The future of work is hybrid and psychological safety will play an important role

By November 10, 2021 Uncategorised

Research has shown that psychological safety – a shared belief that members of a team are safe to take interpersonal risks without negative social consequences – is a key contributor to effective teams. However, building psychological safety has proven to be difficult in the past and is even more challenging in the current world of work. As such, the global pandemic has caused an added challenge for leaders around the world – establishing psychological safety in hybrid teams. 

Hybrid teams involve a mixture of employees who work from home (online) and in the office (face-to-face). Research suggests that hybrid teams are here to stay, with 83% of employees believing hybrid working models are optimal moving forward, and 63% of high performing organisation’s already adopting a ‘productivity anywhere’ model. 

Establishing psychological safety is even more complex in hybrid working environments, without the usual social cues available to successfully ‘read the room’. Furthermore, having psychologically safe discussions around work-life balance are particularly difficult during these uncertain times given the added layer of sensitivity. Despite such difficulties, researchers and practitioners agree that cultivating psychological safety is more important now than ever. 

 

Why is psychological safety important? 

Research suggests that psychological safety has benefits at the individual, team, and organisational level. Psychological safety has been linked to: 

  • Increased employee engagement 
  • Improved team innovation 
  • Higher quality decision making 
  • Healthy team dynamics 

What does psychological safety look like in the workplace? 

Employees who feel psychologically safe… 

  • Are comfortable making mistakes and taking risks 
  • Find it easier to discuss difficult issues and problems 
  • Feel valued and respected by their team 

Employees who do not feel psychologically safe… 

  • Have mistakes held against them 
  • Feel rejected for being different 
  • Are reluctant to ask for help  

 

The role of the leader 

Researchers and practitioners suggest that the leader plays an important role in building psychological safety. A recent Harvard Business Review article3 posted by thought leaders in the field suggests that building psychological safety in hybrid teams is critical to success moving forward. They suggest that leaders can build psychological safety in hybrid environments by: 

  • Sharing ownership of the problem: working together to develop new ways of working effectively. 
  • Role modeling vulnerability: exposing your own working from home/ hybrid work challenges and constraints. Sharing these stories can help to reduce the shame for you and your team and in turn, promote psychological safety. 
  • Encouraging psychologically safe conversations: ensure respect is being shown as team members navigate their own hybrid working challenges.  

Establishing psychological safety in virtual meetings 

Thought leaders have devised simple practical tips for establishing psychological safety in virtual meetings4. Although the virtual environment can hinder the development of psychological safety, there are tools we can leverage. Functions that help to promote psychological safety include: 

  • Break out rooms: putting people in small breakout rooms can help to create a more natural conversational environment. Having a breakout room discussion early in the meeting can help to ‘warm up’ people and promote input throughout the session. 
  • Anonymous polls: using the poll function can help to elicit input whilst remaining anonymous. Consider the difference between asking a large group of people how they are feeling as opposed to asking them to rate their wellbeing on a scale of 1-5. The data gathered from these polls can help to spark further discussion. 
  • Hide self-view: Seeing ourselves on the screen during meetings can heighten self-consciousness and in turn, negatively impact psychological safety. Hiding self-view can help to eliminate these feelings – after all, we don’t look at ourselves when attending face-to-face meetings.  
  • Involve a facilitator: nominating or involving a facilitator for virtual meetings can help to promote equal participation and involvement and ensure more productive use of time. 
  • Post meeting check-ins: reaching out to participants who were quiet during the meeting can help to promote psychological safety and conduct an informal well-being check in. People have different communication styles, but it is important to ensure everyone feels safe speaking up.  

 

Conclusion 

Establishing psychological safety is more important now than ever with the rise in hybrid working environments. Researchers and practitioners have suggested that psychological safety will play an important role in ensuring organisational success post pandemic. Moreover, the leaders of an organisation will play a crucial role in successfully navigating the hybrid working environment. Whilst building psychological safety is challenging in these uncertain times, there are practical tips we can use to promote it. It’s time we start taking psychological safety seriously.  

We encourage you to share your own working from home/ hybrid working challenges – let’s start normalising them! 

 

References 

  1. Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work. Academy of Management Journal. 33(4), 692-724.  
  2. Smith, C., Silverstone, Y., Whittall, N., Shaw, D., McMillan, K. (2021). ‘The Future of Work: A Hybrid Work Model’. Accenture. 
  3. Edmondson, A.C., & Mortensen, M. (2021). ‘What Psychological Safety Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace’. Harvard Business Review. 
  4. Edmondson, A.C., & Daley, G. (2020). ‘How to Foster Psychological Safety in Virtual Meetings’. Harvard Business Review. 

 

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