The Key to a Successful Hybrid Workplace? Emotional Intelligence.
In the wake of the massive shifts caused by the global upheaval of the pandemic, hybrid work emerged as a popular model for organizations worldwide, redefining the fabric of modern work dynamics. Today's organizations and teams have the unique challenge of pioneering new collaborative approaches while co-creating the undiscovered social norms for interacting in hybrid spaces.
This transformation in how we work underscores a critical need for new strategies to meet the dynamic nature of the evolving workplace. While the hybrid work era provides many opportunities and increased flexibility for workers, this shift has also presented countless challenges in communication, collaboration, relationships, and work culture.
In a digital world increasingly reliant upon artificial intelligence, drawing upon what makes humans, human, will be a competitive advantage necessary to weather the storms ahead and emerge as an innovative company capable of solving the most complex problems we face.
The key differentiator utilized by the most successful hybrid organizations? Emotional intelligence (EI). To understand why, let’s first take a closer look at the latest research on the challenges of hybrid work.
Gallup surveyed 8,090 hybrid workers about their experiences in this new working landscape and found that some of their top challenges were:
Many hybrid teams struggle to communicate effectively with each other as they navigate the challenges of global time zone differences, changing virtual collaboration tools, and information gaps due to schedule conflicts and remote or in-person silos. Remote and hybrid workers also often miss out on those seemingly mundane “water cooler” chats, which research shows are essential to build team trust and spark collaboration.
Connection to Work Culture
Hybrid work can also create extra barriers for workers to feel connected to each other and the organization. A recent study from Gartner found that only 25% of remote or hybrid workers feel connected to their company’s culture. This generation of workers no longer tolerates the previously mandated top-down approach to creating “culture” at work. Especially among a hybrid workforce, it’s easier (and less obvious) to disengage from work culture when you’re not sharing physical space with your colleagues. Unless hybrid workers choose to engage in culture-building efforts like DEIB groups, or shared values exercises, they’re less likely to feel connected to the culture.
Workplace burnout is real in all organizations, and it’s linked to feelings of ineffectiveness, cynicism, and depression—all of which can contribute to lower engagement and effectiveness. Burnout in the hybrid workplace is even more difficult for managers and employers to identify because of physical distance and impersonal communication channels. Additionally, efforts to shorten virtual meetings in the name of efficiency can mean less time allocated for small talk or personal check-ins when employees might share more honestly about the challenges they’re facing.
Impaired Relationship with Colleagues
One of the challenges of virtual communication is the invisible digital “wall” between you and the other that often encourages people to express themselves with less kindness (or perhaps just politeness) than they might use face-to-face. Research in a Harvard Business Review article on Why Hybrid Work Can Become Toxic shares that “One of the early findings in research on the effects of technology-mediated communication was that people become more disinhibited and exhibit less self-monitoring and self-control when communicating through technology.”
Maintaining a Sense of Belonging & Equity
With the replacement or reduction of in-person connection, fostering trust and a sense of belonging amongst teams has become a much harder feat. A sense of belonging is more than just a nice-to-have for employees; it is a powerful motivator that can drive performance. Research from Better Up found that employees with a strong sense of belonging reported a “56% higher level of overall job performance” and a 50% reduced turnover risk.
In terms of equity, hybrid work presents an additional challenge of ensuring that all employees, regardless of work location, have equal access to learning opportunities, job growth potential, information, and resources.
How can emotional intelligence improve hybrid work for employees and companies alike?
Emotional intelligence includes the intrapersonal ability to recognize, understand, and manage one's own thoughts, feelings, and intuitions. It also incorporates the interpersonal ability to recognize others’ emotions and skillfully navigate communicating, collaborating, and interacting with kindness and efficacy.
In the context of hybrid work, EI is a critical skill set that helps individuals and teams navigate the complexities of virtual collaboration with resilience, agility, and optimism. And as we know, thriving teams lead to thriving organizations.
But let’s take a closer look at how these human-centered skills help hybrid workers to build resilience and well-being while also enabling organizations to meet critical business objectives.
Foster Individual and Team Resilience
Change is inevitable in the modern workplace and hybrid work structures present unique communication challenges in the change management process. Research from McKinsey has shown that adaptability is the critical success factor during periods of transformation and systemic change. Human-centered skills like self-awareness and self-regulation empower employees to embrace change (and new technologies, too!) with resilience and tenacity. And resilient employees report a greater sense of well-being, lower levels of depression, and stronger motivation.
For managers, emotional intelligence enables the ability to create a team environment where mistakes are seen as inevitable on the path to audacious goals. Rather than hiding failures, managers and teams can use them as catalysts for improvement and innovation. This type of team resilience is a competitive advantage in the hybrid environment.
