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Creating Psychological Safety When Preparing for a Return to the Workplace

Cristina Herrera, Prosci, and Simone Fenton-Jarvis, BSc, MBA, FIWFM are change management experts with a passion for creating people-centric workplaces and offering inspiration during these challenging times. This week’s podcast episode features highlights from the “Workplace Innovator Interactive Livestream” which was broadcast on April 8, 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike Petrusky … Continue reading "Creating Psychological Safety When Preparing for a Return to the Workplace"

Creating Psychological Safety When Preparing for a Return to the Workplace

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Cristina Herrera, Prosci, and Simone Fenton-Jarvis, BSc, MBA, FIWFM are change management experts with a passion for creating people-centric workplaces and offering inspiration during these challenging times. This week’s podcast episode features highlights from the “Workplace Innovator Interactive Livestream” which was broadcast on April 8, 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike Petrusky and Madison Dujka co-host a discussion about supporting our colleagues by creating workplaces where the psychology of safety is a priority and the needs of individuals are accounted for when planning a return to physical office spaces. “Fear is stronger than data” so workplace leaders must combine a data-driven strategy with an understanding of the human emotions that will influence decision-making and comfort levels as we consider re-opening the built environment.

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Read the full transcript:

Christina Herrera (00:04):

More than anything, I would like to know that my employer would allow me to work from home if I felt unsafe. And fear is stronger than data. So that’s one of the things that I would be looking for as I go back into the workforce.

Mike Petrusky (00:19):

This is the Workplace Innovator Podcast, where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOffice, the leading employee experience focused IWMS software that delivers real time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace.

            Hey everyone and welcome to episode 105 of the Workplace Innovator Podcast. My name is Mike Petrusky, and I am glad you’re here. I hope you are doing well. I felt compelled again this week to share with you some audio highlights of a recent workplace Innovator interactive live stream. My cohost Maddie, and I recently had another great conversation with two change management leaders from our community, Christina Herrera and Simone Fenton-Jarvis. Both brought their insight and a lot of inspiration to the conversation. And we all agreed, there is an emotional roller coaster with a lot of highs and lows during this journey we are on together, this hashtag quarantine life, and there was so much about this particular broadcast that I found valuable. I wanted to share it with you here.

            If you’re not currently joining us Wednesdays at noon Eastern time, please visit and join us for our next live stream. Each one is presented in real time with a chance for you to ask your questions and share your feelings as we come together as a community. So with that, as the setting, I know you’re going to get something of value from this conversation. So check it out.

            Welcome to the Workplace Innovator interactive live stream, and let’s welcome our guests, shall we? Christina and Simone. Now, Chris, I’ll start with you because we know each other, we go way back probably a year or more, and I’ve had you on the podcast. It’s episode 52 folks, amazing conversation with a young change management expert based in New York city now, but you’re not from New York city. Why don’t you tell us where you’re from, and I think people will guess it as soon as you open your mouth and share that wonderful accent with us.

Christina Herrera (02:38):

Nice to be here. I’m from Sydney, Australia.

Mike Petrusky (02:42):

And you have an amazing story that maybe we’ll get into later of how you won the green card lottery, what five or six years ago, and hopped on a plane and flew to New York. So brave, so amazing how you embrace the unknown and the fear, and certainly your philosophy of life will be relevant for the world we are living in today. And Simone, you and I connected after you were a participant in week one of the live stream. So first of all, thank you for that and welcome to the live stream this week as a guest. And I trust you’ll be a future podcast guest as well, because you are the workplace consultancy director for Rico UK. And tell us where you’re based, cause you have a cool accent too.

Simone Fenton-Jarvis (03:21):

I’m from Sheffield in England, which is just kind of near Manchester. Yeah. My accent is very Northern.

Mike Petrusky (03:31):

Manchester United, right? That’s your football club.

Simone Fenton-Jarvis (03:34):

Yeah. Manchester United, Manchester city. I’m an olden fan, which yeah, they’re rubbish. So you probably won’t know them.

Mike Petrusky (03:43):

I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it sounds awesome. And Maddie you’re from Houston, Texas, although you don’t have a Houston accent.

