August 25, 2020
by Amy C. Edmondson & Gene Daley, Harvard Business Review
When Covid-19 was recognized as an emerging public health crisis earlier this year, tens of thousands of employees were sent home from offices around the world to start working from home for the foreseeable future. It may take years before we understand the full impact of this abrupt shift to virtual work on people and companies, but it wasn’t long before many started to wonder about the impact of virtual meetings on psychological safety — people feeling they can raise questions, concerns, and ideas without fear of personal repercussion.
There are good reasons to worry. Detecting social cues or non-verbal agreement is nearly impossible. Team members may feel isolated without the natural support of an ally nodding from across the table. And distractions (emails, texts, doorbells, children, pets) are everywhere. If virtual meetings are inherently difficult, the current environment — the health and economic threats, the overwork, and the social unrest — makes them even more so.
The good news is that the very technology that thwarts candor and mutual understanding also offers ways to offset these losses. In our work leading hundreds of virtual sessions, we’ve identified opportunities and risks associated with each of several common tools found in most online meeting platforms: