2020 was the year of the big remote work shift and the move towards apps like Slack. So far in 2021, there appears to be no slowdown in the adoption of remote working, as companies and startups now realize that they aren’t restricted by location i.e. they have a pool of talented international employees at their disposal.
As a result, the number of remote job postings nearly tripled last year as employers embraced this new reality.
Remote workers too are reaping the benefits of working where, when, and how they like, thanks to the many evolving virtual technologies available to them e.g. online video calling. However, the future implications of remote work remain to be seen. Some employees thrive in distributed working environments while others struggle.
With human interactions reduced, there could be implications with regard to how we build trust and lasting relationships. This may well impact productivity at work.
The solution may lie in emotional intelligence (EI). Fostering emotional intelligence could be key to establishing real connections and a way for leaders to develop into inspirational managers. It could also empower employees to play a more effective role in a distributed workforce.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is also known as an emotional quotient (EQ). It’s commonly termed EI. This is a person’s ability to recognize and control their emotions as well as the emotions of people around them. It generally involves the following three skills:
- The ability to recognize and name your own emotions
- The ability to rein in those emotions and apply them to various tasks e.g. problem solving or constructive thinking
- The ability to manage emotions and help others take control of their emotions
Why is EI so important in remote workspaces?
New technologies, e.g. virtual productivity software, are providing new ways of working. This is presenting a challenge for some people, especially those that crave human interaction to get things done.
This makes maintaining a healthy level of emotional intelligence essential.
With more time spent in front of screens and less time spent face to face with others, companies are realizing they need to support workers who are struggling to adapt to working on their own in remote-based jobs.
Benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace
There’s evidence to show that EI should be fostered in the workplace since emotional intelligence has an impact on an individual’s behavior and how they perform at work.
People with high EI tend to be better at:
- Solving problems
- Keeping calm in difficult situations
- Resolving conflict
- Responding well to constructive criticism
Emotional intelligence can play a big role in helping to keep remote teams on track, no matter what the culture or background of team members. That’s because EI can help people read between the lines and pick up the emotional cues that lie in interactions when working remotely.
People with high EI are better at forming relationships and ‘fitting in’ to group situations. They have good social skills, and the ability to communicate in a clear, concise, and polite manner – all traits an employer should be seeking.
The empathy that comes with high emotional intelligence enables people to recognize how and why others feel as they do and to thereby anticipate how actions and behaviors will influence them. Developing empathy skills thus enhances experiences and relationships.
People with EI tend to be better at understanding their psychological state and more aware of problems before they escalate. They are also less likely to suffer from depression.
All of the above characteristics of emotional intelligence offer big bonuses to businesses that employ remote workers.
How to increase emotional intelligence in remote teams
Emotional intelligence is a part of the human psyche that can be developed and improved by learning and practicing new skills. There are a number of ways to foster it, including the following.
1. Understanding and controlling self-expression
In remote workspaces, employees rely more on written communication than visual. As well as collaborating on projects, they need to know how to build relationships and rapport with fellow workers via a computer screen. To do this, they need to become aware of how they are expressing emotions through online channels i.e. how they are coming across to others virtually.
Tips on managing emotions when working remotely
Before launching into a conversation or making a judgment, teach your employees to take time to listen. If they’re on the phone, encourage them to try to assess the tone of the person speaking and their mood. There may be an underlying issue they’re reluctant to broach directly. Active listening skills are an essential aspect of emotional intelligence.
When it’s their turn to speak, ask them to communicate deliberately and carefully. When they’re not part of a physical face-to-face conversation, it’s important to think about how others will interpret their words. They should aim to convey sensitivity, positivity, and self-control.
If they have to give someone bad news e.g. announcing their redundancy, make sure they’re encouraged to do it with tact and empathy. If they are tactless when dealing with another disgruntled employee, this could create a ripple effect on the morale of staff.
Managing emotions also helps to reduce negative feelings and develop self-confidence. The ability to consider various solutions to particular situations means that better decision-making outcomes will result.
2. Make sure the right channels of communication are used
In a virtual environment, when using email and instant messaging tools or a Zoom alternative free video conferencing solution, misunderstandings can arise, especially if team members are not emotionally intelligent.
It’s important that all team members are aware of the implications of their actions and choose the right communication tools to convey information. Some things are better-said face to face via a video virtual meeting than in an email or chat message.
In order to foster good EI in the remote workplace, it’s important that employees are allowed to express their personal feelings.
Leaders need to embrace EI
If you’re a CEO or in a leadership role, make sure you’re available via all channels and are approachable. Don’t ever shut down and disappear. Make it known you are there for your colleagues and employees. Just like your human resources software, you should be a resource and someone they can turn to.
3. Check how employees are reacting to stressful situations
Stress can manifest in many ways compared with an office environment. Instant messaging and constant dependence on technology can lead to communication overload. Added to this is the tendency to work overtime in order to cater to folks in different time zones.
In the office, there’s the option to let off steam with colleagues and ask for their support or advice. In a remote workspace, however, things are different. Given this, it’s important to find the time to interact with colleagues virtually, not only about the practicalities of work but about how they’re feeling.
It’s also harder for remote workspace employees to switch off after a hard day. It’s easier when they can leave the office behind. Remote workers need to find a way to demarcate the line between work and leisure and switch off from technology for a much-needed break. To be emotionally intelligent, it’s important for them to create a good work/life balance.
It’s essential that employers offer staff the chance to express their emotions and connect with fellow workers e.g. by setting up an online chat facility that’s designed just for social conversations.
Example of a company that recognizes the importance of EI
A good example of a company proactively encouraging employees to increase their knowledge and perception of EI is Sodex, a world leader in quality of life services with nearly 500,000 employees around the globe, many of whom work remotely. It has a section on its website dedicated to “Creating the Emotionally Intelligent Workplace”.
Sodex’s acknowledgment of the importance of emotional intelligence provides a good role model for other organizations looking to address the new world of remote working.
It takes effort and persistence to cultivate EI when working remotely. Without all the usual social interactions, managing feelings and relationships can be hard and challenging. But with a dedication to developing mindfulness, it is possible to enjoy the many advantages having your own remote workspace brings.
EQ is not the same as IQ (intelligence quotient)
There’s no correlation between EQ and IQ; IQ has no connection with how people deal and understand emotions and the emotions of others. It’s possible to be very clever and explain in detail ‘what is a bot?’ to someone but lack the ability to get on with them.
A high EQ helps people identify, use, understand, and manage their emotions in an effective and positive way. It enables individuals to communicate better with others, reduce their anxiety, and be able to defuse conflicts.
No matter what the type of company or role performed, all organizations can benefit from boosting the emotional intelligence of their virtual workers. From remote product management teams to customer service reps, higher levels of EI will create more empowering work environments and make your business more productive, enjoyable, and profitable.
On a personal level, having a high degree of emotional intelligence improves relationships and helps individuals to overcome life’s challenges. Developing EI can greatly influence success in life, affecting choices and creating options that may have previously been considered impossible.
Victorio Duran III is the Associate SEO Director at RingCentral, a global leader in cloud-based communications and auto dialer software provider. He has over 13 years of extensive involvement on web and digital operations with diverse experience as web engineer, product manager, and digital marketing strategist.