Maintaining psychologically safe workplaces with remote teams



A leading provider of Canadian business support solutions, employee and business assistance plans. AreteMD améliore le bien-être des Canadiens par l’entremise de programmes d’aide aux entreprises et aux employés.

With a large portion of employees around Canada now instructed to work from home where possible, it’s a pivotal time to find balance in the upheaval, and maintain the psychologically safe workplace—where team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable with each other—you worked so hard to achieve in your regular work environment.

First and foremost, it’s important to stay connected—no matter how far apart you are, physically, from one another. Social connection nurtures good mental health, collaboration and teamwork. The positive challenge with a virtual team is how to get more creative in the delivery of this connection.

Building (Virtual) Connection

  • Weekly (or daily) all-team check ins. Be sure that these team talks include a discussion about the work at hand as well as time for non-work-related discussion (books your team is reading, a good movie they’ve seen, how they incorporate physical activity into their day, etc.). Not only will this help your team gel, it may also present some threads of information otherwise unknown to you as the leader in terms of personal strains, wins that your staff may be shy to bring up or even some clever home office hacks that you and your team can use.
  • Host virtual events. Things like team coffee chats or a lunch (perhaps where everyone gets something delivered and enjoys it at the same time over a video conference) can really help to establish community, which is so important for high functioning teams.

Getting on the Same Frequency

  • Get familiar with tech. Anyone who was working remotely before this crisis hit will tell you how important video conferencing is to them and their feeling of connectedness. There’s so much to be said for body language and facial expressions to help guide a meeting. With so many options available to us these days (Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.), using video has never been easier—or more important.
  • Set expectations. With all these new channels to communicate and stay connected through, it’s crucial that you set clear expectations for your team so they know how and when to engage on all of them. You’ll likely have a variety of skill and confidence levels with this technology, so creating spaces that are inclusive and give everyone equal opportunities to contribute will be both challenging and critically important.

Understanding Your Team

  • Be a (behaviour) model. Employees look to their leaders for cues and will follow your lead on everything from the team culture and how strictly processes are followed, to understanding business priorities and how to interact with one another. Lead by practicing psychologically healthy habits yourself, like setting and following clear expectations, ensuring civility and respect, being vulnerable and providing recognition and reward to your team.
  • Listen, actively. Practice active listening by repeating back what you are hearing them say and asking clarifying questions. Understanding not only what they’re saying, but also the meaning or motivation behind the words is much more challenging when you’re not face-to-face. Be sure to end all your interactions with a quick summary of what you heard and provide an opportunity for staff to clarify if something isn’t quite right—you’ll feel better, and be more productive, for it.

Although working remotely opens up previously unknown doors for a lot of employers, it’s important to remember that establishing clear processes and expectations, knowing which channels to go through for what types of communication and working from a platform of honesty and authenticity will all help to lay the groundwork for, or continue to foster, your psychologically healthy workplace.

Payworks understands the importance of the health and well-being of your workforce. That’s why we’ve partnered with Arete to create HR Advisory Services, a comprehensive management tool of practical HR-related guidance, resources and services provided by industry professionals to ensure you’re supported every step of the way in growing a strong organization. HR Advisory Services is a versatile and insightful solution that supports you and your management team in managing the broad spectrum of unique issues your organization may encounter. Whatever comes your way, we’ve got you covered. Email to learn more.

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