Remote & Async Work 5 min

Psychological safety tips for remote teams

October 28, 2021
Preston Wickersham


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Remote work can change lives for the better, but companies cannot treat the ability to work remotely as a “perk” if they want their employees to thrive. Creating psychological safety within remote teams requires organizations to rethink the way they communicate and manage expectations.

Learn the essentials of psychological safety in remote work

Leaders should view remote work less as a new way of working and more as a reason to be more deliberate about things like culture, trust, and accountability. Learning to build psychological safety for remote teams is a must, and the best organizations are those who are addressing the following questions about remote work and psychological safety:

  • How much independence should you give new employees?

  • What forms of communication are most appropriate?

  • How should companies leverage their benefits to build employee trust?

  • What are the most important things to measure regarding psychological safety?

Tips to build psychological safety for remote employees

Building psychological safety within remote teams takes time, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. The first step is to recognize that employees require psychological safety to feel confident in their roles. If they are afraid of being micromanaged, treated poorly, or simply overlooked, they will not be able to do their jobs well.

Psychological safety is more important than its effects on productivity though. Who would want to spend hours each day working in a place that isn’t safe or welcoming? Everyone deserves psychological safety at work, remote or otherwise. Creating an environment where employees feel supported in their lives and empowered in their work is not just the smart business move: it’s the right thing to do.

With that in mind, here are a few quick tips to build psychological safety for your remote team:

Demonstrate trust from day one.

You spent a lot of time finding and hiring the right candidate. Why second-guess that person now?

When new people join, don’t wait to give them the freedom they need to do their jobs well. Provide immediate access to necessary tools and budget, time to go through important documentation, and respect for their ideas and their processes. Hire people because of the value they bring, then allow them to show you why your trust in them is merited.

Make check-in meetings about the person, not the work.

The best work is asynchronous work. You can deal with project updates in Slack or documentation tools, like Notion. Instead of spending valuable facetime with team members on updates, use those opportunities to catch up and see how things are going.

How do they feel about their role? Do they need anything unblocked for them? Do they have access to the resources and tools they need? Are they taking enough time to rest so they don’t get burned out? One short meeting a week can be the difference between a major burnout and a long and prosperous tenure with the company.

Show accountability from the top.

Workplaces in which senior leaders can do no wrong and employees take the blame for every mistake rarely retain their best people. Praise belongs in public, while constructive feedback belongs in private. Finger-pointing, anger, and rudeness don’t belong anywhere at all.

In a remote environment, public praise is essential. You may feel like your team members are doing a good job, but if you don’t make it obvious that you feel that way, your team may feel unappreciated or doubt whether they are succeeding in their roles. Give shoutouts to team members in public channels when they deserve the spotlight.

Measure performance, not hours.

Tracking employee screen time, online hours, and mouse movements is the easiest way to show your team you do not trust them. Why does it matter whether someone takes a long lunch on a hard day if they do great work?

Give your employees the benefit of the doubt and judge their performance based on productivity, not time spent online. If you find that you need people online constantly for certain functions, like customer service, your team should be large enough to handle the load.

Enforce time off to prevent burnout.

People need time off from work. Some countries have begun to experiment with a four-day workweek with great success. If you aren’t ready to go that far yet, you can still keep your people feeling rested and supported by ensuring they get enough time off throughout the year.

Remote has an unlimited PTO policy, but we enforce a minimum number of days to ensure our team members don’t get burned out. We also hold quarterly self-care days. Give your team permission and opportunities to unplug, and make sure senior leaders visibly take time off. That means leaders should not answer Slack messages and emails while on PTO — even executives need rest!

Psychological safety for remote teams does not happen by accident. Use these tactics to show your employees you care about their wellness and want them to succeed. Inevitably, they will reward your faith in them with great work and strong results.

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