Psychological safety in a hybrid workplace is important (and foundational) for the long-term success of teams, but it can be much more challenging to uphold. As we already know from studies centred around co-located teams, psychological safety is a big contributing factor to creative thinking, innovation, and employee engagement.
Psychological safety in a working environment can also lead to better relationships and more open communication between employees and their leaders. It’s no wonder that knowing how to create psychological safety in a hybrid workplace has become a priority as organisations the world over continue to embrace flexible working.
Let’s explore psychological safety and what you can do as a leader to develop and strengthen it in your hybrid workplace.
What is psychological safety?
Here’s a quick recap on psychological safety. This term was first coined by Amy Edmondson, an organizational behavioural scientist (we love those kinds of people) who defined it as ‘a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking’.
Interpersonal risk-taking takes many forms, from speaking up with an original idea, asking a question, voicing concerns or sharing mistakes or challenges that have come up. All of these instances require us to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable, even if only for a few minutes. It can be useful to imagine psychological safety as a sliding scale, and this scale may slide up and down depending on the behaviours and encouragements (or lack of encouragement to speak up) of leaders.
In teams where people are ignored, rejected, spoken over the top of, or worse, punished for speaking up, on a regular basis, psychological safety is poor and just about every form of discretionary effort and out-of-the-box thinking is done away with completely.
On the other hand, workplaces where individuals are encouraged to share their ideas and ask questions without fear of judgement or ridicule have greater levels of psychological safety and therefore are more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to complex problems.
How to strengthen psychological safety in a hybrid workplace
Create a safe space to workshop challenges, problems or roadblocks as a team
Feeling comfortable enough to openly share problems, roadblocks, or challenges you’re facing with other members in your team is a critical component of psychological safety. This level of vulnerability can be daunting, however, the more regularly and openly things of this nature are discussed constructively in a team environment, the more psychological safety is strengthened.
For a hybrid workplace, it can be useful to designate a segment of your team video calls, a specific messaging thread or channel, or even design a quick process that someone in your team can follow to let the team know they need help with something and to call an impromptu problem-solving session.
In our workplace, we’ve experimented with making Wednesdays, the middle of the working week, our day to encourage the team to share on a video call any of the roadblocks they may be coming up against for a chance to workshop them then and there. Providing a safe space for hybrid team members to share can help avoid having team members struggling in silence and enhance psychological safety. Leaders who role-model asking for help with roadblocks from the team encourage psychological safety. Giving your team a shared language around this can also go a long way in making people feel more comfortable in sharing their challenges with the team, even if they choose to do so on a smaller scale with fewer people or in the moment when a situation arises.
Encourage the use of a virtual whiteboard tool for brainstorming sessions
In order to feel comfortable and valued when sharing ideas within a hybrid team, you need to be able to be heard. This can prove to be a challenge when brainstorming sessions are run in a way in which there’s a group of team members dialling in from a shared space with a whiteboard that is difficult to view for those working from home. You know what we’re talking about, don’t you? While it’s done with good intention, this dynamic can lead to people working from home not speaking up as regularly and can end up feeling like a very one-sided brainstorming session.
We’d encourage you to use a virtual whiteboard tool like Miro, with its glorious digital post-it notes, to help you create an engaging shared experience for your hybrid team. With this tool, everyone can add their ideas to the board in real-time and as a team, perhaps after a timer goes off, the nominated speaker can go ahead and read out the ideas and drive the session forward. Miro can also level the playing field and improve hybrid team cohesion when conducting retrospectives on the success of a recently completed project, allowing all involved to share their thoughts and ideas for how they can improve the approach to similar projects in future.
Regularly share and express gratitude as a team
One of the most vulnerable things we can do is to put ourselves out there by recognizing and saying thanks to a colleague. Whilst this seems like an easy task, having the courage to express genuine thanks is not as easy as it sounds. When you’re not seeing your teammates face-to-face all the time it can be easy to forget to share your gratitude when something is done for you, for a client on your behalf, or even when someone helps you to solve a problem. Sure, it may seem small now, but every ounce of gratitude shared goes a long way in strengthening psychological safety in your hybrid workplace.
As a leader, it’s also important for you to share your gratitude for the team when a project is completed well, or a deliverable comes out wonderfully. In a hybrid workplace, you can support and encourage gratitude sharing in a couple of different ways including through the use of a messaging channel that your team can share words of thanks in or even in a dedicated portion of your weekly team video meetings. Encouraging the regular sharing of gratitude amongst your team is valuable in so many ways, from employee engagement to team bonds, and along the way people feel seen and psychological safety is strengthened.
After reading this article we hope you’ve got a clearer picture of how you can create and strengthen psychological safety in your hybrid workplace. If you’re keen to dig in further and explore the strategies and techniques you can implement to become a high performing hybrid team, take a look at our recently published book, Work From Anywhere.