March 3rd, 2021


A 5-Minute Return-To-Work Plan For HR Leaders

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Providing an environment that protects employees and promotes their psychological safety isn’t a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing project that requires deep understanding, responsiveness, and quick decision making.

By examining the impact technology has on psychological safety in the workplace against the backdrop of evolving business priorities, employee expectations, and reopening strategies, HR leaders can empower employees to work better from anywhere.

These days, human resources teams are also responsible for coordinating a broad range of new issues related to COVID-19 concerning physical and psychological safety at work. And at the same time, budgetary pressures and time constraints add a layer of difficulty to addressing these challenges.

With most employees expected to stay remote on a part-time basis at minimum, leaders need to take the time now to plan and evaluate new workplace priorities and technology strategies that help alleviate the anxiety and uncertainty people feel when it comes to working in the office.

It’s time to replace the traditional way of thinking about workplace wellbeing with a more human-centered approach — one that takes psychological safety into account.

What is psychological safety in the workplace?

According to Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety at work means eliminating interpersonal fear.

When an employee feels psychologically safe, they're more likely to innovate, contribute, and take risks that benefit the company. But when psychological safety is missing in the workplace, the fear of being punished for mistakes stands in the way of performance and creativity.

There are many interwoven factors that influence the ability to bring the best version of yourself to the workplace. For employees, a complex web of individual, cultural, and organizational factors interact and influence how each person shows up each day.

A psychologically safe work environment

If the workplace doesn't support people as individuals, it will fail to bring out the best in employees and your organization.

When an employee doesn't feel valued, supported, enabled, or comfortable, they aren't likely to bring their best to the organization. Having diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility policies in place is one way to create a psychologically safe workplace environment.

Here's an example to illustrate how the environment can influence an employee's psychological safety at work.

Your employee — we'll call him Joe — is reluctant to come into the office each morning. Leaders may start to take notice, chalking his lack of enthusiasm and tardiness up to poor performance and a bad attitude. But what they can't see is the difficulty Joe has paying attention, his struggle to focus, or his preference for quieter spaces to work. Turns out he's not reluctant to be at work, just the distraction of the noisy workplace.

HR leaders can remedy this psychological safety issue by implementing hybrid-friendly seating arrangements. For instance, if Joe's company switched to desk hoteling, he'd be able to book a workspace conducive to the type of work he needed to accomplish that day.

How has COVID-19 effected psychological safety at work?

In the current climate, additional concerns such as physical safety, social isolation, and Zoom fatigue can have an impact on perception of psychological safety.

Feeling socially isolated

Virtual meeting experiences have changed how people work, what strengths they bring to the table, the personal challenges they experience, and their relationships with colleagues, management, and company leadership. There's not many chances to run into a coworker at the water cooler these days, so social interactions have had to become scheduled and highly structured.

True, many organizations have implemented online team-building exercises to offer more opportunities for collaboration and connection. But it's not a perfect substitute, and it can be challenging to learn new ways to communicate effectively, work efficiently, and connect to the collective success of the organization. 

Lack of face-to-face interaction

We recently shared some surprising statistics that indicate the benefits of having in-person meetings in the future. Not only are employees looking forward to talking face-to-face, there's also reason to believe that these meetings are more effective for building trust among teams.

When it's time to reopen your doors, having employee-focused conference room scheduling software will help make booking meeting space easier, safer, and an all-around more positive experience.

Health concerns for themselves and others

For many employees, fear is a defining factor of the current moment. They hear news of an outbreak, closures, changing health and safety recommendations, and the warning from public health authorities every single day. 

That's a lot to digest and it's no wonder some people fear coming back into the office. 

HR leaders should look at each employee on an individual basis when it comes time to start bringing the workforce back. Keep in mind personal reasons for staying home right now. Between pre-existing health conditions, complicated circumstances, and other personal situational factors, there's a lot to consider.

Steps for ensuring psychological safety in the workplace today

It's imperative that you support both physical and psychological safety during — and after — your return to work.

