Practical tips for fostering a safe and inclusive environment.
Recently there has been an upsurge in the amount of time, attention and resources that companies are putting towards the mental health of their teams. It is so refreshing to see that this topic is at the forefront when looking at what is good for business. Things like company retention, team effectiveness, and company culture are all impacted by the how safe your team feels.
If you take a minute to Google “Psychological Safety in the workplace,” the results will keep you reading for quite a while. But some of the repeating themes are that your employees want to feel heard, they want to feel they can contribute without fear of anger or retaliation, they want to trust and be trusted, and they want to be able to show their creativity without being put down or criticized for it.
Now, how does all of this work when you are a remote or distributed team? It gets a lot harder when you are rarely, or ever, hanging out around the water cooler (do people really hang out around the water cooler?), or having the occasional lunch together.
Good communication is imperative….actually, GREAT communication is even better. Chat tools are great, and they keep communication flowing in real time, but it’s so easy to misconstrue the intent of a text or chat. So making sure you are being clear is the first step, and the next is to remember that sarcasm and humor are often not construed the same by all parties. It should also go without saying that making a joke at someone else’s expense will usually yield a bad result.
Pick up the phone and actually talk. I know, it is so much easier to just fire off a text or email, but again, having real conversations is so important in building relationships for remote teams. Make small talk…ask about their weekend or vacation, ask about the new car they talked about last week. Feeling heard and valued is much more than acknowledging contributions to work projects and client meetings.
Getting to know each other is often more challenging when you only know each other online. So taking steps to build relationships will help to solidify the feelings of safety for the team. One thing that I’ve recommended is to make sure that the cameras are on when having conference calls and online meetings. There is a lot more to be garnered than just seeing who has bed-head. You can see mannerisms and body language, and that will add a lot to helping the conversation move in a more natural manner. And whenever possible, occasionally meeting in person can be a great use of company budget.
Give feedback, and deal with issues quickly and directly. Issues and problems will always come up, but how we deal with them can be even more important than the issue resolution itself. Be direct in the communication to the person you are having a problem with. Don’t make the issue bigger by having siloed conversations. When possible, work together to get solutions not just place blame about the problem.
There are so many positives to having remote workers, so the number of people telecommuting is going to continue to grow. Making sure that you are fostering a healthy and inclusive environment – a safe environment – will make your team stronger and more engaged in the long run.
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