positive habits that they cultivated during working from home will go out the window again once the long commute is added to their busy schedules. Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index found that nearly half of their 31000 global employees are now prioritising their family and work-life balance. Especially Gen Z and Millenials are likely to leave a company if flexibility, wellbeing and work-life balance are not a priority within the company.


So why is it that after 2 years of proven productivity, engagement and success of working from home, some senior leaders want their complete workforce back where they can see them: back in the office?


Why is presence in the office still equated to productivity?

It all comes down to trust. Trust is the key ingredient for a successful team. Trust becomes even more important when we embrace full work flexibility, fully flexible hybrid models, and new approaches to work like work-from-anywhere.

Trust within a team is called psychological safety and is a concept that has enjoyed great academic attention over the past decade.


What is psychological safety?

From the perspective of the employee, Psychological Safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or rejected for voicing your ideas, opinions, questions or concerns. In psychologically safe teams, the individual feels free to express themselves and their ideas without the fear of being embarrassed, humiliated or ignored. Teams high in psychological safety share the belief that mistakes are an opportunity to learn, optimise and grow. Feeling psychologically safe is the foundation to being your authentic self in the workplace.

Psychological safety in relation to working from home also means that you feel trusted to do your work in the same capacity and to the same standard as you would if you were physically present in the office.

From the perspective of the employer and leadership team, psychological safety also means trusting your employees to be responsible, to allow them to find the working format that works best for them. If you are a leader who prefers to have your employees all in the office, building psychological safety will have to start with yourself: you will have to trust.


The business case for psychological safety

The research evidence is clear: teams that score high in psychological safety not only perform better, they also deal better with failure, cultivate a stronger growth mindset and are more resilient in times of uncertainty and change (Frazier et al., 2017).

Teams in Tech are born in and operate within VUCA environments - a world of constant change, uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity. It is surprising that building psychological safety is not (yet) on every leader’s agenda.


Why you should invest in psychological safety of your teams

The rapid transformation in the way we work has been accelerated by the pandemic. With hybrid and fully remote teams now a common appearance, it is time to look at productivity beyond traditional performance factors only.

Google conducted a company-wide study on psychological safety in 2016, which highlighted 5 core concepts for organisations to consider to build effective agile teams. Psychological safety ranked as the number one predictor of team effectiveness and emerged as the factor that underpins all other four concepts for effective teams: dependability, structure and clarity, the meaning of work, and the impact of work.

How to build psychological safety in your teams

Within the growing evidence-base of promoting psychological safety in the workplace, three key strategies have shown to be effective from a leadership and team perspective. These strategies are ideal to be implemented with a mix of leadership coaching and effective team workshops, equally benefitting office-based and remote teams.


Communication is key

Psychological safety is all about communication: communicating well as a leader and also creating a safe space for the team to voice their ideas, concerns, challenges and worries. In hybrid or fully remote teams, communication happens differently. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review outlines the key ingredients for successful communication in hybrid or remote teams:

  • Embrace asynchronous communication through setting the right expectations, creating supporting policies and processes

  • Make communication boundaries clear by setting rules of engagement for each platform and being explicit about working hours. Avoid falling into the always-available-mindset.

Curiosity

Curiosity is the glue that makes a group a team. Fostering a mindset of curiosity, inquiry, openness to learn with and from each other is key to building psychological safety in teams. Curiosity is a strength that can be trained, promoted and practised to help your team members become explorers and inquirers. This is a great team activity and can be facilitated as part of a strengths-based team workshop

Team Workshop introducing strengths-based communication & leadership approaches

Adapt your leadership strategy to the hybrid working model

Boundaries between work-life and private life have become more blurry with the move to working from home and hybrid work. The leader of today needs to consider the person beyond the workplace. Private situations and responsibilities can have an immediate impact on outcome-oriented factors like performance and engagement, but also take into account the emotional impact of blurred lines between work and private life. It might be more difficult for some of your employees to switch between the private persona and the work persona when working from the same space they live in.

Do you want to build more psychological safety in your teams?

Building psychological safety in your organisation is a process. It starts with enabling your leadership team to trust and equip them with the knowledge and tools to act as effective leaders who are sensitive to the individual and their impact on the wider organisation. It also includes supporting your team to work together in a way that fosters individual learning and learning as a team.

We specialise in working with teams and leaders across Ireland on implementing evidence-based strategies that promote psychological safety, awareness and confidence through interactive workshops, team coaching and 1:1 leadership coaching. If you need a trusted advisor in your journey to build better teams get in touch with us today!











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