The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the landscape of the traditional work-day. The physical office setting has transformed to an at-home office, and we now connect over numerous Zoom calls instead of gathering in a conference room. Remote work is the new trend; in fact, the number of remote employees is expected to double in the upcoming year. With remote work on the rise, many companies are beginning to see remote work as a long-term, permanent solution. Some companies, such as Facebook, have announced plans to work from home indefinitely, even after the pandemic has subsided. Working from home is no longer a quick-fix solution, it is here to stay.
Working remotely has shown us that we truly are living in a digital age. Thanks to technology, a stable wifi connection grants us the possibility to work from home, host virtual meetings, and ultimately, be productive. The trend of remote work is not stopping anytime soon, so it is important to take note of the challenges and opportunities it can bring when powered by emotional intelligence.
The Power of Emotional Intelligence
It is likely that team members are facing a whole range of different emotions regarding remote work. For instance, the convenience of remote work may excite some team members while others may feel disconnected. Despite the different range of emotions, it is difficult to gauge what emotions people are feeling in a virtual work environment, especially since employees can hide their true feelings behind a screen. Hence, leaders need to acknowledge the changes happening and welcome a culture of emotional intelligence and transparency.
The truth is, emotions are inevitable. Emotions are a reaction to a person, event, or situation; we cannot ignore them, as they will always be running subconsciously in the background of our everyday actions. It’s also important to note that we cannot label our emotions as good or bad, nor right or wrong. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your feelings. There is a correlation between business acumen, high emotional intelligence, and social skills; by having a high emotional quotient (EQ), you will be able to improve your soft skills, such as decision making and stress tolerance to make better business decisions and develop stronger relationships.
Leaders need to tune into their emotional intelligence and spread the message that it’s okay to show emotions in the workplace. Once leaders start to express their emotions, the pathway to a highly engaged and productive team will be revealed.
How to Leverage Emotional Intelligence in a Digital Age
As you adapt to the remote work environment, continue to find ways to strengthen emotional intelligence at work. Here are a few strategies to help your team get started!
1. Establish Online Etiquette
It is crucial to set norms so your team members know what is expected of them. Leading Effective Virtual Meetings outlines how there are norms back at the office, the same should apply to a virtual work environment. Setting ground rules will also help your team members stay accountable. Examples of online etiquette can include:
Turn Cameras On
Keeping cameras on during a virtual meeting can help the team stay engaged as it makes meetings more personable. Although team members are physically apart, seeing a familiar face on camera can mimic the in-person interaction they were used to. Enforcing a “cameras on rule” also helps with building better emotional awareness, as team members can observe their teammate’s body language in real-time. For example, if a team member is nodding their head as you speak, it shows that they understand and agree with your statements. In contrast, if someone is frowning or shaking their head, they may be confused or in disagreement. By recognizing their reaction, you will be able to spot how they truly feel, further creating a culture of transparency and understanding.
Now virtual, it is easy to get distracted and lose focus, especially during team meetings. In order to maximize productivity, set the expectation that your team members should not be multitasking during meetings. Instead, team members should be actively listening. Remind your team members of the importance of active listening; everyone wants their opinions to be heard and acknowledged. If they were presenting an idea, they would not want their audience to be disengaged and not fully listening. Once you establish the ground rule of no multitasking, your team meetings will be more productive and engaging, as opposed to if everyone was occupied with completing their individual tasks.
2. Extend a Helping Hand Through Active Listening
As a leader, it is critical to listen to your team members’ needs with the intent to understand, not to respond. We are living in unprecedented times, and your team members may be experiencing a variety of different challenges. For example, one team member may be struggling with remote work as they are now tasked with simultaneously caring for their children, while another is having a hard time working in an isolated, at-home office. Listen to the essence of their problems first, instead of instantly thinking of potential solutions. This will allow you to grasp a full understanding of your team members’ situation; once you are aware of the root cause(s) of their problem(s), you will be able to make a well-informed decision for the next step.
In addition, leaders need to make it known to their team that they are readily available for support. A digital workplace means that leaders are no longer able to peer over their team members’ shoulders to look at their work, while team members can no longer knock on their manager’s door to ask for feedback. While physically apart, leaders need to inform their team that their virtual door is open. This can take place in any avenue best suited for the team, whether it be a check-in meeting or through online chat.
Checking in with your team members is also highly beneficial as you gain a snapshot of your team’s progress and feelings, while simultaneously offering your guidance. During these conversations, it is important to create a culture of openness and vulnerability. By doing so, your team will feel more comfortable in expressing their true emotions instead of hiding their feelings. Ask open-ended questions, such as “How are you feeling about Project XYZ?” or “What do you need help in order to meet your deadline?” instead of simple yes or no questions to gather a realistic preview of your team’s emotional status.
3. Start with Yourself
If you want your team to become emotionally intelligent, you have to take the first step. For example, a leader can simply tell their team members the importance of expressing emotions at work, but an exceptional leader goes the extra mile by taking the initiative to lead by example. To begin instilling emotional intelligence in a virtual work environment, start small. This can be a simple act of acknowledging a team member’s hard work, showcasing that you are truly proud of their efforts. In turn, this can spark a chain reaction for team members to follow.
A leader’s actions are a reflection of how they envision their workplace to be. When a leader leads by example, their actions and characteristics will trickle down to their team. In today’s digital age, leaders are at the forefront of implementing change and shaping the virtual work environment to be the workplace they wish.
Your Answer to a Virtual Work Environment
Emotional intelligence is the factor that will transform your virtual work environment to be connected, engaged, and productive. Implement these strategies and take note of the changes occurring in the workplace. If you have any strategies to share, let us know by connecting with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn!
If you are interested in learning more about the role of emotional intelligence in a remote work environment, check out our blog, How to Engage Your Virtual Team Using Emotional Intelligence for more tips on how to keep team engagement high. Additionally, you can check out our Virtual Retreat, for an opportunity to connect with your team while learning about how emotions impact the workplace.