Back to resources

Why Psychological Safety Is More Important Than Ever During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Feelings Aside
Remote
Company Culture
Internal Communication
Feedback
Team Reaction

30 June, 2020

Murali Bala
Murali Bala

Software Engineering Leader at amazon

Murali Bala, Director, Software Engineering at Capital One, discusses the importance of psychological safety emphasizing its unparalleled significance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Problem

As work from home becomes the new normal for many, most of us are scrambling to find new ways to create a stronger connection with our teams. A few months ago, when we were all working under the same roof, it was much easier to collaborate and do a quick pulse check on members and the team as a whole. My favorite part of the day was walking around and meeting my team members, impromptu. I have always been a big proponent of management by walking around strategy, a term coined by management guru Tom Peters. A management style where managers spend some part of their time among employees instead of being confined to their office. By doing so, I got the opportunity to listen to problems and ideas of my skip level associates and understand the ground reality and hear first hand if my folks had any concerns or distress that I could take on. The unexpected transition to remote work caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has changed those interactions and increased a lot of other concerns and anxiety, especially with so many lay-offs and uneasiness around job security and job performance, altogether resulting in major distress among us.

Actions taken

In this unprecedented context, I wanted to fill the missing connections and interactions with my skips via regular 15-minutes sync up meetings. While I continued to have my regular weekly check-ins with my directs, the skip level engineers who used to get my informal face-time didn’t get it anymore. Therefore, my admin would pick three to five engineers a week and schedule meetings with them and after approximately a month or so a new round of meetings would take place. Such sync up meetings are, in my opinion, more important than ever. Especially now, when we are facing different kinds of challenges and stress - increased demands of trying to entertain and educate our children while also holding down jobs, worrying over job security and job performance, etc. In addition, employees are increasingly looking for ways to develop emotional connections during times of social distancing and a prevailing feeling of isolation. So meeting up with skips on regular cadence has become ever so important for me than before.

My meetings are generally very fluid in nature; it’s an open platform where my folks can discuss anything and everything and recreating such space remotely is of paramount importance. These 15 minutes meetings allow me to talk about their concerns and how they are coping with the difficulties of the current situation and learn what I can do -- if anything -- to put off the fire for them. Providing them with a platform to be involved in an open conversation and voice their concerns is a key component to setting up and fostering psychological safety at the workplace.

Also, my teams now have scheduled and added some non-work-related activities to encourage bonding and create a trustful and supportive environment. Every few weeks, we have a virtual happy hour -- we play games, have betting sessions (e.g. when we will be going back to the office), and in general have fun connecting and talking about all kinds of things.

Lessons learned

  • The more you interact with your employees, the more open they are to share their concerns. Being present and focused on the conversation, asking questions with the intention of learning, offering inputs -- all of that contributes to the strong engagement and participation regardless of the current adverse circumstances.
  • When you are connecting with your employees on a deeper level, you build a connection of trust and space where engineers feel safe to share their concerns and aspirations. The last few months have been particularly rewarding for me as I embraced the disadvantageous circumstances to reach out and lay foundations for that deeper, more meaningful, and all-encompassing connection.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Leaving Room to Say Things Suck — Leadership Lessons from “Ted Lasso”

17 August

A major sign of trust, comfortability, and vulnerability is for someone you lead to be able to say something sucks.

Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
John Hartley

John Hartley

Senior Engineering Manager at Curology

How to Maintain Happiness: The Underrated Aspect of Creating Team Dynamic

2 August

Jonathan Ducharme, Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord, encourages the importance of a workplace environment that cultivates mental wellness.

Personal Growth
Company Culture
Leadership
Internal Communication
Psychological Safety
Jonathan Ducharme

Jonathan Ducharme

Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord

(Re)Organizing Your Teams Using Domain-Driven Design

12 July

A proposal for how to create an org structure that will deliver software systems that you want, not ones you get stuck with.

Alignment
Architecture
Scaling Team
Building A Team
Internal Communication
Reorganization
Ram Singh

Ram Singh

CTO at REAL Engagement & Loyalty

Leading A (Distributed) Team? Foster "Above the Line" Behaviors.

12 July

No online tool will address your team's ability to connect, collaborate, and deliver results if the individuals don't bring the right mindset to work.

Changing A Company
Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Ownership
Ram Singh

Ram Singh

CTO at REAL Engagement & Loyalty

Dealing with Uncertainties and Adapting as You Go

14 June

Muhammad Hamada, Engineering Manager at HelloFresh, addresses the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, how these have affected our work environments, and how we can adapt.

Goal Setting
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Roadmap
Stakeholders
Prioritization
Muhammad Hamada

Muhammad Hamada

Engineering Manager at HelloFresh