Supporting Psychological Safety During Emergency Remote Work


It’s noisy out there, isn’t it? Alerts, bulletins, updates, and so much information. At the risk of adding to the clutter, the thing I most want you to hear is—you’ve got this. As a leader, being thrust into emergency remote work is more than disruptive. The changes in workspaces, tools, and workflows would be difficult enough. We’re additionally concerned about the effects of isolation, triggers related to pre-existing mental health struggles, kids also at home with schools shut down, wondering if our vulnerable family members will have access to the support they need when they need it, and all the varied considerations that each individual employee is encountering. We do not yet know how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact our industry, community, or the people we lead, and we’re torn between messages that we’re overreacting or not reacting severely enough.  Here is how you can support psychological safety during emergency remote work. 

 Our health, safety, and security on nearly every level may be at risk, which means on a neurological basis, our go-to coping mechanisms are activating. As leaders, we are navigating the individual and collective impacts of fear in action. With so much going on that is out of our control, where do we put our focus and where can we make a difference? When these current events pass and we’re finding our new normal, what will our coworkers and employees say about their experience of this chapter of their work life? 

 The last number of years, organizational psychologists and other experts in the world of work have loaded our collective lips with talk of psychological safety, culture, and employee experience, but what do these even mean at a time like this? The answer is: everything

 In a psychologically safe work environment, we bring our best and fullest selves. We are not afraid to disagree and feel no reason to hide who we are or how we’re feeling. We’re not worried about being mocked, marginalized, or discriminated against. Google cites psychological safety as the most important of five key areas that set successful teams apart from others. Amy Edmondson and many others compellingly assert the necessity of it to access innovation, creativity and productivity. In other words, if people are fearful, disagree, or feeling marginalized for any reason but don’t feel it’s okay to say so, it will be very difficult for them to be productive and bring their best to work. 

 So, in our current context, I have a few suggestions:

1. Assess and identify your own levels of safety.

Ask yourself where you feel safe and where you do not, including your relationships at home and your relationships at work. As a leader, many of us get so focused on caring for our staff that we minimize or neglect our own experience. If you feel marginalized or unsafe anywhere, who can you talk to? 

2. Create a safe space for others

Check in with people individually and ask them how they are really doing. Listen with care, respect, and empathy. Ask if they have what they need and, if they say they’re okay, check in with them again on another day. If you learn about a need they have, ask for their permission to help get them connected to resources or supports that can help. 

3. Cut yourselves and others some slack, while still pursuing excellence in your work.

Work is, for many of us, a source of health and connection, an outlet for creativity and a distraction from stuff that is worrisome. Striking a balance between compassion for self and others and productivity can be helpful not just for the bottom line, but for the mental health and well-being of the team.

4. Create a culture of appreciation.

Many of us, often unknowingly, rely on casual, iterative, and nonverbal cues that we’re on the right track or that we’re doing good work. Being suddenly remote can result in losses of the normal affirmation and appreciation that come when working in a co-located office setting. Take the time to notice, appreciate, recognize, and affirm each person on your team—daily, if possible. Finding even small wins to celebrate can go a long way in keeping team members motivated. 

5. Pay close attention to what people are saying, and what they are not.

In times of stress, many of us de-skill, but this doesn’t mean the message should be dismissed. Listen carefully to hear the messages behind people’s words, and if people aren’t saying much, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. Attending to both overt and subtle cues can be important in ensuring that everyone feels safe and has what they need to bring their best selves to work.

6. Ask for feedback about what’s working and what is not.

For many, the switch to remote work happened without adequate time to plan or test and there is a high risk that there will be frustration, balls dropped, or misses in communication. Take the initiative to ask what is working, where people are blocked, and where they may need help. Workplaceless has setup resources to help support these crisis remote work situations.

7. Access support early and often.

When we are forced to physically isolate or socially distance, it is extra important for us to connect, formally and informally, with others. Pay attention to any shifts in mood and monitor to see if there are any patterns you can help change up. For me, 2pm every day is when I feel an energy low and I’ve noticed that my mood will start to dip as well if I don’t attend to it. On the other hand, a friend of mine (also a remote worker) has noticed that mornings are the worst for him. If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation or if your mood has been low for an extended period of time, please contact your local mental health center or your local crisis line. Being a leader can be lonely.

If you are looking for professional networking opportunities that help you stay connected and meet like-minded professionals while also doing professional development, one place to turn is Networkplaceless.

8. Eat well, get fresh air every day, exercise, and cultivate gratitude.

These are the things we can control, and there is so much evidence of the positive impacts of these strategies. You’ve probably told everyone else to do it—how about you?

When this crisis passes and we settle into our new normal, what do we want our team members to say? Handled well, it’s possible to come through these events with increased trust, increased engagement, and renewed commitment to one another. 

Leaders, let’s come together. Share what you are doing to support your team members during this crisis remote work situation. You’ve got this. 


 By Candace Giesbrecht, BSW, CPHR, Strategic HR Consultant.

 We’re grateful to Candace for sharing her expertise. Any opinions expressed within this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily held by Workplaceless itself.

Candace Giesbrecht is a Coach and Consultant with 25+ years of senior leadership experience, in both not-for-profit and private sectors. With expertise in social work, human resources, and organizational leadership, she has a broad and deep toolbox to draw from. As a Chartered Human Resources Professional, she works part-time as the Director of Engagement, Pacific Region for, while also supporting leaders and organizations of all sizes to find the sweet spot between excellence in employee experience and business success. She and her family live in the beautiful Okanagan valley where they love hiking, motorcycles, and their two rescue dogs, Lucy & Wylie.

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Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Workplaceless welcomes guest blog contributions from professionals and teams highly experienced in remote and hybrid work. We’re grateful to our guest contributors for sharing their expertise. Any opinions expressed within this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily held by Workplaceless itself.
Workplaceless welcomes guest blog contributions from professionals and teams highly experienced in remote and hybrid work. We’re grateful to our guest contributors for sharing their expertise. Any opinions expressed within this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily held by Workplaceless itself.
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