Tapping into your emotional intelligence while working remotely is vitally important. But it can also be very challenging, especially if your team is new to working from home or entered the virtual work world suddenly.
Part of the challenge is that the bulk of our social interactions and cues are absent from the remote workday - the simple exchanges that help us connect on a social-emotional level, such as:
Bumping into someone in the break room
Offering coworkers a piece of gum after a lunch meeting
Getting support from a colleague who overheard you having a tough conversation with a customer
On virtual teams, there's also tension between the need to get down to business (out of respect for everyone's time and Zoom fatigue) and the need to spend extra time creating meaningful social connection among employees who may feel isolated.
In a remote work environment, words typed in an email carry more weight. Conversations held over the phone or Zoom do, too, when fewer discussions are voiced aloud among our teams. The non-verbal parts of our conversations, which can provide so much information about others' emotions, are often missing altogether.
Simply put, being emotionally intelligent in a remote environment requires you to be a lot more intentional.
Let's look at why it's so important to put forth the additional effort and some specific ways you can develop your emotional intelligence as an employee or leader in remote work settings.
The importance of emotional intelligence while working remotely
First, let's brush up on what EQ is and why it's so important.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a competency that enables you to recognize, understand and manage your own emotions. It also helps you recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
If you have high EQ, you tend to be less stressed and communicate better than your low EQ peers because you empathize with others and manage your reactions to your own and others' emotions.
Our emotional intelligence is made up of:
In a virtual work environment, the ways we leverage our EQ must shift while the goals of acknowledging and managing emotions remains the same.
Even though it's harder to communicate our feelings and perceive coworkers' emotions virtually, the consequences of ignoring EQ are too great to neglect it.
For example, many of us assume the worst about our performance or social standing in the absence of constructive feedback and connection. It's just human nature.
This self-doubt can lead to disengagement, lower job satisfaction, burnout, anxiety and even depression for some employees.
When remote leaders assume everyone is getting along fine, our employees' sense of teamwork can erode to the point of having to completely rebuild it.
That's why we must be intentional about updating our EQ to handle the dynamics of remote work to prevent and overcome these potential bad outcomes.
Leveraging your EQ from home
1. Practice self-management.
When you're working remotely, self-management becomes critically important.
When you suit up, show up and sit down in the office, you know you're there to do your job. If you're working from home, you don't have the same environmental cues that trigger you to be productive.
So, it's necessary to find ways to cultivate that same purposeful orientation remotely - to keep showing initiative and bringing your own motivation to your work.
What helps one person on your team may be different from the rest. But having a routine for starting the day and a consistent area or two where you can work well are keys to creating new productivity cues for yourself outside the office.
2. Focus on social awareness and relationship management.
We should also deliberately pay attention to social awareness and relationship management when telecommuting.
Part of the joy of working with others is developing relationships and getting to know people beyond the context of their organizational role. Many of us gain great friendships through our work.
It's important not to give up on building relationships just because it's harder for virtual colleagues. Doing so hampers our group productivity and keeps us from enjoying the social benefits of being part of a team.
Remote teams must consistently strive to preserve a sense of connection. To be successful, it may mean sharpening your listening and observation skills, so you don't miss opportunities to relate to and include others. We need to pay extra attention and take the time to check in to pick up on the subtle cues our team members offer us through:
Tone of voice
Pace or volume of speech
Facial expressions or body language
8 practical EQ strategies for virtual teams
Here are some things you can do right away that will make a difference.
1. Be tidy (and appropriate) with your email communication.
When working remotely, take time to explain your ideas well in writing.
In the office, we often send quick e-mails that we know we'll be able to elaborate on later face-to-face. But with virtual teams, questions can hang in the balance for longer.
Take time to be clear and specific, especially when you're expecting something in response. If it's a complicated or nuanced conversation, consider picking up the phone rather than attempting to convey everything through an email.
2. Debrief and ask for feedback.
After in-person meetings, teams often debrief informally while walking back to the office or grabbing coffee or lunch. After a Zoom call, this natural process doesn't happen unless you make a point to call or email someone to discuss reactions and thoughts.
Similarly, if you give a presentation in-person, the audience is more likely to give you feedback when the meeting has finished. If you're not getting helpful, constructive feedback after a Zoom call, then seek it out - even if it takes another email or call to get it.
3. Start new routines to ensure connection happens.
Make connection time a standing item on your meeting agendas, allotting the first five to 10 minutes to the task of finding out how everyone is (really) doing. Consider asking people to arrive five or 10 minutes early to allow for some unstructured social time. Also, understand that some people may be uncomfortable speaking up on Zoom or conference calls, and may require a direct invitation by name before they will share.
Another great routine for maintaining connection is encouraging the team to keep a dedicated Slack channel or Teams chat open at a set time during the day. People will be encouraged to communicate when they know their comments will be read and responded to in real time.
4. Send care packages.
Whether it's goofy and fun or personal and touching, there's nothing like a care package from your manager to make a remote worker feel seen, valued and appreciated. It doesn't need to be anything expensive or fancy. The gesture itself sends a signal that you're thinking about your team.
5. Host Zoom celebrations.
Do you celebrate milestones like birthdays and new babies in the office? Keep the tradition alive while working from home with virtual celebrations. Send gifts to the guest of honor and party favors and treats to the guests, and then use technology to gather as a group to mark the occasion
6. Call just to check on needs.
If you're a senior leader with a remote workforce, make proactive calls to employees several levels down your organizational chart just to check in and offer support. Ask your employees what they need, and follow through on equipping them as best you can to succeed while working from home.
7. Remind remote workers to take care of themselves.
Help your remote teams reduce stress by normalizing the idea of taking time for self-care, and give permission by modeling this behavior yourself. Use your PTO to completely unplug from work when possible, and encourage others to do the same.
8. Recognize good effort in writing.
Many employees working outside of the office may miss being recognized for their efforts in-person. Take the time to write emails and even personal notes when a job is especially well done. If you catch yourself thinking about someone's good effort, follow through with a message of thanks directly to that person. A few words of praise can go a long way.
Talking about EQ with your remote team
Even if you've encouraged and trained employees on developing their emotional intelligence in the past, let them know you're thinking about it again considering your new work arrangement or recent challenges. Make it known that connecting is a still a priority because you want to continue having a high-performing team.
Ready to make a start at improving your remote team's EQtoday? Try challenging everyone on your team to call a coworker just to talk and then ask what they got out of those conversations in your next round of one-on-one meetings.
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