We’ve seen a significant shift in working patterns over the last three years, with many teams now hybrid or fully remote. For some, a greater awareness of team members’ lives outside of the office has enhanced working relationships and increased shared outcomes. For others, the physical distance between colleagues has made achieving a sense of connection and delivering on common goals more challenging.

The different outcomes observed in the move towards hybrid and remote working highlights the importance of emotional and social awareness during times of change. Research also tells us that when leaders demonstrate the critical emotional and social skills needed to engage and get the best out of those around them, they are much better equipped to create a sense of alignment towards a shared vision of success.

While we talk about establishing a ‘new normal’ post-pandemic, the reality is that organisations will remain – as they have always been – in a state of continuous flux. Now is a critical time to build and strengthen the necessary social and emotional foundations that will help teams to navigate on-going change. The characteristics of an emotionally intelligent team must be role modelled by leadership through their everyday actions. Doing so will be crucial to engaging team members and ensuring continued buy-in to the organisation’s vision for post-pandemic success.

Managers and leaders looking to keep hybrid and remote workers motivated may benefit from dialling up their emotional intelligence in the following three ways:

1. Spend less time talking, more time listening

In recent turbulent times there has been a more obvious need to lead with greater empathy given the uncertainty and – in many ways – shared challenges everyone has faced. Rather than reserve these skills for crisis situations, now is the time to practice greater empathic leadership daily and reap rewards of doing so. Put simply, empathic leadership can be achieved through spending less time talking, and more time listening.

Hybrid and remote working practices are likely to evolve for some time. Accept that when leading through change, it’s OK not to have all the answers. To unearth what will make your team most effective, make time to hear what they have to say.

Be curious to learn how different colleagues feel about the new ways of working and seek to understand the other person’s experience. Go further by showing a genuine interest in what matters most to them across all areas of their lives – inside and outside of work – to gain a more holistic perspective of their personal drivers. What’s important to a working parent may look quite different to the needs of a new graduate. Different personality styles may also play a part.

Believing that your needs have been heard makes a massive difference to motivation, even if some compromise is still required. Once you’ve listened to their specific challenges, adopt a coaching leadership style to develop workable solutions that support them in the alignment of personal and organisational values, and work and personal goals.

2. Be open-minded towards alternatives

Leaders proficient in the emotional intelligent qualities of optimism and adaptability, who remain open-minded to new possibilities, experiences, and learning, have been shown to demonstrate enhanced readiness for and resilience during times of change. They are often skilled change champions, communicating the need for change in a way that wins their team’s hearts and minds. These skills will continue to be immensely valuable within an evolving hybrid and remote team structure.

So that everyone feels actively involved in shaping the future of the team, encourage team members to experiment with new hybrid and remote practices, creating space for reflection and the sharing of feedback to continue fine-tuning ways of working together. This will in turn create a sense of shared ownership and accountability over the transformation journey.

A hybrid or remote working culture will thrive when you allow team members the autonomy to establish their own methods for best completing work. Be flexible to exploring options that you may not previously have considered, receptive to new ideas and open to alternative points of view.

The more you trust and empower your team, the more they will keep lines of communication open, creating an agile, transparent, and motivational team environment.

3. Facilitate meaningful connections

Connection is so important within hybrid and remote teams because it creates a sense of proximity, even when you are working in a dispersed or asynchronous way. This in turn supports the development of a shared identity and sense of belonging.

Plan ways to support your hybrid or remote team in establishing collaborative and mutually rewarding relationships characterised by positive expectations, for example through a team goal-setting exercise aligned to values. Whether conducted in-person or virtually, ensure time is given to building personal connections to avoid becoming overly task or transactional focused.

Reflect on the everyday team interactions that help to build connection. These might once have occurred around the water cooler and now need a bit more conscious thought to include team members working remotely or to different schedules. This could be achieved through something as simple as introducing a regular 30-minute virtual team lunch with zero work agenda, where everyone has their cameras on.

Be conscious of the small things that can help or hinder relationship equality in hybrid or remote teams. The language used (remote versus office workers) and even the order in which team input is requested in a hybrid team meeting can signal a hierarchy of input. Consider co-developing a set of communication norms with your hybrid or remote team to support an inclusive working environment.

Giving greater focus to facilitating purposeful connections will promote both effectiveness and wellbeing in hybrid and remote teams.

There’s no need to re-write the leadership handbook for hybrid and remote working. But there may be a benefit to reviewing and resetting any individual and organisational habits and behaviours that have, perhaps for some time stood, in the way of true people leadership success.

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at ChangingPoint. To find out more about how ChangingPoint can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.

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