Maddie (03:48):

I am. Do I not… Yeah. I was going to say, do I not have a Texan accent for you to…

Mike Petrusky (03:53):

I don’t recognize the Texas accent and I’m from Washington DC, which is kind of a international hodgepodge. So there’s no accent really discernible here, unless you’re from another part of the country or the world. So, wonderful voices today to interact with you folks out there, listening to this live stream. We are in an unprecedented time dealing with this coronavirus crisis. So Chris, what are you focused on when it comes to the world in which we operate today?

Christina Herrera (04:23):

I spent a lot of my time on really understanding and evaluating how people can be put first so that they can be prepared to do their best work. For me, it always boils down to this and I feel like this needs to be embedded within corporate strategy. And if it’s not, if it’s an add on, on top or kind of a bonus, it’s not going to work. And especially during this time to really understand the psychology of safety going forward before we even think about what this new normal is or what it’s going to look like when we go back into the workplace, really just understanding the psychology of safety and how that can be incorporated within corporate strategy.

Mike Petrusky (05:05):

Yeah, I like that a lot. Simone, do you have thoughts?

Simone Fenton-Jarvis (05:07):

Literally the same, to be honest. It’s this kind of people-centric workplaces. That’s what I spend my kind of day doing and creating that psychological safety for people to bring their best selves to work all times. If people hide in parts of themselves, then they’re not going to be doing their best work. It’s about creating all of that within the workplace.

Mike Petrusky (05:29):

Yeah. I think that’s clear to me and anyone on this live stream, people who listened to my podcast know how important the role of workplace leaders is today, but it can be a little scary. And I know Chris and Simone and Maddie, you can help too. You shared a inspirational quote for me this week and tell me what it was.

Maddie (05:49):

Look for something positive in each day. Even if some days you have to look a little harder.

Simone Fenton-Jarvis (05:54):


Christina Herrera (05:55):

That’s great.

Mike Petrusky (05:56):

Yeah. That is me.

            Yesterday was a tough day for me because I won’t go into the details, but it was one of those down drifts on the rollercoaster ride that really struck me as a troubling one. But going for a run last night and getting out there and being thankful for the blessings of my family and friends and things like that. I’m watching a little Netflix last night, binge three or four episodes of The Office, the U.S. version, Simone. The show makes me crack up every time. So it made me happy and joyful on the inside. But Chris, you shared a quote and tell me the story behind it. That really is applicable today as well. You shared this on your podcast appearance and I love it.

Christina Herrera (06:41):

Yeah. I life lived in fear is a life half lived. So I actually first heard this in one of Baz Luhrmann, movies, Strictly Ballroom. It’s very old and I love dancing. So that’s why that was kind of like the context of why I was obsessed with this movie.

            But as I sat on this quote for a while, I realized that if I was to hold myself out back, just because I was, I’m a little afraid, I wouldn’t really achieve anything I wanted to achieve. So thinking about this quote at different stages of my life has helped me to make decisions, has helped me to take calculated risks, supported me, gave me the confidence to move halfway across the world from my family, by myself. So it’s really helped me. I think it can help you as well. Don’t put your life in danger. That’s not the type of fear that we’re talking about, but this is more of a mental fear that I’m not good enough, or he imposter syndrome, or I might not find another job. Just think about that fear and channel that into some positive energy about all of the things that you could do.

            And again, it goes back to that growth mindset, that mindset of possibilities.

Mike Petrusky (08:00):

Awesome. And of course the New York city sound effects add to the drama of your presentation, that’s amazing. You, you live in the city itself, so it’s in Bronx anyways so. So it’s all a big city to me. [crosstalk 00:08:13] Brooklyn, I’m sorry. Brooklyn, Bronx, one of those B towns or B boroughs. That’s fantastic. And I love that quote and I love your attitude and your embracing being comfortable, being uncomfortable is what I said when I had you on the show, which is my philosophy as well. So kudos to you and Simone, you shared a quote on your social media. I couldn’t help, but really embraced because I mentioned Brene Brown on this live stream and on my podcast before. Tell me what this means to.