What you can implement today:
To increase your personal resilience, try a guided practice for self-compassion (something that can help you become more resilient after failures, challenges, or mistakes) like this “Self-Compassion Break” from our sister organization, The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.
To build team resilience, share a story of a mistake you made with your team and how you turned it into an opportunity for learning and growth.
Collaborate Effectively with Equity
We’ve all been to meetings where one person’s voice dominates, they dismiss other’s ideas, and people leave asking themselves, “Why was I even invited?”
Can you notice how that feels to read that and recollect on times when you’ve been there?
Emotional intelligence includes the ability to relate skillfully with others, communicate with empathy, and listen with openness. With virtual meetings adding another layer of friction to collaborative communication, intentional use of emotional intelligence becomes even more essential. Managers and team members with EI-based collaboration skills listen to understand (not just to respond), ensuring that diverse opinions are heard and respected.
Empathy is a skill that all managers need. And guess what, it’s trainable! As you strengthen your capacity for empathy, you’ll increase your ability to connect to your team members and advocate for the varying needs of your direct reports. The result? More trust and better collaboration within your team.
What you can implement today:
Next time you are in a meeting or conversation, reflect on the question, “Am I listening to understand, or am I listening to respond?”
If there is a meeting, training, or other opportunity only for office employees, advocate for something equivalent for remote employees.
Spot and Prevent Burnout
Burnout can be especially tricky to identify when you lack face-to-face interactions with some of your team. However, managers with high emotional intelligence have a greater ability to read between the lines of virtual communication with their direct reports. How do they have this superpower? Self-awareness is one of the foundations of emotional intelligence, and by strengthening your self-awareness, you are also increasing your ability to perceive and interpret the emotions of others, even in a virtual space.
Self-aware employees are also quicker to notice when they are on the verge of burnout and take proactive steps to rest and seek support in the short term so as to be more capable for the long haul.
What you can implement today:
Check in with your direct reports with the question, “How are you feeling about your workload this week?”
Practice personal burnout prevention by starting your day journaling or reflecting on, “What do I need today to be my best?”
Cultivate a Community of Belonging
As humans, we all seek to feel a sense of belonging—like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. And the same is true for workplace communities. While many employees may feel the spark of belonging when they first join an organization due to their connection to the mission, if that feeling of belonging is not tended to and co-created within teams, it can easily wither and lead to “quiet quitting” or burnout.
Belonging happens in teams where members maintain a social norm called psychological safety, which is when, as a team member, you feel welcomed and encouraged to be your authentic self, your opinions and feedback are valued and appreciated, and you can offer an opposing idea or take risks without fear of retaliation. Psychological safety isn’t easy to maintain; it requires openness, self-awareness, and humility from all team members. Mistakes are shared, welcomed, and turned into collective learning opportunities. Teams with high psychological safety lay the foundation for all team members to feel a true sense of belonging, knowing that they can bring the full range of their humanness to work—and the result? This team norm leads to innovation and creativity and is the strongest predictor for high performance on teams.
What you can implement today:
Do a psychological safety audit on your team and consider how you can better foster belonging on your team with Google’s guide on “Manager Actions for Psychological Safety”
When making decisions, seek advice from every team member and invite diverse opinions by using questions like, “What else haven’t we considered? “Are there any alternative perspectives anyone wants to share here?”
Strengthen Leadership Trust
There is a crisis of trust in leadership in most organizations worldwide. According to DDI’s 2023 Global Leadership Forecast of 14,000 leaders surveyed, only 46% trust their manager and only 32% trust senior leadership to do what’s right. Trust in leadership strengthens over time, and like all categories shared here, hybrid work adds complexity to this already delicate process.
Take a moment to think about a leader who you trust. What qualities do they embody that enable your trust in them?
It is likely that many of the qualities you thought of were related in some way to emotional intelligence—authentic, empathetic, compassionate, good listener, motivational, personable, etc. Leaders who work to develop emotional intelligence are strengthening these essential qualities that are known to lead to trust, including vulnerability, authenticity, empathy, and purpose.
What you can implement today:
Journal about one of these essential qualities of trust (vulnerability, authenticity, empathy, and purpose) that you can work on strengthening.
Learn some practical tips for building trust on a remote team.
Like it or not, hybrid work is here to stay. For teams and organizations to thrive in this landscape, emotional intelligence isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s mission-critical to mitigating burnout, strengthening agility and trust, supporting collaboration and belonging, and building high-performing teams skilled to navigate the evolving dynamics of hybrid work.
Are you ready to equip your team with these essential skills? View our Microcourse page to find ready-to-use resources for your hybrid team.