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Lead Remotely and Effectively with Emotional Intelligence

By: Sylvia Baffour, Emotional Intelligence Expert and Author of I Dare You to Care.
2022 Fourth Quarter CAVO Visiting Virtual Expert

It’s no secret that more and more people are working remotely, and this is not just a passing trend. In fact, an Upwork survey reveals that 1 in 4 Americans will be working remotely by the end of 2021. They also predict that 36.2 million people will be working remotely by 2025, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels.

In these changing times, the fundamentals of leadership don’t change just because you find yourself leading in a virtual environment. Rather, it highlights the fact that as a leader, you must become even more intentional about the things you do to lead others in distributed workspaces.

Here are four emotional intelligence tips to help you thrive in your remote leadership role.

Sylvia Baffour HEADSHOT photo

Sylvia Baffour

1 - Commit to Meaningful Check-Ins with Your Team

It’s important to remember that emotions drive people, and it is people that drive performance. The inescapable reality is that if people on your team are experiencing personal challenges in their lives, the impact of that will often seep into how they show up each day for work. Since you don’t have the luxury of in-person interactions with your team, having frequent, meaningful check-ins is critical to creating a culture of belonging and psychological safety.

You could consider for instance, instituting something like taking the lead to start off each virtual meeting with a brief 10-minutes of light-hearted conversation, inviting each person to share something they’ve been up to, separate and apart from their job.

Finding ways to check in with your team, whether individually or collectively, will help them feel that you care about more than just their productivity.

2 – Focus on The Emotional Aftertaste of Your Virtual Interactions

It goes without saying that in a virtual environment so much more can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, especially when you don’t have the benefit of in-person face-to-face moments. Whether you’re aware of it or not, as a leader, every interaction you have with those you lead, leaves them with what I call an emotional aftertaste. A specific way they feel for having interacted with you. Wherever possible, your goal ought to be to leave a sweet and not a bitter emotional aftertaste.

One of the most effective ways you can do this is by thinking in advance of your virtual interactions or written correspondence, what you would like the other person to feel after they’ve interacted with you. Granted, you won’t always have the benefit of time to plan ahead, but whenever you can, try to think about what you want them to feel. This forethought will heavily influence your choice of words when interacting with them.

If for instance, you need to have a difficult conversation with a direct report about their performance review and you determine in advance that you would like them to still feel encouraged and inspired to show up and do their best, it will influence the way you speak to them. Keep in mind that this is all about influence and not about control.

3 – Keep an Eye on the Energy Level of Your Team

One of the challenges of working remotely is that from time to time, team members can experience ‘Zoom Fatigue’ or fatigue from having to constantly engage on video conferencing platforms. This inevitably can also negatively affect morale and work enthusiasm. One way to consider boosting the morale and energy of those you lead is by scheduling fewer meetings or at least try to shorten them.

You can also increase enthusiasm and motivation levels by encouraging idea sharing. Allow team members to share self-care tips they find helpful, as well as creative ways that they boost their own energy levels. This will ensure that your team feels like you actually care about how they’re feeling and you’re committed to creating a virtual work environment where they feel seen and cared for.

4 – Incorporate Deliberate Routines to Create Connection

Take advantage of every opportunity you have to show your team that they are valued and appreciated. Allow yourself to get creative with your ideas. Perhaps you can even solicit some insight from others on your team to give you a better sense of the kinds of things that allow members of your team to feel connected.

I recently conducted an emotional intelligence training workshop for an association in the healthcare space. Through my background research and pre-planning conversations, I learned that their CEO was a very empathetic leader. He along with his leadership team, agreed to send out care packages to each of their 300 employees to thank them and show appreciation for all that they were doing to pull the organization through tough times brought on by the pandemic.

Along with the care packages, the CEO wanted to include a note card. His team offered to assist him with writing out the cards to save time. He instead insisted that he would write the personal notes to each employee himself. He said “as I write out each card, it gives me a chance to think about each employee and remind them that they matter to us.”

As the Harvard Business Review reminds us, businesses that put empathy and emotional intelligence ahead of everything else out perform other businesses by 20%. As a leader, you play a pivotal role in the emotional wellbeing of your team and tapping into some emotional intelligence skills will go a long way in helping you thrive in a virtual leadership role.