The year 2020 has thrown us all a massive curveball. COVID-19 has transformed the dynamics of how companies operate, offering more flexible work schedules, and understanding the benefits of remote work and the impact it can have on our productivity with more of our attention on completing tasks. As well, we have learned that having virtual teams helps us attract the best talent and build a team that brings a variety of backgrounds and perspectives together — which makes a company stronger.

Many people are stressed, tired, and overall feeling disconnected and disengaged, especially at work. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 41% of employees feel burned out from their work, and 44% feel used-up at the end of the workday. Employers are struggling to maintain morale and keep their teams enthusiastic and committed from afar.

One of the biggest challenges has been connecting and communicating effectively with your virtual workforce. This isn’t an easy task for leaders to manage, especially those learning to use technology. Employers are struggling to keep employees engaged, with employee engagement at an all-time low, and 35 percent of employees are struggling with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. 

We have seen many tactics to keep employees engaged, like virtual happy hours, casual meetings, and regular Zoom check-in calls. Although nobody will complain about getting paid to have a glass of wine, leaders need to recognize that engagement is built on trust, not impromptu meetups.  

Building genuine connections and developing a positive corporate culture are vital elements in developing meaningful engagement. How does one connect authentically, communicate effectively, and thrive collectively? This is done by learning how to engage your virtual team using emotional intelligence.

How to Engage Your Virtual Team With Emotional Intelligence

Leaders recognize that they have to go above and beyond to engage your virtual team using emotional intelligence. Fun activities and spontaneous team meetings are light and fun, but the deep root of engagement stems from emotional intelligence techniques. 

Every employee, virtual or not, wants to feel connected, appreciated, and fulfilled in their workplace. In our newest workshop, Leading Remote Teams with Emotional Intelligence outlines specific techniques to keep build trust and empathy within your teams with the ultimate goal in mind: employee engagement. 

All emotional intelligence competencies are essential; however, there are specific competencies you should emphasize with engagement. 

1. Emotional Self-Awareness

Emotional Self-Awareness is the ability to be aware of your emotions and triggers.

A leader needs to be aware of their own emotions and how the external environment impacts their mood; how a leader shows up to a meeting impacts how they communicate and connect with their teams. The better the leader is at identifying how they feel, the better they will put themselves in other people’s shoes.

2. Emotional Expression

Emotional Expression is the ability to express how you are feeling constructively. 

A leader needs to be able to express themselves and share how they feel. Using more emotive language like” I want, I feel, I hope” will lead you to be seen as more of an inspirational leader who can share a compelling vision. If your team is inspired, they will be more engaged.

3. Interpersonal Relationships

Interpersonal Relationships is the ability to build and nurture mutually satisfying relationships.

A leader needs to build connections and have good social skills to build trust, gain buy-in and leverage the resources you need to reach your teams’ goals. Your ability to form healthy relationships in your team is essential, immensely to help weather difficult times. 

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to appreciate and understand how another person feels.

A leader needs to build strong interpersonal relationships, and having high empathy makes a leader approachable and allows your team to feel safe and share their thoughts and ideas. This connection can take your organization to new heights. Leading with empathy enables a leader to grasp what another is feeling, even if it is much different from what they feel. 

5. Reality Testing

Reality Testing is the ability to be mindful, present and attuned to a moment or situation; to see things objectively.

A leader who has a high level of reality testing is seen as grounded, objective and in touch with the work environment. They do not let their objectivity cloud their judgment. This is incredibly important when it comes to engagement, as employees feel seen, heard, and respected for where they are, not just where you want them to be.

6. Flexibility

Flexibility is the ability to adapt and cope well with change or the unfamiliar.

A leader who has high flexibility can modify their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in response to change. These kinds of leaders embrace change and view it as a springboard for progress in the organization. They can accommodate and approach communication and learning from different perspectives and tactics and offer their team alternatives or innovative approaches to work. 

The Return on Investment of Engagement

With the continuous level of engagement falling, employees need more support in remote work environments. Not only is engagement falling, but the return on investment (ROI) within your organization is declining. Even if you aren’t familiar with emotional intelligence as a leader, you should be aware of the impact of ignoring it. 

A 2017 study by the Engagement Institute uncovers that disengagement can cost U.S. companies between $450- 550 billion a year. By acknowledging your employees’ emotions and acting on them effectively, you can keep a healthy culture and stay financially competitive. The motivation is clear: engage your virtual team using emotional intelligence or face the consequences of going even further into financial turmoil.

3 Tips to Engage Through Emotional Intelligence

By diving deep into your virtual team’s emotional needs and being aware of your feelings, you will be able to maintain a high level of engagement and have a more happy team. 

In our latest blog, Communicating Together Apart, we outlined the importance of effectively connecting with your employees and working together. There are some small yet powerful moves leaders can make to build a more engaged virtual team.

1. Personalize Recognition

Even though you see your team on one screen, you need to recognize each team member’s individual needs and motivations. Remote work has made it easy to identify the introverts and extroverts in your virtual meetings. Leaders need to accommodate their meetings to benefit both types of team members, allowing the introverts to speak, and the extroverts to sit back and listen. A productive team meeting fosters an opportunity to connect with participants, offers direction and purpose while creating space for others to step up and share their knowledge.

The lack of face-to-face communication can make us forget to put the time and effort into employee recognition. It’s not as easy to give a simple thank-you because so much is getting done without us under the same roof. Therefore, leaders need to find effective ways to make sure we do not miss this critical step. Leaders need to give recognition regularly, but they also need to do it the right way. Calling someone out for a job well done in front of the entire team may fulfill some employees, but embarrass others. 

In the book The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Gary Chapman outlines five different ways to show authentic appreciation and encouragement to employees, co-workers, and leaders. It’s a must-read, and it contains a free access code for taking the online Motivating By Appreciation (MBA) Inventory, where it identifies a person’s preferred languages of appreciation.  

2. Set Work Boundaries

Just because you are working all hours of the day doesn’t mean that your virtual team’s expectations should be the same. Remote workers are balancing homeschooling, personal and partner stressors, and maybe even financial setbacks. As a leader, you need to respect your employee’s boundaries and try your best to avoid adding more stress. 

There is nothing worse than receiving an email at 1 am or end of the day urgent requests, with little time to complete the task. It not only takes a toll on their productivity, but it also impacts how they feel about the job, and possibly how they perform on the task. 

With employees learning to work in new environments or conditions, there is pressure for employees to make sure they are staying on top of everything. Therefore, as leaders, you need to focus on not adding more angst to their already overloaded 40-hour workweek.

3. Create Flexibility

The 9-to-5 workday is now a time of the past, and remote teams need a more flexible schedule. Virtual work has forced employers to be open to flexible working arrangements. Nobody wants to be told HOW to do something, so allowing employees to do their work on their terms gives them a sense of freedom. This flexibility level also instills a sense of confidence in your employees that they know you trust them enough to get their work done and meet deadlines in the most productive way for them.   

In Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he shares that motivation can be broken down into three aspects: MAP – Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose.   Autonomy gives people the freedom to do their work in a way that works best for them.  

If you want an engaged workforce, you, as the employee, need to adapt that each person on your team has a different set of circumstances and put your trust in your people to direct you on how best to support their needs.  

To learn more about virtual team engagement using emotional intelligence, check out our Leading Remote Teams with Emotional Intelligence workshop, where you will learn how to connect authentically and engage effectively with your virtual teams. If you are interested in learning emotional intelligence at your own pace, we provide a deep dive into the 15 emotional intelligence competencies with our Online Courses.

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