Remote work is changing the way we work, including how we manage our teams. Now that many of our day-to-day management tasks can be systematized and automated, what role should you play as a team leader?
The answer? Develop the EQ skills that support remote team collaboration. Slack might be where you check in on your team’s progress, but it can’t help you facilitate a difficult conversation—or coach individual team members to success. (At least, not yet!)
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), skills are all about how you perceive and regulate emotions.
This applies to your own emotions, like recognizing when you’re stressed about a deadline or frustrated by a colleague at work. It also applies to the ability to recognize other people’s emotions, like whether your team members are exhibiting symptoms of burnout.
EQ skills are closely related to communication skills, as well as our ability to express empathy, problem-solve, and offer emotional support.
Why Do Emotional Intelligence Skills Matter in the Remote Workplace?
Emotional intelligence skills matter during remote work for a few important reasons:
- It’s harder to understand the tone of voice behind digital communication, especially if you’ve never met or interacted with a colleague in person.
- There can be breakdowns in asynchronous communication around process, roles, or deadlines that might lead to confusion and frustration. Managers will have to be ready to deal with these emotions in a productive way.
- Building the relationships that are key to a positive company culture takes more time and intention during remote work.
- The shift to remote work has introduced complexity into everyone’s lives. It’s important to be empathetic to individual situations, whether someone is parenting and working from home, dealing with illness, or managing another high-stress situation.
We’ve all faced these challenges while working on remote teams. Mastering EQ skills will help you build positive work relationships across physical distances, facilitate difficult conversations, and support team members who are dealing with challenging personal situations.
Here are the five EQ skills you can focus on to manage your remote team even more effectively:
1. Incredible Communication
When it comes to managing a distributed team, incredible communication skills are more important than ever. In fact, as many as 23% of employees surveyed by Asana during the pandemic identified communication breakdowns, like unclear processes and uncertainty over prioritie, as one of the top reasons for missing deadlines.
Using tools like Slack to check in on progress or Welcome to present your efforts to the company are still clearly a must. But managers in today’s remote workforce also have the responsibility of skillfully building the connections that are key to a positive employee experience.
As a manager, you can demonstrate this new, empathetic form of communication in numerous ways during your syncs:
- Reflective listening: Demonstrate you understand what your team members are saying, or how they’re feeling, by reflecting their concerns and observations back to them. This helps build trust and alignment, especially when you’re not in the same room together.
- Mastering the art of small talk: Small talk is important! Don’t just launch into your meeting. Make sure you’re connecting with your team members and facilitating their connection to one another.
- Delivering feedback that helps your team grow: Highly observational, non-judgmental feedback on performance gives your team members more opportunities to be curious about their interactions in meetings and presentations. Lead from a place of curiosity to encourage a growth mindset. It’s a communication skill and a relationship-building skill all rolled into one.
It’s important to take advantage of the moments you’re “face-to-face” with your team to practice the communication skills that support your company’s values and employee experience goals.
Being a great communicator on Slack or over email never gets old, but that type of asynchronous support is better for managing and clarifying roles, deadlines, and progress than building work relationships that matter. Great managers know how to communicate with their remote teams both ways!
2. Empathy & Emotional Connection
According to Harvard Business Review, employees who feel supported at work are less likely to report mental health concerns—and more likely to stay in their jobs. Researchers found that being emotionally supportive is a key managerial skill that impacts employee experience, from retention to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
And it goes beyond being a great, empathetic communicator. You’ll also need to offer tactical support, like access to services or time off, so your team can get the rest or care they need to thrive.
One of the best ways to stay on top of emotional wellbeing is to make check-ins on mental health and stress levels a regular part of work. Even a simple ranking of stress levels can tell you a lot about how your team is feeling.
Have an employee who’s struggling? Don’t brush it off. You can:
- Lend an ear—or a shoulder. Prioritize listening to understand and empathize before you launch into solutions. Sometimes people just need to be heard. Asking what employees need can open the door to more specific types of support
- Offer specific types of resources. Asking what employees need can open the door to more specific types of support. But be prepared to offer services or resources they may not realize they have access to, from mental health services to time off.
