Hybrid working came upon all of us suddenly, but what started for many as a perk quickly transformed into feelings of anxiety, isolation and being trapped.
We must recognise that we are all having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Even if you identify as feeling no stress while working in a new hybrid world, when you reflect in a year you may realise that you were experiencing heightened anxiety and cortisol levels during the pandemic.
Many people are feeling disconnected and the thought of returning to the office — even in a hybrid form — can exacerbate those feelings. Now is the time to take advantage of the opportunity the disruption of the pandemic has afforded us so that people can return to the office and intentionally create high-quality connections.
For this to happen we need to deliberately create a sense of psychological safety as a standard in a hybrid working world.
Psychological safety is the perception that your workplace is conducive to interpersonal risk-taking. When your partner tells you ‘Whatever you do, don’t be yourself at work!’, it is perhaps an indicator that you are not working in a psychologically safe role. It is also important to highlight that most people enter an organisation with goodwill and feeling psychologically safe; it is the work culture and norms therein which can strip it away.
Let’s look at how to create psychological safety in a hybrid context:
Co-create a new hybrid charter
To write the next chapter for your business, you will need to reset and re-establish your team’s mission by co-creating a new hybrid charter.
Ask questions like: If the hybrid way of working went well, how would you notice? What difference would it make? What would you specifically point to that would tell you it was going well?
Firm up your own thinking in relation to these questions and then include others so that everyone has skin in the game. Co-creating a new hybrid team charter is an intervention that will act as a direct route to developing psychological safety.
Capture the bright spots
Think positively and ask yourself what has worked well while working from home. Do not simply copy and paste old ways of working; use this as an opportunity to reimagine things so that people will feel empowered, adaptable, productive and purposeful. Ask yourself and your colleagues: What have been the most useful parts of working from home that we should adopt for our new hybrid arrangement?
Once people feel they have an input into the new ways of working and that they can air their concerns, they are more likely to perform better and feel psychologically safe. Lynda Gratton, a professor at the London Business School writing in the Harvard Business Review, suggests that when designing flexible work arrangements you should focus on individual human concerns and not just institutional ones.
Working from home has shone a spotlight on many day-to-day tasks that should be made redundant. For example, people now see that many meetings are just status updates, which could just as easily be handled by email or other methods. What other bad practices could you eradicate?
Smile at fear
The uncertainty that comes from hybrid working makes us fearful. Indeed, scientific tests have proven that people are more afraid of uncertainty than they are of physical pain. We have all become more vulnerable and possibly real, as the pandemic has forced many of us to invite colleagues into our homes (virtually) every day.
Everyone seems to have an embarrassing Zoom story. There is power in sharing your most cringeworthy working from home moments with your colleagues, be it on Zoom or during home-schooling. In this way, we can learn to be less fearful of making mistakes.
A psychologically safe version of self
People generally start work feeling psychologically safe, so it is not something we need to create, but rather something to detect and encourage. Our energy introduces us before we do, so take a moment to deliberately show up as a psychologically safe version of yourself. Others will mirror it back.
If we learn to loosen up a little bit, we can enter this new era with confidence. Take things too seriously, however, and you can miss things – like the simple yet powerful opportunity to be yourself at work.
This article by Alan Lyons was published in the Irish Examiner on the 23rd of July 2021.