Remote work can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration among most employees. When it comes to working from home, we are not communicating as much as we used to when we worked in an office environment. The online tools we use to communicate are not optimal for capture and expressing human traits such as empathy and emotions.
A survey released in 2018 by State of Workplace Empathy revealed that 96% of respondents rated empathy as a vital quality for organizations to demonstrate. Furthermore, 92% of employees believe that empathy remains undervalued at their respective workplace which and that number continues to increase over the years.
We live in an era filled with information. Without emotions and the ability to sense, understand and respond to these emotions, a level of understanding and connection will feel left out. In today’s business world, we have tools and methods for the efficient exchange of information, but these leave out a massive amount of what makes people human. Research has shown that empathy is essential at work, and when it comes to remote work, the critical need for developing empathy for our team is highly needed.
One of the best ways for you to address the challenges of remote work environments is by increasing empathy levels. Empty is regularly referred to when a company needs to improve its culture or increase employee engagement. However, what is empathy for others, and how does it work?
Let us go over what you need to know about empathy and why it matters for remote teams.
What is Empathy
Empathy means the capability to sense the emotions of others and imagining how someone could feel. Empathy is a natural ability that predates humanity itself, and there are two reasons why we evolved it. First, it was to reinforce the successful behavior of mothers caring for their children, and secondly, it was to promote cooperation for completing a social project. The early forms of empathy have since evolved to a point where humans are now capable of adopting the perspective of other individuals.
Professionals believe that empathy has been hardwired into our braids and body because of evolution. These researchers have discovered peculiar mirror neurons inside the brain that fits when we see a person perform an action that we see ourselves also pull off. It is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence, and when a workplace is capable of demonstrating empathy, there are plenty of studies that show it to increase happiness, productivity, and retention among employees.
Organizations are going to want to increase empathy, but the practice of improving empathy among employees is not effectively translating into reality. That issue is further worsened by the rise of remote working, which removes that crucial face-to-face interaction regularly seen in traditional office environments.
Remote working essentially eliminates the requirement for employees to be co-located in a single place. That means those small chances of social interaction are not occurring organically the way they typically happen naturally at the water cooler. These informal interactions are excellent ways to develop connections and demonstrate empathy at the workplace, and for remote teams, that process needs to become more deliberate.
The lack of empathy in your organization could have a severe negative impact on your remote team, which could lead to a collapse in team dynamics if not fixed immediately. It can also lead to other issues such as burnout, productivity loss, and turnover.
The capacity of empathy
Empathy can bring out some of the best in people. It permits everyone to forgive those who may have slighted them, as well as protect against injustice. Consider the recent COVID-19 pandemic that is impacting the lives of everyone all over the world. One common phrase that has been uttered throughout the issue is “We are all in this together.” It is one of the many phrases that has been repeated throughout the pandemic.
How does a phrase like this manage to achieve unity amongst people? It triggers empathy in others who are experiencing similar situations. It reminds people that there are others out there struggling through similar problems during this pandemic. That simple phrase has managed to get millions of people on the same page and shows us the power behind empathy to accomplish things that may seem impossible most of the time.
Empathy in a remote work environment
Even though the best of circumstances, difficulties to productivity and corporate culture can appear when team members are working from home. Uncertainty and fear because of issues like the pandemic can increase these challenges. Along with the lack of adequate communication and guidance. Some of the most common challenges with remote working include lack of information, structure, and face-to-face communication. Furthermore, your remote team will be dealing with the feeling of loneliness and isolation.
For the most part, being away from the office and colleagues can cause these complications to arise. Plus, since there is not physical proximity among the team, it can be easy for them to forget that they are working with people who have their own issues to deal with at home. Everyone on the team is going to be dealing with their own set of personal issues and neglect the chance to see how others are feeling. In short, they forget to have empathy for their coworkers.
When the team lacks empathy for each other, the remote workplace issues could potentially increase. Furthermore, this could lead to conflict among the team. That severely impacts overall productivity and the organization's bottom line.
As we have mentioned, communication is one of the areas that is hit the most when it comes to a lack of empathy. While technology has made it easy for everyone to work at home and stay on top of their work, it also causes some of the most considerable barriers in relationship development. The impersonal nature of sending emails and messages can easily cause mistakes and misinterpretations.
Digital tools are not the best for expressing emotions, and every non-verbal communication is entirely left out. The number of issues that will crop off because of this will impact the development between your team members. There are several ways you can mitigate this issue from occurring.
First of all, make sure you re-read your messages before sending them to the person on the other end. Sending out a short okay could indicate that you are agreeing with what the other person is saying, or it could be misinterpreted as a blunt or even passive-aggressive end to a conversation. Take some time to include some context behind your communication to avoid any misunderstandings from occurring between you and your remote team members.
Trust can decline among team members that are lacking empathy for each other. It can lead to people feeling uncertain about their current place and leave them unwilling to speak up. A lack of trust among your remote team members will cause disharmony in the workplace and lead to less productivity.
Considering this remote work causes an endless stream of information and communication to occur among everyone. That flow of communication can lead to misunderstandings among the team members and cause irritation, frustration, and resentment. The assumptions of wicked intentions where there are none could gradually break the team apart and lead to severe issues. By developing empathy skills among your team, you help them work out their problems and work towards a common goal.
Take the time to practice a mindset of giving people the benefit of the doubt. If someone says or does something that you find negative in some way, pause for a moment and consider if their intentions were good though the way they expressed it may have come off as poor.
If one of the remote employees has managed to do something that frustrates or irritates you, try to come up with explanations for why they did that, other than trying to be difficult about it. If you managed to come up with several ideas behind their intention, your initial assumptions were wrong. Attempt to regularly work on being aware of any assumptions you jump to and take the time to reflect on how this changes the way you interact with your remote team.
Remember they are people.
When working with a team, it is vital to be mindful and considerate of your fellow team members. While something like this may seem simple, it is clear that most people are not good at being considered about things outside their range of experience. Outside of work, they are individuals who have different roles besides the professional one you see when working with them. Just because you don’t notice them during one of your online team meetings does not mean they do not exist and part of the person you know from the other side of the screen.
Take some time to develop regular opportunities for your team to speak with each other formally and informally. Prompt them to share more about each other on a personal level, from families to their hobbies and so forth. Alongside your remote team, build and nurture a work culture where it is okay to express a more personal side. Encouraging social interaction of this kind can lead to higher levels of trust in remote teams.
Empathy is crucial for humans to connect. It offers us a way to understand each other and forge bonds. The lack of empathy in a workplace could lead to some complicated issues if not handled correctly. And that is especially true for remote working environments. Take the time to set something up that can ensure you and your remote team develop a culture of empathy among each other and the rest of the organization.