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How to Improve Psychological Safety for Remote or Frontline Work Teams | Rungway

Discover practical strategies to improve psychological safety for remote teams by promoting open communication, providing emotional support and more. Learn now.

19 Jun 2023 | 11 min read

Psychological safety is the process of giving employees the freedom to express themselves and voice their opinions - within reason - without fear of judgement or reprisal. It’s a crucial part of building a culture of communication  in any organisation, but it can be trickier to encourage in a remote work setting. Without face-to-face interaction, employees can feel distant from their colleagues and therefore less confident in speaking up. Improving psychological safety helps to build trust amongst remote teams, increase that all-important feeling of connection between colleagues, and create crucial feedback loops between leaders and employees which helps people work more effectively and efficiently, especially during big organisational change.

How can psychological safety impact remote or frontline workers?

The positive impact of psychological safety should not be underestimated; it can bring multiple benefits to employees on an individual, collective, personal and professional level, and leaders should do all they can to improve and encourage it. 

Psychological safety means employees are more likely to share ideas without fear of being judged - not every idea is going to be a good one, but some will, and when these good ideas come up, leaders can use them for the benefit of the organisation. 

This extends to expressing concerns, too; without psychological safety, employees may feel hesitant or even fearful of bringing up their concerns about work. This not only means their concerns will go unchecked, which can affect their wellbeing and performance, but it also means that leaders will be unaware of whatever those pain points might be, and will therefore be unable to resolve them. If these concerns go unchecked, it can hamper any wider organisational change efforts - employees may become demotivated or disgruntled, which can also lead to them becoming change resistors.

As employees are encouraged to speak up, and as more ideas and discussions are shared, interpersonal connections strengthen. This will be of real benefit to the team and the organisation on a professional level, as well as a personal one: research from Enboarder found that companies that prioritise connections are 2.3 times more likely to have engaged employees, 5.4 times more likely to be agile and 3.2 times more likely to have satisfied customers.

A lack of psychological safety can have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of people working remotely. There is already an inherent disconnect of sorts when everybody is working from different locations, but if there’s no platform to share ideas, voice opinions or raise concerns, it can make people feel isolated. This isolation can erode people’s motivation, productivity and job satisfaction.

Psychological safety brings wide-reaching benefits to an organisation and the people in it. It creates a culture of honest, transparent communication, which means that concerns are voiced sooner and leaders can act on them faster, which in turn builds trust and prevents issues from worsening. 

A culture like this also builds stronger connections between leaders and their people, which means they’re much better-placed to understand the reality of what’s going on in their organisation, and therefore in a better position to take necessary actions to improve it. Beyond the personal benefits of this kind of communication are regulatory requirements.

Is it harder for remote or frontline workers to speak up?

1 in 4 leaders say culture and communication is “very challenging” with hybrid work (Simpplr). Even though organisations make use of communications platforms on a daily basis, remote workers don’t have the opportunity to engage in face-to-face communication with their colleagues. Typing and sending a message, whether it’s in a private chat or a shared channel, can feel more significant and daunting than bringing something up in a quick social chat in the break room or during a pulse meeting - leaders must be aware of this fact and give their remote workers the encouragement they need to speak up. 

The same applies for organisations with frontline workers, where leaders can be far more often disconnected from their people. What access does someone have on the shop floor to headquarters? The answer is likely to be not very much. In this scenario, it's even more important for leaders to provide their people with a safe space to ask a question, raise a concern or provide feedback, in order to get on top of any emerging issues far more quickly.

In a ‘normal’ working environment, leaders would be able to read body language and visual cues to recognise if an employee is not quite feeling themselves, but in a remote setting, this is much harder. So, it is important that leaders take steps to meet their people where they already are, rather than expecting them to surface important information in another way.

How to assess psychological safety for remote or frontline workers

Incorporating and encouraging psychological safety in the workplace is a must, and all levels of management have a role to play in doing so. However, leadership and HR in particular have a real responsibility to encourage psychological safety for employees. 

Psychological safety is crucial in developing a speak-up culture in an organisation, and a speak-up culture is crucial in helping leaders learn more about their employees and surfacing the data needed to make positive organisational change. One of the most effective ways of assessing psychological safety for remote workers is with a series of questions that leadership can ask themselves. We’ll take a look at some here.

Does everybody contribute regularly?

