This is a guest post by Diane Lennard, Ph.D.
Remote work is a growing trend that’s clearly here to stay. Both employees and employers recognize the benefits of working from anywhere and having flexible work schedules, either part-time or full-time.
In 2022, according to the third edition of McKinsey & Company’s American Opportunity Survey:
· 58% of American job-holders (c. 92 million) can work remotely at least part of the time.
· 35% (c. 36 million) have the option to work remotely on a full-time basis.
· 23% (c. 55 million) have the option to work remotely part-time or on occasion.
Although most people want the opportunity to work flexibly, remote work isn’t without its challenges. People working outside the office at least part of the time face communication difficulties, mental health-related issues, and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
The human cost of technology
Our increasing reliance on digital technology has changed the way we interact and created problems for us emotionally, cognitively, and socially. While we’ve gained efficiency, access, and convenience, there is a real human cost. The technological solutions that have made our lives easier and faster don’t necessarily take our well-being or innate need for social connection into account.
In our book, Humanizing the Remote Experience through Leadership and Coaching, Dr. Amy Mednick and I explore how to work through these challenges and make our remote interactions more human. Here are a few ways to start.
One of the most effective ways to improve our virtual interactions is to prioritize people. A human-centered approach makes people feel seen, heard, and respected; it acknowledges their thoughts and feelings. The more we can show others that we care about them, the more they will feel safe, understood, and included.
So, what are some ways to accomplish this in remote environments?
· Get to know other people.
Create opportunities to get to know others’ interests, preferences, skills, and strengths. Carve out time in meetings to share stories and personal updates.
· Show empathy for others.
Empathy is the process of perceiving the feelings of other people. It occurs in two ways: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how another person feels and what he or she might be thinking. Emotional empathy is an automatic, effortless process; it’s what we mean when we say, “I feel your pain.” Both types of empathy are important. Sharing and understanding the feelings of others leads to more positive human interactions, especially when working remotely.
Make inferences about your colleagues’ emotions and imagine how they feel. Understand their views and be willing to take their perspective.
· Pay attention to nonverbal signals.
Observe and listen to nonverbal signals, such as facial expressions and tone of voice. Use social sensitivity.
Social sensitivity, sometimes called interpersonal sensitivity, refers to the ability to perceive the feelings and views of others by paying attention to these types of nonverbal communication cues.
In your next virtual meeting, look for nonverbal signals to better understand your colleagues’ behavior, feelings, and viewpoints.
· Create psychological safety.
Psychological safety is the belief that an environment is safe enough to take risks. In a group setting, it’s the shared belief that group members can have challenging conversations, be vulnerable in front of one another, and be themselves without fear of negative consequences. This is critical in remote work environments.
Openly discuss the importance of establishing psychological safety. Make it an explicit priority to accept others and create a safe space for them to feel included, learn, grow, and contribute.
· Be an example for others.
Set an example of the essential interpersonal behaviors you want to see in other people by being aware of yourself and others, communicating clearly, and respecting and caring about others. Simple acts show people you care about them: respect their time, shorten meetings whenever possible, acknowledge good work, and prioritize breaks.
The bottom line
You can make choices and take actions that enable people working remotely to connect on a human level—even when they’re miles apart.
About the guest post author:
Dr. Diane Lennard is a professor of management communication at NYU Stern School of Business and a communication coach for executives, teams, educators, and other professionals. Dr. Amy Mednick is a psychiatrist working in her own private practice who specializes in the overlap between the humanities and neuroscience.
Their new book is Humanizing the Remote Experience through Leadership and Coaching: Strategies for Better Virtual Connections. Learn more at www.HTRE-Book.com.