Work relationships are complicated and the difficulty is greatly compounded when you are working remotely.
Leaders must nurture their relationship with employees for the organisation to flourish. Thus, relational intelligence is a must for anyone leading a remote team.
What is relational intelligence?
We are all a product of our life experiences.
These are a set of matchless events, backgrounds, perspectives, and skills we have lived and acquired over the years. These experiences inform our decisions, thoughts, and actions and shape our personal and work-life approach.
Relational intelligence is the ability to connect within your workplace and establish mutual trust. It’s the aptitude for a remote manager to understand their employees’ working habits, develop boundaries, and learn how to deal with a violation of trust and disagreements.
Esther Perel, a world renown therapist and relationship expert, describes relational intelligence as ‘knowing how to deal with other people and become in tune with the needs of others’.
Alternatively, we can term relational intelligence as the power of being and staying connected with others amid tasks.
Why relational intelligence is vital for a remote leader
As a remote leader, you must forge a personal connection with each team member and establish mutual trust to ensure tasks are completed on time, new ideas are regularly floated and problems are resolved.
Relational intelligence has many benefits including;
Ability to identify individual triggers
Emotional intelligence impacts what your employees do or say each day.
However, the traits and intricacies of each person are quite different and no two individuals are alike. These cognitive triggers bring out their individuality at a particular time and event.
All these triggers and emotions make each remote team member unique, but they also make your work as a remote manager harder.
Every remote manager needs to employ relational intelligence strategies that identify what the triggers are and how this learned behaviour can be channeled into doable action, thus, positively impacting their employee’s productivity and life.
We often don’t see things in their original form; we see them as we are. Self-awareness makes us more attuned with ourselves and others.
Self-awareness is all about understanding the essence of what makes you employees tick. Knowing your skills, strengths, values, fears, capabilities, limitations, and beliefs.
To increase self-awareness, use self-reflection habits of each day by becoming self-aware of your leadership assignments and crafting a relationally intelligent approach.
When you embrace self-awareness and reflection, you are more receptive to employee’s honest feedback and ideas, a great first step in creating a happier workforce.
Grows social awareness
Social awareness is being in tune with the situation of those around you.
With social awareness, you can learn to observe other people’s emotions and reactions to a given situation. Observing the actions and emotions of your employees helps in solving disputes and encourages a more robust and cohesive team.
To increase social awareness, embrace the present moment by calming your mind and being attentive to others’ reactions.
Remember; seek to understand others first before being understood.
Great listeners create great remote leaders. With this in mind, entering any conflict space with social awareness quickly mitigates tension, encouraging resolution, and making an interrelated team.
Relational intelligence challenges facing remote leaders
Limited employee information
Remote working brings out a plethora of complications since it involves managing a network of workers, scattered across the globe, on limited information.
As such, it becomes hard to understand cultural differences, languages, and cognitive triggers. This can lead to conflicts and spark feuds that affect workers’ tasks, interaction habits, and company success.
Limited information means misunderstanding what triggers your particular employee behaviour.
Lack of social interaction
Remote working leads to social isolation and loneliness.
With the social gap occurring, spontaneous interaction becomes complicated and understanding others first is tricky.
Activities like informal conversations, coffee breaks, and random greetings enhance interpersonal relationships and social awareness. This is lost when your employees work virtually.
Fostering of self-serving behaviours
Online interactions don’t bring out our best selves. We often misrepresent ourselves and foster self-serving behaviours.
For example, when a team member hides certain information or shares only the glossy things, it increases your likelihood of making a poor decision.
Furthermore, some remote workers tend to be aloof, making it difficult for you to sustain your relational intelligence rhythm.
How can a remote leader create relational intelligence?
Connect with your team
Connecting daily with your team by communicating in a proactive way rather than a passive manner, motivates and inspires them to perform.
When communicating, steer your conversation with clarity, using words that connect with others. Additionally, set your communication tone to speak with passion that encourages an exchange of ideas. Avoid using a monotone voice.