Start with physical safety measures

When you do start your return to office process, it's a good idea to use wellness questionnaires to gauge health and wellbeing of anyone who enters the premises. That'll help you encourage those with symptoms to stay at home and reassure employees who do come into the office that you're keeping them safe.

With touchless technology, such as Teem's mobile app for room and desk booking, employees are able to reserve seats from their own devices. That way, your facility teams know which spaces need to be sanitized and employees feel more comfortable knowing their space has already been cleaned.

Here's some other key ways for HR leaders to promote psychological safety at work.

Bring employees back - Teem Blog

Put the “human” in “human resources” first

Employees have been forced to contend with the economic, social, and technological disruption caused by the pandemic. HR leaders need to acknowledge the challenges people are facing every day, otherwise, internal communications may come off as cold, dismissive, or out of touch.

Before reopening, protect physical and psychological safety risks. When implementing new safety measures, take a holistic approach. Consider how these actions will impact employees today, tomorrow, and in the future. 

For instance, if you plan to shift your workplace away from designated seating, you need to ask employees how they feel, look for signs of hot desking anxiety, and learn about other (more welcomed) flexible seating options.

Keep end-users in mind as you evaluate technology options. From evaluation and decision-making phase to implementation and training, they need to have a voice throughout the process.

As an advocate for your employees, it's critical that you use your voice to reinforce what you already know: The importance of health, psychological safety, and wellbeing can’t be overlooked.

Remove the barriers to workplace flexibility

The second step: help your organization adapt to the new normal by removing the barriers to flexibility. Remember how disruptive the shift to full-time remote work was? Rather than experience the reverse effect, consider a gradual, less jarring transition.

Beyond a current familiarity with a work-from-home arrangement, employees also are aware their employers now know productivity is possible outside of the office. Companies that mandate coming into the office will likely encounter reluctance, possible resistance, and might even negatively impact retention rates.

The future is here. It’s hybrid. And employees expect leaders to get onboard.

Don’t reverse recent digital transformation achievements

Businesses with existing remote capabilities and cloud-based workplace technology had an advantage at the start of the pandemic.

But once the outbreak forced shutdowns, even digital laggards became digital adopters. The tech-resistant became tech-reliant. Even those old-fashioned industries notorious for clinging to manual processes and legacy systems have joined the rest of us in the digital age.

And now that employees are comfortable with new technologies, they've come to expect the efficiencies that they bring. More than ever before, an employee experience app can help you support the psychological safety of your distributed workforce. It meets all their flexibility, technology, and social needs, plus it makes the transition smoother.

How technology can help create psychological safety at work

Technology can help make collaboration, team cohesion, and individual support easier. As an added bonus, you can also use it to cut down on the wasted space (and cost) resulting from errors, inaccessible resources, and outdated information.

Consider this simple example: There's a recurring meeting booked on the calendar every week in one of the most-loved rooms in the office. But actually, it's an old reservation that never got deleted from your conference room schedule.

Seems like a small issue, but those Zombie Meetings® are costing you. And they're expensive.

For starters, even though the meeting room isn’t being actually being used, employees see the room as unavailable on the room booking calendar. That means the onboarding session for the newest member of your team can’t be scheduled in the empty room. And that brainstorming session for your product team isn’t going to happen in there, either.

Instead, that meeting room will just continue sitting there. Unused. Meanwhile, the old reservation has damaged collaboration opportunities and impacted team bonding.

Treat this moment as an opportunity to encourage resiliency.

Modern technology, such as Teem’s Zombie Hunter feature, makes it possible to avoid losing out on valuable collaboration time.

If meeting attendees don’t check in to their regularly scheduled meetings for a set number of instances, it’ll automatically free the room up. That's just one way digital experiences can provide employees with more opportunities to stay engaged in the workplace, which ultimately leads to happier people, a stronger culture, and a more innovative organization.

Great workplace software can help make the workplace a better place to work by helping HR leaders support psychological safety. That's good news for employees, teams, and your business. 

After all, team work makes the dream work.

Looking for some help during your return? Learn more about how we can help you get on the road to resilience faster.

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