Simone Fenton-Jarvis (08:42):

Vulnerability is a birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

            I think, for me, it’s this… I guess it ties in very nicely with the Chris’s as well. It’s this kind of put yourself little bit out there and do things that make you feel a little bit uncomfortable and you’ll be surprised with what you achieved. But also in the current climate as well, when you are over to tough day, that’s where you can reach out to people and be a little bit more vulnerable and share your experiences. Because I know that when I do that, then that is where things are going to get better. And I think I’ve had a couple of tough days in the last few weeks, but get on the phone to my colleagues and you know, certainly we’re talking around actually, we’re not the only people that are going through this. There’s many people in the workplace that we can support because they’ll be feeling exactly like this. And it’s just kind of, it’s like growth mindset and just seeing the positives and having rough days during what’s going on is totally acceptable.

Mike Petrusky (09:44):

We’re all human beings, folks. We are all in this together experiencing the same emotions, the same anxieties challenges and the same hope and the same belief that we can get through this together. So I love that. I appreciate you all sharing those thoughts with me. It makes me feel better already listening to that. So let’s talk about the mindset we need thinking about the eventual return to the office and re-read Cameron’s question for us and we’ll talk about some of the specifics.

Maddie (10:14):

How do we think that the emphasis on social distancing and concerns of virus transmission will affect our space planning, especially whenever it comes to open floor plans and other similar office of the future philosophies?

Mike Petrusky (10:27):

Chris, you want to take a stab at that one as a change management, prosci… what are you prosci-something?

Christina Herrera (10:33):

Prosci certified (laughs).

Mike Petrusky (10:34):

Prosci certified change management expert.

Christina Herrera (10:37):

So I guess this question is a little bit more spatial than it is people oriented. I will always say, think about the people strategy and the corporate strategy first, however, to address the spatial side of this question, I do think it will impact how we plan, layout our space. I do think there’s going to be an introduction of potential sanitation baits. And thinking about what types of equipment, what types of surfaces are the designers are choosing in terms of finishes on the desks, on shared spaces as well. The percentage of shared space, allocation might also shift a little bit directly after this. But I think we need to be very mindful and not be too drastic as well. Because the shift to a more shared environment or open spaces has come with really great benefits.

            And in terms of fostering and nurturing the tribe mentality that we are all one. My work desk isn’t what I’ve come in here to be 100% of my time, but to have relationships and to build relationships and to have opportunities for innovation. So we need to make sure that we don’t jumped too drastically in the other side, but we do need to be mindful that people are going to come into the workplace with fear. We need to make them feel safe and secure, and we need to provide them with the opportunities to take care of their own safety. But Simone, what are your thoughts on that?

Simone Fenton-Jarvis (12:18):

I think there’s a potential the workplace industry does knee jerk reactions to this and start saying make sure that you’re three meters apart from people because you know, social distancing.

            And I just hope that that isn’t the case, because I think if we’re still worried about social distancing that I’m going to think that we’ve gone back to the workplace too soon. I think that kind of change management, when people go back into the workplace, it’s how do we prepare them for that? And I think things like no health and safety statements and making sure that sanitization, and it’s not just the cleaner comes once a week and wipes everything down. It’s got to be post all of this. The room has been [inaudible 00:13:01] . We know that there’s no germs in this room. Also, this is how we’re going to manage it going forward. If you do have any kind of illness, anything, then you know that you can work from home. So don’t come to the office and I’m hoping that’s where the change is going to be. I don’t know about over there, but in the UK, it’s people come into the office and the sneezing, and I’m not a person that will be given daggers thinking, you need to go home because I’m going to catch that.

            And I think it’s time that actually we took more responsibility for ourselves. And when we are ill, we stay at home. And facilities managers, workplace managers, there’s a line of how much we can do. I think actually people have got to start taking responsibility. And I think the workplace should become more kind of people centric about collaboration rather than worrying about space, distance between each other. I hope.

