Even though the number of remote workers had been rising for years, COVID-19 forced an unprecedented number of employees to give working from home a try. For some, this was a welcome change, but for others it required a difficult mental and emotional adjustment.
One of the biggest challenges faced by remote employees is remaining engaged with their organizations and feeling that their employer understands what they are going through. A 2019 survey by Businessolver found that 82% of staff would think about leaving their organization for a more empathic company. Empathy is a major part of emotional intelligence. More than three-quarters of those surveyed stated they would work longer hours if they knew their employer cared about them.
At a time when in-person interactions have decreased due to this shift to remote work, the importance of emotional intelligence and feeling connected has only gotten greater. Letting employees know they are cared for is more difficult when a team is distributed, making it increasingly important that leaders put in additional effort.
Here are five things emotionally intelligent leaders do to make their remote employees want to stay:
They don’t assume everything’s okay
Having remote employees makes it more difficult to spot when someone is struggling. Typical outward signals of stress—such as a change in body language or presentation—can easily be hidden when an employee is not physically present.
Employees who are struggling may be hesitant to reach out to their supervisors (or others) for fear of being seen as needy, dependent, or unable to do the work they were hired to do. To overcome this challenge, emotionally intelligent leaders need to make the extra effort to solicit feedback and maintain strong relationships with staff members.
They opt for screen time
While screen time can’t exactly replace in-person interactions, it beats email and phone for communication. At least we can see the other person’s face, giving us some feeling of being connected. Emotionally intelligent leaders can demonstrate that they care by limiting email use to information sharing and using video calls for any kind of in-depth discussions.
They increase personal contact
Leaders need to spend more time checking in on their employees regularly, preferably via Zoom or another video platform. At the same time, this needs to be done in a way where direct reports don’t assume that the purpose is to monitor their work or an attempt to micromanage.
Emotionally intelligent managers can build trust with their staff by being open, transparent, and sharing their own struggles. Listening also connects us. According to Moshe Cohen, author of Collywobbles: How to Negotiate When Negotiating Makes You Nervous, asking open-ended questions and listening without interruption allows emotionally intelligent managers to demonstrate respect for their people while also uncovering their concerns and supporting their needs.
They set up supportive networks for staff
Not all people who work remotely have the same struggles. Some will have to look after children or elderly parents at home. Even a year in, leaders and human resource staff should find opportunities for staff in similar circumstances to connect with one another, either through employee assistance programs or via connections to trustworthy external organizations.
They host virtual celebrations
Even if we can’t all gather in the conference room for birthday cake, or meet up for a drink after work, there is no reason not to have some fun virtually. Leaders should still look for opportunities to recognize life milestones and team accomplishments.
Providing their staff with fun memorabilia, such as coffee mugs or T-shirts, may also help create a feeling of being part of the group while working virtually. Managers can also solicit team-bonding ideas from the group. The things that can be done in this area are only limited by our imagination.