Remote Working

Why developing empathy is the only way to truly connect humans in an ever-growing remote team

People’s emotions are rarely put into words. Instead, they are expressed through other cues, usually on-verbal. 

These cues can show up in the tones of a voice, a gesture, an eyebrow raised, a change in body language or even a bodily twitch.  

The question lies in how remote workers can detect emotion from one or another specific nonverbal cue when we rarely see each other in person. 

Feedback, performance reviews, career advancement plans and critical project discussions all happen online, and all come to the table with a great deal of emotion, regardless if we can see it or not. 

So why is empathy so important for remote teams?

In tests with over seven thousand people, findings suggest the ability to read feelings from non-verbal cues resulted in individuals being better at adjusting emotionally to change, being better perceived by other people in their networks, and more sensitive in general. 

In remote teams, we as leaders need to be able to pick up on when a person’s words disagree with what is conveyed with their tone of voice, body language or other non-verbal because our truth is not what is being said, but how it’s being said. In years of communications research, they found that 90% or more of an emotional message is nonverbal. 

Empathy can be said to be a skill we learn tactically, but that’s not to say it cannot be developed in adulthood. Outside of video calls and cameras, how can you start to build empathy within your team? Not just as a leader but in the relationships your team have with each other. 
  1. Understand the conversations that need to happen that will require communication through non-verbal cues if you’re having a performance review discussion or a brainstorming meeting with the team, default to the best technology that will enable the team to read non-verbal cues. 
  2. Use the time you spend in person together or at team offsites to understand everyone’s non-verbal ways to communicate. Someone may convey a lot through their hands; another may communicate through their tone of voice. Bringing a higher awareness of this that will enable you to understand everyone better when you go back to working remotely. 
  3. Listen more. When we listen from a place of trying to understand rather than trying to respond, we deepen our level of awareness. Encourage listening in team meetings, giving everyone a chance to be heard and understood. 
  4. Ask more questions. In more in-depth conversations, as a leader, you should be following the 80:20 rule. That means listening 80% of the time and speaking 20% of the time. It’s not always easy to maintain this ratio but to increase your time listening; you can ask more open-ended questions that get your employee thinking not only in new ways but helps you gather both the facts and the feelings. 

About Shauna

Shauna Moran, the founder of Operate Remote helps remote and multi-location companies improve employee performance and engagement. Shauna is an accredited coach & consultant and emotional intelligence practitioner. Shauna has unique experience in building and managing remote teams on an international level, coupled with her academic background in Psychology, Innovation Management and extensive research in remote working strategies. Shauna's mission is to empower companies and leaders to create a productive, highly-functional, effective and engaged workforce, regardless of the locations that they can scale well into the future, with confidence. Book some time to speak with Shauna or contact her on [email protected]