This year's Remote Manager Report is finally here! Be the first to read it.


10 Ways to Build Psychological Safety in a Remote Workplace

October 26, 2021
A small icon of a clock for read time.
5 mins

Creating a psychologically safe work environment will set your remote team up for success. Find out exactly how to do that with real-world examples.

Sarah Archer
Creating a psychologically safe work environment will set your remote team up for success. Find out exactly how to do that with real-world examples.

Need help managing your remote team? Try Kona.

One tool for pulse checks, team building, and coaching––in Slack. Free forever. No credit card required.

Try for Free

Or book a demo to learn more.

Psychological safety is the belief that anyone can safely speak up and share their opinion without repercussions. 

Putting psychological safety into practice in the workplace starts from the top down — leadership must be transparent about their values, so every employee has the confidence to speak up.

How can remote and hybrid models ensure psychological safety? 

As Amy Edmondson, professor at the Harvard Business School and author of The Fearless Organization, puts it, “psychological safety is a shared belief that the environment is conducive to interpersonal risks like asking for help, admitting a mistake, or criticizing a project.”

We spoke to 600+ remote managers to determine the most successful ways remote organizations are laying the groundwork for psychological safety at work. Here are our takeaways.

Thank you! Click to download the PDF:
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Want to do more to support mental health in your workplace?

Take the Pledge

1. Prioritize psychological safety across the organization

Get buy-in from the entire organization that psychological safety is the backbone of your business. Put language and examples in your values, reiterate their importance in managerial meetings, and teach it in your onboarding. 

If messaging is consistent across all levels, everyone will be aware and actively participate in making your workplace psychologically safe. 

For example, GitLab documents and publicizes their company values so that everyone, external partners and job applicants included, understand what the organization stands for.  

In their handbook, they make it clear that psychological safety is important at work: 

“Psychological safety is critical, and leadership should place a high degree of importance on ensuring that this does not erode. GitLab signals the importance of this by listing "Loss of the values that bind us" as one of the company's biggest risks.”

By setting the stage that anyone at any level has a voice, you’ll not only improve your workplace culture but accelerate your company’s goals. 

2. Encourage vulnerability

In the When Women Win podcast led by Rana and Amy Edmuson, they said: “Psychological safety is not at odds with having tough conversations – it is what allows us to have tough conversations."

That all starts with being vulnerable. If managers encourage their team to voice their beliefs and are praised as a result, being vulnerable in the workplace will become less scary for everyone on the team. 

But leaders must be consistent if they expect their team to be vulnerable. Be receptive to new ideas and perspectives, and avoid shooting them down if they don’t match yours. 

3. Create a safe virtual space

Create a space where employees can share their ideas in any forum — whether it be Slack, Zoom, Miro, or other collaboration tools you use. 

When someone shares new ideas, applaud them and provide feedback. If other team members witness that new ideas are not only welcomed but encouraged, you’ll create a safe space for new ideas to form. 

That means that if your direct report shares an idea on Slack, comment that you value their opinion. And if it’s a fit, weave it into your roadmap. 

But know that your virtual space doesn’t always have to be work-related. We use Kona to share personal wins and build rapport with the team. When every person on the team is celebrated for their individuality, they’ll feel confident to speak up. 

4. Give every employee a voice

Imagine you’re two weeks into a new job and you watch your manager shoot down your colleagues’ ideas left and right. 

Would you want to speak up when you have a new idea?

The answer is most likely no. 

That’s why it’s crucial that management not only allows everyone on the team to speak up but encourages it. When a direct report shares a new idea, praise them. 

Your people are at the core of your company. Empower them to voice their opinions. 

5. Publicize failure

Every company fails at one point or another. If not, they’re probably not being honest with themselves or their staff.

Own your failures and make it clear to your team that they’re the best way to learn. 

Take Advisable for example — the CEO, Peter O’Malley, announced publicly that they failed at sticking to their company’s mission. But instead of positioning failure as a bad thing, they used it as an eye-opener to make a fundamental change as a business. 

If employees see failure as a good thing, they’ll be more apt to challenge themselves, experiment, and iterate.

We’ve been there too. When we introduced a new feature to Kona and it was shot down by customers, we didn’t hide behind it.

Instead, we embraced it. Our co-founder, Andrew Zhou, put it on blast, so everyone on our team understands that taking risks is welcomed. 

6. Don’t play the blame game 

There’s a reason why finger-pointing is discouraged in grade school. 

Blame denies people of their own opinion for fear of repercussions. 

Instead of blaming a team member for something that didn’t go right, praise them for trying something new and work together to solve the problem. 

You can put that into action by changing “you” to “us.” For example, instead of saying “Why did you make this mistake?” you can say “I’m glad you gave it a try! Let’s brainstorm how we can fix this.”

Simple conversations like this will foster a mentally safe environment.

7. Show empathy

Empathy goes a long way in the workplace — it allows leaders to understand the feelings and thoughts of their employees. And it’s a major stepping stone for leaders to create a psychologically safe work environment. 

Part of being an empathetic leader is showing that you care about the person; not just their work.

Job van der Voort, co-founder and CEO of Remote, turned to Twitter to share how to be a better manager in a remote setting. He touts the importance of building personal connections at work. 

It’s easier to build rapport with your team when you’re an honest, empathetic leader.  

8. Create an inclusive work environment

If employees are celebrated for their differences, they’ll be encouraged to speak up. 

Actively promote diversity and encourage inclusivity in your workplace by actively listening to employees, documenting takeaways, and educating your leadership team. 

Help Scout publicly shares their progress towards building a more diverse workplace on their blog. They chronicle their progress with demographic surveys, experimenting with candidate pipelines, and taking geography out of the equation during the hiring process.

9. Create feedback loops

All leaders shouldn’t only be open to feedback, but welcome it. 

Use feedback loops to gather employee feedback and use it to improve processes. 

We engage in feedback loops through using Rose, Thorn, and Bud exercises during one-on-ones and engaging in daily Kona check-ins. 

Develop your own process for gathering feedback and stick to it. 

10. Actively listen

Even when leaders ask good questions, the most important part of that is being engaged and actively listening to the answer. 

Focus on your direct reports’ response without interruption. Acknowledge what they said and be authentic in how you respond.

If you personalize these 10 tips for your business, you’ll be on your way to building a psychologically safe remote workplace. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Archer

Sarah is Head of Content Strategy at Kona and MBA candidate at Boston University. She helps leaders prevent burnout and build culture in remote organizations.

Learn more from our library

Join our People-First newsletter.

Monthly manager tips delivered straight to your inbox.
Kona Logo

The Leadership Coach
for remote managers

LinkedIn IconX icon
Copyright (c) 2024. All Rights Reserved. Kona uses a large language model (LLM) for summarization, content, and coaching. Inaccurate content may be generated by LLMS.