In team meetings, catch-ups and other group activities, do all members of the remote team freely volunteer opinions, ideas and general contributions to the conversation? The likelihood is, you have a 'silent majority' that you're not hearing from. Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in public forums or even asking simple questions openly. On Rungway, an employee listening platform that allows employees to post questions anonymously, we find people of colour ask 3x as many questions than their white colleagues and women ask 30% more career-related questions than men. 

Is it common for remote workers to ask for support or admit they don’t know something?

While it’s easy to focus on what people say, it’s equally important to pay attention to what isn’t said. If people aren’t asking questions, it’s a sign that they’re not able to do so, or at least they feel unable to.

This is a key indicator of whether or not your organisation encourages psychological safety. Asking for help or admitting to not knowing something might be a sign that employees may need training, but most importantly, the very fact they’re asking shows they’re comfortable doing so. If people are making errors or falling behind on work but aren’t asking for help, it’s likely that they’re anxious about judgement or consequences for doing just that. 

Is there a safe space for anonymous communication?

If the fear of judgement and consequences is the main barrier to people speaking up at work, then it makes sense to provide a place where that barrier is removed. A space for people to speak up anonymously can be very effective in improving psychological safety.

With constructive anonymity, Rungway gives employees the platform and the confidence to communicate openly and honestly with leadership. The platform is moderated by our internal team to keep both the individual and company as a whole safe. Direct communication means leaders can learn more and learn faster, which enables them to act quicker and prevent potential flashpoints and concerns from snowballing into something more serious. Real, direct communication and action like this helps to build trust between employees and leadership, and trust is one of the foundations of employees speaking truthfully in future.

Do employees suggest alternative processes?

It’s always healthy for an organisation to look for new, more efficient or effective ways of working, but leaders should keep an eye on who is suggesting these new methods. If, every so often, an employee puts forward a suggestion for new software, new equipment or something else they feel may help their work or the organisation as a whole, it’s a good sign that psychological safety is present in the organisation.

Do people own up to mistakes or oversights?

Failure to do this could be a sign that they are worried about the consequences of coming forward. While this can be a normal reaction to certain mistakes, if people are hesitant to come forward even over trivial matters, then this points to a lack of psychological safety and general trust.

6 methods of improving psychological safety for remote workers

Regular communication

Without the spontaneous social interactions of normal office life, people can feel disconnected from their colleagues, which can hamper wellbeing and individual and collective performance. Check-ins with employees and teams - which don’t have to be about work - help to bring colleagues closer together and improve psychological safety within the organisation.

It can also help to reduce instances of employees making mistakes because they’re concerned about asking for help. McKinsey’s study on communication in the workplace after COVID-19 found that 44% of respondents to a survey of executives say that communication barriers cause delays or failure to complete projects, and 18 percent blame miscommunication for the loss of sales, some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If psychological safety is improved, then these check-ins can help leaders learn more about how their employees are feeling in their personal and professional lives, as they’ll feel more comfortable expressing themselves without worrying about judgement.

Two-way dialogue

With the right platform at your disposal, it’s easier to improve psychological safety. Slack, surveys, AMAs are all popular methods of communicating, but none of them actually encourage open and honest bottom-up comms from employees.

Rungway uses constructive anonymity to help users express themselves freely. With the anonymity feature, employees can raise concerns, opinions and ideas that they otherwise may not, and they can raise them directly with leadership, as well as their colleagues.

Once a point has been raised, leaders can respond directly and in real time, showing their people that it’s worth speaking up and that there’s no judgement for doing so. Direct responses from leaders are absolutely invaluable to building a culture of communication and trust amongst employees - it connects people at every level and allows leaders to learn from a much more diverse range of voices than they otherwise would, which means a much clearer picture of the goings-on in the organisation.

Leadership visibility

The visibility of leadership is key to encouraging people to speak up when they feel they want or need to. Many organisations will talk of their ‘open-door policy’, but just having such a policy in place isn’t enough to make people feel comfortable with expressing themselves. Instead, leaders should go to where their employees are, taking the time and making the effort to connect with their people.

This ties perfectly into Sidney Yoshida’s ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’. Yoshida says that leaders are only aware of 4% of the problems of the organisation - in other words, the tip of the iceberg. Awareness of the vast majority of problems - 96%, in fact - are split between senior and middle managers. If leaders’ actions are only informed by the 4% they’re aware of, then these actions are going to be wide of the mark.

