Creating a Psychologically Safe and Supportive Remote Workplace

By Human Resource Services

By Human Resource Services

This piece is part of the series "A Community of Support" which highlights and supports mental health at the U of A.

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We all reap the benefits of a safe work environment, whether we are working on campus or remotely. As we navigate our remote working conditions, we need to ask ourselves how our actions influence the emotional wellbeing of others. Going virtual means more video calls, more messages - and more opportunities for misunderstandings and unintentional exclusion. A healthy and supportive workplace is one where its people are conscious of issues like bullying and harassment, and address them effectively. Everyone has a part to play in maintaining a positive work environment.

A focus on workplace health must include mental health. The U of A's new Psychologically Healthy and Safe Workplace toolkit includes resources for managers, leaders, and all employees, designed to raise awareness and understanding about workplace factors and how they contribute to psychological safety.

Psychologically healthy and safe workplaces are proactive in nature. In a remote work environment, you can adopt proactive strategies to enhance inclusion for our colleagues such as suspending judgement, active listening, and seeking to understand perspectives:

  • It is unfair to assume that people working from home are less productive; it can be difficult for some to actively participate in virtual conversations.
  • Use two-way video conferencing for meetings to allow for non-verbal cues in your conversations.
  • Use the features in digital meetings to everyone's advantage and ask people to use chat features when they want to participate.
  • Frequently verify that people can hear and are following the dialogue during meetings.
  • Be intentional in providing feedback, praise and support to people.
  • Make a habit of providing an agenda and meeting purposes prior to a virtual meeting; follow up with a meeting summary and opportunities for further contribution.

It is important in a remote context to be aware of how you include or exclude people from your messages and meetings. Avoiding working with people out of frustration is called passive avoidance, and is a form of exclusion. Everyone's messaging etiquette is a little different. If someone seems short or unhappy in an email, consider whether it's simply the tone the person uses when communicating in writing.

Everyone working at the university has a role in sustaining a healthy workplace environment. We all must be conscious of workplace behaviours between ourselves and others, and within our teams. A psychologically safe workplace fosters innovation, creativity and ingenuity, which are the sparks of growth for a university.

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