The COVID-19 crisis has more people working from home than ever, accelerating a trend that was already well established. The main driver of the push to remote work in the past was organizations wanting to attract and retain top talent that asked for the option. Even before the pandemic, surveys showed that 80% of employees would work from home at least part of the time if they could. And now, many that have been forced to have their staff function remotely during this crisis will have a powerful reason to continue to do so. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that an organization can save $11,000 per employee per year on average from savings on office space, furniture, electricity, and parking. One major issue, however, remains. Engaging staff, making them feel appreciated and part of the organization, has always been a struggle. Having their people working remotely will only accentuate this problem and require new, finely honed people skills. Here are seven ways to lead with emotional intelligence:
Think about and personalize your communication
Even though they are working remotely, your staff will still have the need to feel heard. Think about your mode of communication in terms of what your staff prefer individually, whether it be email, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, or phone. One size does not fit all. If not sure, check in with them. This will make them feel they have some sense of control and appreciate the effort you are making. There will of course be occasions, such as staff meetings, where this will not be possible.
Have some face-to-face and voice-to-voice time
Physical distance also creates psychological distance, making it more difficult to connect on an emotional level. While not as ideal as face-to-face, connecting in a way that allows us to see and hear the other person is crucial to maintaining the connection necessary for workers to feel a sense of belonging.
Use conference calls to share stories and experiences
Managers can take the lead on conference calls by telling stories of their own struggles and personal situations. Doing so will encourage others to do so and give everyone a sense that they are in this together. A good way to start meetings is with a short check-in with everyone on how they are feeling as well as their struggles, challenges, and triumphs from the last time they met. It is crucial that managers model this behavior as their staff will take their cues from their leaders as to how much they can and should share.
Look for ways to share what you have in common
For many people, the social aspect of sharing a physical workplace may be the activity that they will miss the most. Leaders can openly share their personal interests, preferences, and experiences to show their human side. Liz Elting, founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation with over 25 years of experience operating as a large employer, knows how critical this is. “At my company, we worked really hard to instill a sense of camaraderie. I’ve found it particularly beneficial to encourage my team to get to know one another and talk about their lives outside of work. I think we can learn a lot from digital natives in the workforce, who grew up participating in online communities and already have a well-developed grammar for building relationships at a distance.”
Acknowledge and celebrate successes, special occasions, and milestones
One of the hallmarks of a healthy workplace is the extent to which they celebrate the contributions and successes of their staff as well as their acknowledgement of special events in the personal lives of their staff. While it may not be as powerful as being physically present, virtual get-togethers to recognize staff, teams, and special events such as birthdays and new babies are crucial in creating camaraderie and a sense of belonging.
Show empathy in times of tragedy and illness
One of the most difficult things for some managers is knowing how to respond to a staff member who has become ill or lost a loved one. The manager can take the lead to find out what the affected person needs from him or her and from their colleagues. Sharon A. Kuhn, author of Unique EQ at The Center for Empathy, says, “Being emotionally aware allows you to show empathy and create a workplace culture that positively impacts your bottom line. Tuning into and sharing your employees’ feelings and perspectives, stresses, joys, and concerns fosters their bond with you and your mission. Embracing you and your values and vision, they loyally follow your lead to a new norm. And, because emotions biologically activate chemicals that directly impact the immune system, empathy turns crisis to connection, strengthening the mind/body system with anti-stress chemicals, reducing healthcare costs. Empathy is a contagion that is greatly needed in this time of recovering from COVID-19.
Look for opportunities to get together physically
While it may not be possible, or difficult for some time, look for opportunities for staff to get together physically. While we can do a lot virtually, personal contact will always be the best way for people to get to know one another and feel connected. Look for times and opportunities to get together either formally as a company function, or informally to enjoy a fun event together. “In-person get-togethers are critical for any team because they reinforce the human connection and help build a sense of belonging and togetherness,” said Liz Elting. “I suspect that group get-togethers and all-hands meetings with a shared lunch, once that’s safe and realistic again, are going to become a hallmark of business culture, even for companies that primarily work remotely.”