Going to your employees on a platform like Rungway encourages psychological safety and unearths real, useful insights, and it shows employees that you’re ready and willing to engage. If your people know that you’re there to listen, learn and act, then they’ll be much more confident in speaking up.

Continuous employee listening

Helping employees feel comfortable speaking up is always a positive, but leaders should always go further to make any conversations useful and meaningful for both parties. Active listening is one of the most effective ways of doing this; showing that you are really taking concerns, ideas and opinions on board, even if immediate action isn’t possible.

It’s important that leaders remain consistent with active listening even when the conversations aren’t particularly positive. Raising a concern or challenging a process, for example, can take a lot of courage and effort, and if leaders show that they’re taking the conversations seriously and without judgement, psychological safety will improve and employees will be encouraged to speak their mind in the future.

Continuous employee listening helps leaders learn far more than they otherwise would. It’s easy for leaders to have a certain perception of the ‘reality’ of their organisation, but as the ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’ states, what leaders believe and what is actually going on are two very different things. Listening and communicating with employees will help leaders understand the true reality of their organisation, which will give them the information they need to make required change.

Rungway Icerberg of Ignorance (no Rungway logo)

Encouraging honesty

Julie Chakraverty, Rungway founder, says that leaders should always “be relentless with surfacing honest, unfiltered data.” While it may be a little uncomfortable for leaders to hear negatives about the organisation, it’s the only way to get full oversight of how employees are feeling and therefore being able to take effective action.

When people speak up, leaders should always acknowledge and empathise with them as much as possible. Voicing concerns to leaders is daunting for many, and it should not be taken lightly by leadership. Just as asking for help should not be seen as a negative, leaders should not be afraid to show their vulnerability as well - humanity and a personable approach will build psychological safety, as it helps leaders and employees to connect on a deeper level as well as a professional one.

If employees are hesitant to admit when they have made a mistake, or if they need help with something, that’s a sign of a lack of psychological safety. When this hesitancy and anxiety is coupled with the potential feelings of isolation associated with remote working, it can cause self-doubt to worsen which will further impact employees’ moods and wellbeing. On a professional level, reluctance to admit to needing support can hamper the performance of the individual, the team and the organisation as a whole, which can have significant consequences in the short and long term.

Leaders should make it clear that asking for help is not to be seen as a negative, and those that do ask for help should not be judged or reprimanded for doing so. Approaching these situations constructively builds psychological safety and shows your people that reaching out for support will benefit themselves, their team and their organisation.

Acknowledgement and praise

Whether it’s a suggestion for a minor tweak to a process or a more significant change to the company culture, employees should always be acknowledged and praised for positive contributions. Even if their suggestion cannot be acted upon immediately, or it’s not quite workable at the time, positive feedback from leaders is immensely valuable to employees’ confidence, which will in turn improve psychological safety and pave the way for more positive contributions.

In the instances where ideas and suggestions aren’t particularly useful, it’s important that leaders don’t discourage people from coming forward again in future. Building a culture where contributions are actively encouraged will go a long way to improving psychological safety, organisational communication and interpersonal connections.


If leaders have taken the time to acknowledge, praise, or empathise with employees through the means listed above, it’s time to demonstrate action. It’s crucial that you avoid taking action for action’s sake - it should be real, meaningful action that shows your employees that their feelings and needs are taken seriously. Doing this is a great way to increase psychological safety, as your people will know they’re being listened to.

Transparency is also vital in the action stage. You should explain what you’re going to act on and why, but you should also give your reasons for not acting on a certain suggestion or idea. While this won’t be the ideal outcome for the employee concerned, the transparency and honesty will still be beneficial to the relationship.

Taking action improves psychological safety and it encourages more feedback loops, as employees feel more comfortable speaking up, which in turn gives leaders further chances to learn and act, further strengthening connections.


Psychological safety is essential for strong performance from individuals, teams and organisations. Leaders should always be actively communicating, listening and working with their people to ensure a culture of psychological safety in their organisation - failure to do so can lead to unhappy, demotivated and underperforming employees who feel less valued by their company and much less connected to it. 

Rungway helps leaders create impact through connection. Leaders can improve psychological safety in their organisations by creating a space where employees can speak up with confidence under constructive anonymity, knowing that their leaders can see and respond to them and that they can voice their opinions without fear of judgement. Get in touch with us today to find out more. 

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