The COVID-19 pandemic has normalized telecommuting, putting more physical space between co-workers than ever before. Given the differences in how remote colleagues interact and the increased opportunities for miscommunication when people aren’t working in the same space, building emotional intelligence – already important for team success – should be an even-higher priority.
Maintaining and building emotional intelligence among colleagues who interact primarily through screens require employers and managers to consciously foster inclusion, respect and empathy. The following actions will help your company encourage high EI in a virtual environment:
Support Employees as Individuals
Take employees’ individuality into consideration as you supervise them. A management style can’t be one size fits all. It must be adapted based on each team member’s personality.
When dealing one-on-one with gregarious employees, for example, take a few minutes to chat with them about non-work-related topics before tackling business agenda items. With more no-nonsense employees, you can take less time for informal conversation and be more direct, which will convey that you understand and respect how they prefer to communicate.
Periodically ask your remote teams what they need to do their jobs better. Then provide as many of the requested changes and tools as possible, and reassure employees of your commitment to helping them succeed.
During video conferences, model active listening skills and instill them in your teams, too. That means encouraging everyone to listen better by:
- Paying careful attention to the person who is speaking
- Withholding judgment about ideas being expressed
- Reflecting on what was said
- Clarifying to ensure better understanding
- Summarizing information to demonstrate the speaker was heard
- Sharing related information
Better-connected employees and teams achieve higher levels of productivity and performance. Because “water-cooler talk” is impossible for remote workers, it’s incumbent on leaders to find new ways for them to maintain connections. Virtual meetings, while not a substitute for face-to-face interactions, can help team members feel less alone if they’re structured to support social skills and encourage collaboration.
During virtual group meetings, for example, create space for conversations to be more than just transactional. Set the tone by giving everyone on the call a chance to share how they are doing personally and what they’re doing to stay as positive as possible.
Consider setting up an online chat forum specifically for social conversations, where remote employees can create a better work-life balance by discussing interests and experiences outside of work. And, when possible, teams should meet for COVID-smart social outings where they can interact in person.
Remote teams rely more on written communication than employees who share the same space do. So, be careful how you express yourself through online channels.
When crafting email, text or instant messages:
- Lead with tact and empathy, especially when communicating bad news.
- Convey sensitivity, positivity and self-control to reduce negative feelings and to instill self-confidence in recipients.
- Remember that emotions expressed in writing don’t allow the receiver body language and tone-of-voice cues, so they can be construed much more negatively than the sender intends. Re-read every written communication before you send it to make sure it clearly conveys what you want to say and won’t be misinterpreted.
- Encourage idea sharing, creativity and employee engagement by expressing a willingness to consider solutions to any situation.
People inherently need human interaction and a sense of belonging. While meeting that need becomes more challenging for remote workers, proactive managers can integrate EI principles and technology to facilitate ongoing connections and business success.
It takes intentional, persistent effort to cultivate emotionally intelligent behaviors among a virtual workforce, but it is possible – indeed highly advised. When you commit to developing the kind of mindfulness that results in high EI, remote workers can achieve anything an on-site staff can.