Mike Petrusky (13:52):

Yeah. Back to your quote, Simone, about vulnerability, right? That is something that applies here quite literally. We have to be able to have that human interaction. It was proven as Chris mentioned that the data is there. It’s been there for several years. Now that agile workplaces activity based working does help people do their best job, depending on what that work is, and having different spaces for different types of work and also accommodating different personality types, different roles. Well I wonder if when we go back, there will be other cultural changes. Like will we not handshake as much, or we not hug as much. I hope we can get back to a place of comfort and feeling good. Where social distancing is not required all the time. And that may take a while. It may be post vaccine, posts therapeutics, and testing that allows us to get the all clear.

            But back to the question of the preparing our employees, preparing our colleagues for this eventual return, I wonder what it will take, Chris, to make you comfortable going back into a public space to begin with and then the workplace after that. What will you look for? What type of signs will need to be in the offing before you feel comfortable going back?

Christina Herrera (15:00):

Well, that’s a good question. I guess I would need more data to begin with. So, me and my wife, we both had coronavirus. I’m pretty sure it was it. We had all of the symptoms. We didn’t go and get tested just because it was… We didn’t have it. By the time we got tested and walked out of the hospital, the doctor’s said we probably would have had it.

            So I would need more data to feel safe, to come back into the workplace. If there is some type of test to understand that I do have antibodies and I am safer because I have had it already, then that would make me feel better as well. But I really don’t know. I mean, more than anything, I would like to know that my employer would allow me to work from home, if I felt unsafe. That I think is probably my top priority, because if everyone is starting to come back into the office and everyone’s saying, okay, everyone, if it’s safe, come back. Well, you don’t really know that. And fear is stronger than data. So the option to take care of my health and safety, but still with the ability to produce and be productive. That’s one of the things that I would be looking for as I will go back into the workforce.

Mike Petrusky (16:15):

Really good. Yeah. So that’s, we are data driven people, right? Workplace leaders who look for data, whether it comes to space management or decisions around workplace and the people, we’re human beings too, where emotional creatures and we make decisions based on things like fear and those things that can’t necessarily be measured. It’s going to be different for everyone. Simone, when you think about an eventual return to normalcy or the new normal, whatever that looks like, what were you look for? I think Chris mentioned it flexibility from employers, from workplaces, giving employees that option. So it meets the needs of different people at different times, but what are the thoughts come to mind?

Simone Fenton-Jarvis (16:53):

Yeah. I think the technologies as well that have coming out of this, the things that being driven. We’ve got thermal cameras, testing people before they go into work place, for instance. Special blue lights and that will kill bugs in meeting rooms. It’s this kind of almost like when I know that there’s a few different things in place, and I think I personally feel comfortable going back to the workplace, that’s when I’ll go back.

            And I think for people that may be taking butts to workplace and they’re not ready to go back and they do still feel that fear, I think ultimately you go back to the vulnerability bit. And you can either meet yourself vulnerable by putting yourself at risk and going back into the workplace, going against your gut feeling. Or you make yourself vulnerable by actually saying no, and I’m going to take the later, and I’m going to say, I’m not going back until I know that it’s safe. You know, I’ve traveled down to London a few times a month. I’m not going to be getting on an underground until I know that I’m not going to result in being ill. It’s not worth it.

Mike Petrusky (17:54):

There you have it folks. Just a few highlights of our recent conversation on the live stream with Christina Herrera and Simone Fenton-Jarvis. If you’d like to hear the entire discussion and to see our faces, webcams are always on during these live streams, check out the show notes. I’ve provided a link for you to get a recording of the entire hour long discussion. And if you have not done so already, I hope you’ll visit and join us for a future live stream where we come together and help each other during these unprecedented times, while also encouraging and inspiring you to be a workplace innovator. Peace out

            You’ve been listening to the Workplace Innovator Podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOffice can help you create an employee centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit iofficecorpcom.


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As the host of both the Workplace Innovator Podcast and the Asset Champion Podcast, Mike's role at Eptura is to share thought leadership with CRE, FM, and IT leaders in the digital and hybrid workplace. As an in-demand public speaker, Mike engages audiences with his focus on the human element of workplace and facility management at International Facility Management Association, CoreNet, and other industry events.

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