Proactively connecting with your team allows them to speak from the heart, thus letting you know what motivates, inspires, and makes them thrive.
Equally, communicate at the right time and use the correct methods. For example, if you are very busy and need a task done, you may write an email using a commanding tone. However, if you can spare time for a three-minute phone call instead, your team member will feel more connected and is more likely to work on the task happily.
Remember, communication ensures every team member understands their tasks, is up to date on projects, and minimises errors. So, be smart in ways you communicate with others, investigate the best communication media for each team member, whether it’s the phone, slack, zoom, open video calls, or email.
Create informal team time, say, a virtual happy hour or lunch, to make your co-workers feel connected and appreciated.
Learn to make yourself hospitable, approachable, and friendly
An approachable and hospitable attitude creates stronger relationships with your team.
Start by learning your team member’s names, spouse’s and kids’ names, favourite sports team, and other personal tidbits. This makes it easier to engage them and opens doors of trust.
Learning about your team’s personal lives demonstrates compassion and concern for their welfare. For example, call and inquire about your teammate’s family’s well-being regularly and offer help in case of a predicament.
Winning others over through likeability is a strong point worthy of working on since the time spent on building relationships enhances your team’s performance.
As a remote leader, learn to accommodate your co-worker’s needs, recognise they might be different from yours, and remember that they may keep changing.
Whether it’s children, pets, setting meeting time, strange work patterns, sudden unavailability, insufficient bandwidth, or other sudden changes, learning to accommodate your team member’s needs goes a long way in facilitating their performance and commitment.
Adjusting to others’ needs improves their performance since they feel valued, and they consider you as a support rather than a hindrance.
Remote leaders should recognise the value of their relational connection by being faithful to their actions and consistent with their team members’ engagements.
Earn influence through understanding your co-workers’ drives, talents, fears, and hopes.
For example, become a good and active listener by discovering every detail regardless of how minute. Recognise that every of your team members has a life story.
It’s rare to find a human being genuinely interested in your story. Be that person. This will draw your co-workers to trust and follow your leadership.
Celebrate your co-workers
Acknowledging and celebrating your co-workers’ personal and work achievements is the hallmark of having healthy relationships. While it’s not as powerful when done virtually, it still touches their lives in a personalised manner.
Perform a virtual get-together and recognise your teammate’s special event like a new baby or birthday. This becomes crucial in building a sense of belonging and creating camaraderie.
It’s hard for remote leaders to decide how to take action if a team member becomes ill or loses a loved one.
Start by taking the lead. Ask the affected person what they need from you or the other colleagues and follow through. Being emotionally aware of what an affected person needs enables you to create a positive empathic reaction.
Sharing and tuning into your staff concerns, stresses, perspective, feelings, and joys fosters a bond with you and your leadership. Likewise, they will embrace your vision and values and loyally follow your mission.
Ensure your employee’s comfort
For remote leaders, it’s vital to prioritise your remote workers’ welfare.
Ensure that each team member has the right equipment and ideal working space at home. You can offer to offset some of their heating and cooling costs, electricity and internet bills, childcare, and other costs that ensure they are comfortable and focused
A once-off stipend to buy an ergonomic desk and chair, computer, and other needed equipment goes a long way in ensuring the happiness, productivity, and efficiency of your teammates.
Most employees look up to their leaders for cues, connection, and ways to react during sudden changes and difficult situations. Learn to create relational intelligence by connecting, valuing, and motivating your employees and leave no one behind.
Remote leaders do not have to do it alone. We recommend you ask for help from specialists in employment law to ensure that you have covered all your employees’ physical and emotional needs and safeguarded their rights.
About the Author
Christopher G. Aiello practices at the Superior Court of New Jersey in the trial court section, appellate divisions and the Workers’ Compensation Court. He is dedicated in full to his law firm, Aiello, Harris, Marth, Tunnero & Schiffman P.C.