How to build an emotionally intelligent remote team

Find out more about the importance of emotional intelligence training for remote teams, and how employers can deliver this successfully.

How to build an emotionally intelligent remote team
Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu / Unsplash

Last month, publisher of HR Future, Alan Hosking, sat down with Greg Williams, Manager of Training Design at Weave HQ, and Dr Alex Young, founder of Virti, to discuss the importance of emotional intelligence training for remote teams, and to share their advice on how employers can deliver this successfully. Below, you’ll find a summary of their conversation and key takeaways.

What is emotional intelligence, and why does it matter to your organisation?

Alex: Emotional intelligence - the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, as well as identifying them in others - is an essential component of a happy and productive workforce. Encouraging the development of emotional intelligence helps strengthen communication between geographically disparate teams, supports successful internal and external collaboration, and underpins healthy client relationships.

Greg: Dr Angela Duckworth defines emotional intelligence as “mobility, not a tendency but a capacity.” To possess this “capacity”, one must be able to:

  • Perceive emotions
  • Understand what they mean and where they’re coming from
  • Use these emotions in ways that are beneficial
  • Manage them successfully

It’s important to acknowledge that the reduced face time we receive when working remotely makes this more of a challenge. So it’s essential that leaders train employees in emotional intelligence and support them to practise it remotely.

Alan: Successful leaders need to have influence. It’s so important that leaders themselves have strong emotional intelligence and can model this for their employees. They need to have self-awareness and be able to understand how and why their employees are feeling and acting.

How can emotional intelligence lead to positive business outcomes?

Alan: Having an ability to sense what your customer needs and convey this to them enables them to feel as though you really understand and ‘get’ them. It can help you show that you feel their pain and can provide a genuine solution.

Greg: Having emotional intelligence helps organisations to understand a client’s needs and to learn their language. By openly communicating with clients, you can get a sense of what it is they really value and what needs must be met for them to view it as a success. Then, this can be used as the basis for action going forward.

Charting Goals
Photo by Isaac Smith / Unsplash

What methods can organisations use to upskill employees in emotional intelligence?

Alex: Reflecting on my own experience of applying for medical school, we were assessed on our ability to employ empathy. I was given a hypothetical scenario, in which I had accidentally run over my neighbour's cat, and asked how I would respond. This encouraged us as candidates to think about how we could manage our own and others’ emotions in a difficult situation, and what action we should take in response.  

Alan: Yes, practising empathy is a crucial part of building emotional intelligence and interviews are an essential point at which we should be assessing this. However, we must not leave it at the hiring process. Onboarding is just as essential. We need to provide new employees with comprehensive support and training to help them gel with the company culture and manage the period of transition.

In practical terms, what does an emotionally intelligent company culture look like?

Greg: Two things come to mind: firstly, how each individual models emotional intelligence and influences the culture across the network of people with whom they work. This might include increasing your emotional vocabulary and labelling emotions more clearly. For example, instead of saying “I’m mad about how this project went”, break it down and explain that there’s a degree of overwhelm, anxiety and frustration. Leading by example will encourage others to do the same.

Secondly, it’s important to build a culture of mentorship and peer learning. We should be explaining our actions and the thought process behind them; for example, when debriefing a meeting with a stakeholder, it may be helpful for your colleagues to hear and understand why you said something or responded in a certain way.

Things to do
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How can we integrate support and feedback into our organisation to help drive emotional intelligence?

Alan: It’s so important for us to become comfortable with criticism as leaders. If I model behaviour whereby I am prepared to show my vulnerability and admit where things haven’t gone as planned, then people will take my lead. This can help to demonstrate that I’m prepared to listen to feedback and not get defensive. We need to destigmatize feedback and reinstate it as a positive tool for driving growth.

Alex: When I trained as a doctor, we were taught to deliver what you could call feedback to patients - which could be good or bad depending on the situation. Since running my own businesses, I have found these skills of knowing how to signpost things or deliver bad news - such as a poor performance report - in a non-confrontational, supportive manner, extremely helpful. It helps employees to improve and not simply feel defeated.

Greg: There are two factors that can help us integrate better feedback in our organisations. We’re so often running on default due to the sheer amount of information and tasks we deal with on a daily basis, so giving feedback is often left for specific times, such as performance reviews or occasions where things have gone really badly. We need to make feedback a more regular, consistent activity to help normalise the process and also incorporate positive feedback, too. I also follow a framework that I learnt from local startup Campfire:

  • Step 1: If you see something and need to provide feedback do it quickly
  • Step 2: State exactly what you saw
  • Step 3: Share your perspective of the impact this had
  • Step 4: Ask for their perspective
  • Step 5: Discuss next steps

This helps make feedback a discussion rather than a confrontation, which is ultimately more constructive and likely to encourage change.

what’s going on here
Photo by John Schnobrich / Unsplash

So how can we successfully introduce emotional intelligence training?

Alan: I think about what I can do to help my people learn in a way that helps them change their behaviour. The secret, for me, is helping them to gain insight, to see things in ways they may not have considered before. Focus on insight and the rest will follow.

Greg: There’s no one size fits all, there’s a lot of nuance and so training definitely requires personalisation. Using mentorship can certainly help with this. Take time to reflect on your own organisation’s needs and ask for feedback from your team. Be intentional with this and demonstrate the importance of building emotional intelligence. It’s both the team’s and its leaders’ responsibility to embrace this culture. Every individual should actively lead by example and encourage greater emotional intelligence across their organisation.

Alex: To build genuine and effective emotional intelligence, you need training tools which offer both accessible, experiential learning and comprehensive, data-led feedback. Virtual reality (VR) is a great example of how this can be achieved in a cost-effective, scalable and flexible way. At Virti, our platform automatically collects and tracks objective performance data so learners can pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses. This enables employees to practice navigating emotionally-complex scenarios - such as delivering performance reviews - and then accurately review their performance. Areas for improvement can be easily identified and used to direct future practice.

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Learn More about Virti

Emotional intelligence can play an integral part in your remote team’s success. However, this requires commitment from leaders to deliver comprehensive and accessible training, and from every individual to engage with training and lead by example. Make the effort to prioritise emotional intelligence in your organisation and you’ll soon be reaping the rewards.

Watch the full webinar for more information and advice on delivering emotional intelligence training to your remote team.