- Redistribute or reprioritize work. We’re currently experiencing record levels of burnout across every sector, and managers have a huge impact on workload. Have you adequately distributed work across your team? Are your timelines sound? Do you need to hire more people? Adjust your expectations? Shift a deadline (or five) around? Identify the strategies that can offer a struggling employee immediate short-term relief as you continue making medium- and long-term plans.
- Authorize vacation or self-care time. Sometimes the best strategy for a struggling employee is to simply take more time to rest and recharge. Authorize vacation time or self-care time and assure them that the work can wait.
3. Employee Coaching
The role of the middle manager continues to change, and, in many cases, disappear. According to McKinsey, this organizational trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the shift to remote work.
As remote managers know well, many of your systems for tracking workflow are now automated. Project management software like Asana, Trello, and Jira make it easy to see roles, responsibilities, and progress against deadlines.
And while your job as a manager is still to oversee these processes for your team, ideally you have more time to support your employees in their own career growth. This means that coaching skills are becoming just as crucial as management skills.
Coaching takes many forms, including:
- Offering tactical feedback in one-on-ones
- Discussing career goals and pathways in—and outside of—your company
- Recognizing and upskilling talent on your team
- Connecting team members with specific resources, like career coaches
Your efforts to learn coaching skills will go well beyond supporting the needs of individual team members. They also have a direct impact on retention, employee satisfaction at work, and company culture.
You may have more flexibility as a remote team manager, but you’re also being inundated with emails, notifications, and meeting requests. And so is your team!
In order to address remote work overwhelm and burnout, it’s up to managers to help their teams manage boundaries between work and home life. That makes good boundaries an incredible EQ skill to develop for yourself—and to respect in other team members.
Support healthy work boundaries by:
- Advocating for shared focus time. We’re all in too many meetings. Whether you create core collaboration hours to facilitate teamwork or no-meeting days for head-down, deep focus time, adopt management strategies that mitigate overwhelm.
- Model healthy boundaries. The realities of flexible work mean you might actually be catching up on work during nights or weekends to hit your 40 hours. But that doesn’t mean your team has to know—or feel obligated to respond! Schedule emails to arrive at the beginning of your work day to respect your team’s out-of-office time.
- Put notifications on mute. Nothing disrupts an important meeting like the double-clack of the Slack messenger. Encourage your team to mute notifications during focus time and meetings, as well as nights and weekends. During the work day, it’ll help to eliminate context switching. The rest of the time, it’s all about respecting work-life boundaries!
5. Building Connections
Facilitating meaningful connections between your team members is a crucial EQ skill and a talent in and of itself. After all, good managers care as much about healthy working relationships as they do about the quality of work done by their direct reports.
One of the best ways to build connections on a remote team is to focus on the experiences that build trust, increase understanding, and break down remote work silos.
Consider incorporating the following types of events into your workflow:
- Team-building experiences. Whether you volunteer together or take a virtual field trip, team-building experiences help virtual teams learn how to problem-solve and work together more effectively—even from a distance.
- Cross-team collaborations. Actively seek opportunities to work with other teams in your organization. Maybe it’s time to get product and engineering in the same virtual space. Or marketing and sales. How does your work change when it becomes more collaborative?
- Networking. Introducing team members to other employees in the organization is another way to break down silos. Suggest integrating networking sessions into your all-hands meeting, or make networking a critical onboarding goal for new hires.
It might seem overly social on the surface, but for remote workers, social interaction is a major plus. Social connections are still crucial to how we get work done, build company culture, and create an employee experience that makes your team want to stick around.
You’re an expert in directing your team’s Slack channel, managing deadlines, and communicating priorities. Mastering these top EQ skills will only make you that much stronger as a remote team manager.
And you can use Welcome to help you do it! Welcome is employee event software that supports your entire employee lifecycle. Whether you want to hold a networking event during remote team onboarding or set up coaching sessions for your team, Welcome is the platform to help you build engagement and track employee wellbeing over time.
Find out how Welcome can support all the touchpoints in your employee lifecycle and book a demo today!