Being an effective team leader in a digital environment is not an easy task. When there is physical distance and even time zones separating team members, there can be a real challenge to maintain culture and a sense of collaborative working. How do you develop an office environment where staff feel safe to speak their minds, make mistakes and ask questions when they are not in the same room? Essentially, how do you create ‘psychological safety’ in a digital workplace? The term, coined by Prof. Amy Edmundson, can seem like an alien one when put in the context of a remote team interacting digitally; but it can be done.
Now that Scottish schools are closing, and non-essential travel is banned, teams used to sharing a workspace may be forced into a remote working situation and culture can instantly suffer. Here are some quick tips for helping your team maintain a psychological safe environment while working digitally:
- Choose your technology carefully
Email, Slack, HipChat, WhatsApp and other text based systems are likely to be used frequently with remote teams, but users need to be aware that it is hard to convey tone by text. Comments and jokes can easily be misconstrued, and emojis are not the answer! By making use of video calls body language, facial expressions and tone of voice are all much more apparent and easier to interpret.
- Consider a buddy system
A buddy system ensures that everyone has someone whom they are comfortable to go to for support and advice. You know that two minute chat over a coffee in the office where you sense check an email before you send it? When your team works remotely it can make a big difference having someone to depend on for simple questions like these. It can also help to make everyone feel valued when they know that someone is equally reliant on them for help and advice.
- Keep social
Do not forget to allow for ‘water cooler’ chat. With social distancing being promoted as a solution to the COVID-19 epidemic, creating a space for people to socialise is more important than ever. Set it apart from daily work updates by creating a different chat group, or slack thread specifically for the ‘fun stuff’. As a leader, set challenges like getting people to answer questions about themselves, or take photos of their desk or videos of their home town – ensure everyone has an equal chance to talk about what they consider to be important.
- Ensure that failures, lessons and successes are shared
Even when times are tough, and you think that people need ‘a win’, do not shy away from sharing the bad news with the good. Missed tenders are as important as won contracts when building comradery between staff. It is important to ‘walk the walk’ when aiming for a psychologically safe workplace – sharing your own mistakes can help others feel comfortable asking for help when they are struggling.
- Maintain 1:1 conversations
Check in regularly with your team on one-to-one chats, by phone or video call as well as email and text chat. Not everyone communicates in the same way and some may feel too intimidated to speak up in group chats and email chains. Use these private conversations to discuss projects, progress and longer-term goals. Remote teams can easily drift apart and having a shared long-term vision is important.
If you are a leader and you are feeling daunted by the prospect of suddenly managing people remotely, get in touch with Connect Three and let us know where you are struggling and how we can help.