Finding emotional intelligence in a remote work environment
As we enter a new phase in our response to COVID-19, in-place safe-haven warrants are lifted in some states and some businesses are allowed to reopen. On the other hand, it is likely that many of us will continue to work remotely for several weeks or months, and the return to “normal” will be very different in different parts of the country.
Amid all the uncertainty as we adjust to the new normal, one thing is clear: The rules of traditional crisis planning and business continuity planning have changed. We have all been forced to adapt to these new rules and this new distributed working environment, and we cannot be sure that we will ever return to the current situation.
As the owner of a tech and legal public relations agency, I believe that graciously adapting and sustaining your business amid all the uncertainties requires leaders to cultivate three key abilities:
• Creativity: The ability to be bold and flexible and think like never before, whether it’s changing the way we and our people work, re-prioritizing business goals, or even offering a different mix of products or Services.
• Executive leadership: The ability to react quickly and decisively – not only to keep the business healthy, but also to provide the transparency and vision that will reassure staff that their safety and work is our primary concern.
• Effective communications: The ability to communicate with staff, partners and clients in a clear, calm, consistent and honest manner to build trust and minimize confusion or uncertainty.
For example, one of our clients responded to the news of the pandemic by switching to a 100% remote workforce within 24 hours, and another client increased their global workforce to over 500 employees to a 100% remote workforce within 72 hours. Both companies made sure to provide their customers with world-class service and immediately shared their new practices with customers, letting them know it was business as usual. As a result, the two companies won several new contracts in the days that followed, not least because they faced the crisis head-on with creativity, leadership and precise and honest communication.
Underlying each company’s practice and the capabilities described is not often talked about in the workplace: developing high emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence?
At its core, emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to effectively manage our feelings and relationships. Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis have identified four major “domains” of EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. There is a strong correlation between good social skills, business acumen and a high EI. Our ability to understand and empathize with others is essential to providing excellent service and genuinely addressing the concerns of employees, partners and customers.
As we continue to adapt to remote working scenarios, EI will be difficult to cultivate, but it is more important than ever. In a traditional brick and mortar workplace, cafe, or boardroom, it is much easier to be aware of your surroundings, to observe how people around you react to you and to each other. others, and adapt and respond accordingly.
However, many of the subtle cues that inform our EI, like tone of voice and body language, no longer work in a virtual environment. It is much more difficult to understand our customers and our staff and to assess moods and morale.
So how do we cultivate our ability to effectively manage feelings and relationships when we are cut off from most of the sensory cues that indicate what our colleagues and clients are really thinking?
Here are some suggestions:
Continuous self-assessment. Constantly remember that this work environment is different from what we are all used to. Take a step back and assess. How am I feeling right now? Under what circumstances do I tend to react in a way that I might later regret? What emotions and impulses do I need to control?
Listen first. Before jumping into a conversation or passing judgment, make a conscious effort to listen carefully to the person you are talking to. If you are on the phone, take a moment to assess the tone and demeanor of the person you are talking to. What’s their mood? Is there an underlying issue that they might be reluctant to address directly? Active listening conveys empathy and inspires confidence.
Communicate deliberately and carefully. Without face-to-face interactions, your real words are more important than ever. How will others interpret your words and how are they likely to react? Your messages should convey sensitivity, self-control, a positive attitude and an adaptable and creative mindset. If you need to downsize to keep your business afloat, carefully consider the ripple effects on your customers, the staff you will retain, and your organization’s reputation. Can you communicate your decision in a way that shows empathy and your core values? Can you do this in a way that even departing employees can retain positive feelings for the company?
Stay visible and accessible. This is especially important if you are in a leadership role. As you weigh up whether or not to return employees to the workplace or extend your remote work scenarios, EI will become especially important for navigating the emotional sensitivities of your workforce. . In a remote working environment, it’s all too easy to shut down and hide. Remember that you are part of a much larger whole. You have a whiteboard that no one can see. Make it clear to your colleagues and clients that you are there for them and want to be a resource, and encourage them to do the same.
It takes a conscious and persistent effort to cultivate EI in the midst of a protracted crisis. Without the usual physical interactions and sensory cues, managing our feelings and relationships in the workplace is less intuitive and more difficult, but it’s more important than ever, especially for sustaining your business.