It wasn’t so long ago that the term ‘hybrid workplace’ didn’t hold much appeal.
Think about it … in the past, what employer would allow – or actively encourage – their employees to work from home or another remote location when they had a perfectly good office to go to?
Times change, though, and for lots of organisation, a more flexible work model became a must, thanks to a little thing called COVID-19. Now, as the pandemic starts to blur in the rear-view mirror, a hybrid workplace is not only seriously considered, it’s increasingly desirable.
But what does psychological safety look like in a hybrid workplace?
Firstly, let’s address the obvious question …
What is ‘psychological safety’ in a workplace context?
The workplace can be a complicated environment, with all kinds of risks and hazards. For the longest time, the focus has been on physical health and safety. Trip hazards are eliminated, electrical equipment is tested and tagged, and noise is kept to safe levels.
Now, in today’s workplace, mental health awareness is every bit as important as physical health and safety. But because psychological safety is less visible, it can be harder to identify.
Here are some examples of psychological health hazards at work:
- Absence of role clarity
- Exposure to inappropriate materials
- Harassment (sexual or otherwise)
- Sustained high job demands and heavy workload
- Low reward or recognition
- Workplace conflict
- Low job control
- Repetitive or monotonous work
- Working with challenging clients
- Shift work-related fatigue
- Feeling unsupported
- Poor workplace relationships
- Unsatisfactory environmental conditions
There are lots more examples than those on this short list, but they give you a pretty clear picture. All of them cause various impacts on people’s health, some fairly minor, like headaches, indigestion and nausea.
At the other end of the scale, others are literally life-changing, like PTSD, chronic depression/anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. And the effects of psychological hazards to on employee can also impact their families and colleagues.
Hybrid workplace risks to psychological safety
With the concept of a hybrid workplace being fairly new, and the workforce not fully used to it yet, issues like discipline and barriers can be problems. Home life and work life can become blurred if employees feel they’re never ‘off duty’. Being self-disciplined can be very hard because when a person is working from home, they’re faced with loads of distractions like chores, pets, kids, and the TV or fridge.
Workers can start to experience ‘symptoms’ they didn’t have when they were working only at the office. They might feel fatigued all the time, find it hard to meet deadlines, and notice their relationships with their colleagues breaking down. They might feel like their confidence is being eroded and they might also find it hard to feel motivated if they’re not receiving regular recognition at work because there’s limited in-person contact.
How to promote psychological safety in a hybrid workplace
When you have a co-located team, (various members of your workforce working from different locations), staying focused on psychological safety can be tricky. You may have some of your people in the office five days a week, while others work from home for three days and in the office for two. Maybe your team spends a lot of time on the road, or you’ve recruited talent with incredible expertise, but who are based interstate.
The key is to coordinate communication so everyone is kept in the loop as much as possible. People need to feel seen and heard and know that their contributions matter. Here are some tips:
- Encourage in-person meetings whenever you can.
- Phone calls are great because they’re more immediate than emails and each person’s tone of voice can be heard, which is often difficult in text.
- If it’s not possible to get together, video calls are really helpful because everyone’s body language and facial expressions can be seen.
- Encourage your team to visit the workplace more by setting up meetings instead of calls. You can even organise team lunches or ask individuals to come in specifically for a catch-up.
The benefits of creating a psychologically safe hybrid workplace
Employees who feel psychologically safe at work – whether that’s at the office, their home or somewhere else where they do their work – are less likely to leave. They’re also more likely to be creative, take risks, speak openly and, trust and feel trusted. It’s easier to build rapport and teams work better together when everyone knows and trusts each other.
How to nurture psychological safety in your hybrid workplace
First, make sure your team knows that even though theirs is a hybrid workplace, it’s not the usual way of doing things, so there will be challenges but you want to help smooth the way.
1. Talk about this ‘new normal’ with your team. A co-located team must adapt, but they need to know they can speak up about any challenges they’re facing and that they’ll be heard.
2. Create a safe space for employees to speak openly. Whether they need to talk about problems they’re having with getting their work done or they’re having issues with colleagues, they need to know they can share without worrying that something bad might happen as a result.
3. Lead the way. We’re all human. When employees know their employers have their own fears and concerns about working in a hybrid workplace, it opens the conversation and makes problem-solving easier.
Establishing, building and maintaining human connection in any workplace is always challenging. A hybrid workplace adds another level of challenges, but they can be overcome. Productivity, performance and potential can all be optimised by making psychological safety a top priority. It’s an important key to high-performing teams.
MiTraining offers corporate workshops on an increasing number of topics, including our innovative workplace wellness courses. If you want to promote psychological safety in your workplace, ask about a live workplace wellness course today.