Hybrid work brings a lot of benefits like flexibility of work schedules, location independence, cost benefits, and more. But it also brings challenges like lack of communication and team interaction as many times team members are working from elsewhere and not having direct interactions. Hybrid teams find it challenging to have open (or casual) communication while discussing work.
In such situations, the employees often feel that they are at the loss of their ideas. Additionally, they may feel intimidated to offer creative ideas for the fear of humiliation/rejection. Therefore, the employers need to offer a secure work environment where the employees can discuss their ideas freely. This is called psychological safety.
In this blog, we are going to discuss what psychological safety looks like when teams are distributed and are working in a hybrid work environment.
Effects of new work environment on psychological safety:
Psychological safety is a term which means that an individual has a safe environment to speak up without any kind of fear or apprehension. If an individual is assured of this safety, he/she feels safe with the decision making process. It also ensures that group members share a healthy interpersonal bond and sportsman spirit.
A team that works on cohesion can deliver tremendous results and contribute to the success of the organization. If an employee is afraid to correct his or her senior official, then growth of the employee falls under a risk. A good leader always ensures that everyone feels heard. But with hybrid work, even a good leader struggles with this kind of situation. This is true because managers are 70% responsible for variance within employee engagement.
This aspect has come into consideration because of increasing loss of work-life boundaries. Pandemic being one of the reasons, an employee needs hybrid work because they have a family to take care of. They must be struggling on a personal level and hybrid work may help them sort it out.
When the work-life boundaries are blurred, managers have to take care of an employee’s professional front along with the personal one. The discussion around work-life balance has become a touchy subject. For instance, an individual may be balancing two kids while being remote. But another employee may be working while being location independent and traveling around the world.
Talking to both of them may bring up a set of challenges and concerns, a manager may not be ready to deal with. This brings a point that a hybrid work culture may not offer psychological safety.
The necessary changes:
With the traditional work environment, we were trained to keep professional and personal things absolutely separate. But with a hybrid work culture, the old ideas have been tossed out of the window. Within the last two years, employers are discussing parental leave, mental health leave, childcare benefits, and more.
These topics came up for discussion because flexible work schedules were introduced. Managers would need to understand their employee’s approach to work. In the absence of this information, the managers have been facing coordination issues lately.
With the changes in the work model, it has become imperative to work in tandem with the employee’s mindset. This is where psychological safety steps in. The employees need a safe work environment where they can discuss their schedules around their life events. This kind of safety makes employees feel heard.
Ways to ensure psychological safety in a hybrid workplace:
When everyone is conditioned to work in traditional ways, it does not come easy to just bring it up. To ensure that employees feel safe and comfortable while discussing their work around their life, Wurkr taking up the following five steps:
- Addressing the elephant in the room:
Simply telling your team that they should be comfortable while discussing their personal vulnerabilities at work isn’t the solution. The most sensible thing to do is to have a discussion with your team. Have them speak up about the struggles and challenges they have been facing.
As employers, we should open up about the challenges we, as employers, face in a hybrid work environment. This serves as an open ground for the employees to feel comfortable with their own challenges. You can also discuss this in the team to come up with new ways to work together.
Here, it is important for the employees to understand that the work still has to be done. Just with the new ways of working, they still have an important role to play. Along with the psychological safety of the employees, they also need a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
- Practice what you preach:
It all starts with “I”. Managers may come across as people who provide transparency and safety of expression at the workplace. But it is important that managers are also able to take the initiative to ensure it is well followed.
Demonstration of the idea may help the employees to pick it up with ease. When managers open up their vulnerabilities with a hybrid/WFH work setup, employees feel they are not the only ones fighting a battle.
It is okay to not have a clear game plan to address the situation on hand. But being candid about the problem on hand with the employees, keeps the communication channel wide open.
- Taking one step at a time:
The employees cannot be expected to share their challenges and concerns in just a blink of an eye. Trust takes time to build even when psychological safety is inherent in the company’s work culture.
Psychological safety is still a new domain for many organizations. Talking about projects is different from talking about at-home struggles. Ensure that the employees are not punished when they open up about their personal challenges while they work at the company.
- Be a positive example:
Employees cannot open up about their struggles and concerns. Managers will have to take the lead and set an example that if they can share their problems, employees can do that too.
At every step, a manager has to ensure that the employees are able to share their information without sharing private details of their personal life. This could serve a team in so many ways. When a team member knows that another employee is going through some kind of struggle, a sense of empathy comes up.
These are some of the ways to ensure psychological safety at work so that employees can feel empowered. It is a delicate situation and hence managers need to handle it tactfully.
- Ensure the implementation of psychological safety:
As we discussed, the sense of trust takes time to form and can take minutes to jeopardize. It takes time for employees to feel that their ideas or challenges will be heard without judgemental comments or answers.
If a manager rejects the discussion, the employee will not be able to open up in the future. Hence, while being in a hybrid work culture, a manager has to be a compassionate human first.
This kind of conversation needs to be handled carefully. A slight miscommunication can break the trust. As a result, the person will never be able to open up regarding the struggles he must be facing.
While working remotely and in a hybrid culture, Wurkr has been an advocate of psychological safety. We have always encouraged open communication, discussing challenges at the workplace as well as personal front, and feedback loop. This ensures that we develop a sense of empathy towards our team mates.
The goal of Wurkr is to create a virtual workplace while working in any kind of environment, hybrid or fully remote. With Wurkr and its virtual workplace, we enjoy team engagement activities to ensure a friendly and candour workplace.