Updated: Jun 8, 2021
Scrambling to manage the logistical issues that arose after shifting to a remote working scenario, Ravi now found himself relieved that he could focus on working with his team to clear the backlogs. His team seemed to have settled into the routine of remote working, but he would need them to stretch for awhile to complete all the pending work. As the days progressed, Ravi started noticing that a few members in his team were struggling to meet delivery timelines; they were making mistakes and seemed distracted.
Ravi’s calls were not picked up and frustration started creeping in slowly. He wished things were back to normal and that they could all be in office – work was much easier that way! As a Manager, Ravi was taking care to set clear expectations and was transparent in his communication to his team members. He realized that his team “was on mute” and he often felt let down.
2020 was the year that changed everything – the year when an invisible organism forced the world to shut down and redirected everyone down neural paths of fear, stress and uncertainty. In the midst of it all, the corporate world had to keep moving on, donning the mask of ‘business as usual’.
People could no longer reach out to their colleagues like they could, had they been in office, because everyone was managing their own isolated set of issues – sending each, into a spiral of stress, disconnection, and anxiety. And thereby kicking off the downward spiral of performance and productivity.
A Steelcase research conducted in 10 countries, indicate ‘feeling of isolation’ as a key challenge faced by many during the mandatory work from home. While engagement and productivity came up as another key issue, participants had a mixed view regarding this – with some indicating that their ability to focus and be productive improved during the mandatory work from home period. The divided response reinforces the notion that working from home is a different experience for everyone and productivity levels are impacted by how people feel.
Steelcase researchers found a distinct correlation between people’s satisfaction with their work from home situation and their engagement, as well as productivity. Both engagement and productivity drop when people are not satisfied, and it usually declines further when people have to work from home more frequently. Disconnection reduces engagement and productivity.
#1 Build & Foster Healthy Connections
And the obvious antidote to disconnection is building healthy connections.
So, one of the most important aspects that a leader would consider in this era of ‘new normal’ is not just connecting with their team members but also nurturing this talent of building connections amongst their team members. Clearly, the leader needs to lead the way. Connection is an essential skill in building effective relationships, however, it becomes more important in times like this and is a vital skill in knowing whether people are cracking under stress and pressure. One of the key elements to building effective connections is to understand that emotions are central to the way our brains function and in that, emotions provide us with valuable data, that we can use to mirror or tune into another, to build rapport. As cliché as this is, the foundation to building effective connections lies in good communication and in mutual trust. The cornerstone to effective communication is to listen without judgement or hierarchies and be fully present. In order to pay full attention to another person, we need to pause our thoughts, feelings and judgements about that person. We then need to pay attention to the emotional data that is available, utilize this emotional insight to sense the other’s emotions and interpret it to understand the complexity of human dynamics. This is the necessary precursor to being more empathetic.
Human beings are pack animals, wired to connect – and, one of the most fundamental triggers of intrinsic motivation is a sense of belonging. In order to influence an employee’s quality of work in terms of caring for customers, coming up with innovative solutions, to instill trustworthiness in every aspect of their work and to give it their all and do their best in the middle of a pandemic, even when no one is watching, requires an understanding of the deeper drivers – like, passion, alignment with values, belonging, purpose.
#2 Adaptability itself is an Intelligence
The second important talent that a leader needs to demonstrate and foster within the team is adaptability.
According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; nor is it the strongest; but the species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
In times like this, when the challenge is unexpected or unstable and may be of unknown duration, the event’s effects still impact us and even if we lack access to complete information, we can feel the effects. Change becomes a natural fallout, and we often tend to resist such change. This resistance in turn adds to our stress. Human beings are creatures of habit and we find it easy to get stuck in one way of doing something or even one point of view. As an EQ talent, adaptability enables one to see and value multiple points of view with ease. The first step, is of course, shaking off the notion that there is only one way of doing something and acknowledging that there could be multiple ways. Change is clearly inevitable and if we tend to resist change, we will end up feeling trapped and stuck. The first step, of course, is to have that awareness about ourselves – then, we need to focus on developing adaptability by proactively looking out for different ways of doing something, demonstrating curiosity in questioning your way of doing it. Developing an openness to invite different points of view, being curious about another’s perspective and considering these perspectives, even when we may not like some of them – this allows flexibility in our thinking. Leaders who model this behaviour, will, over time, see the same behaviour being mirrored by their team members.
#3 Exercise Optimism
Finally, the most difficult of them all, is for the leader to exercise optimism in the face of challenging situations – simply put, this means, taking a proactive perspective of hope and possibility. Optimism enables people to take ownership of a challenging situation, ownership of a situation where we feel helpless / hopeless. It allows us to see beyond the present and prompts us to generate solutions to seemingly ‘unsolvable’ problems.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it” – Helen Keller
Optimism, like other emotional states, is quite contagious. Research on emotional contagion indicate that individual-level attitudes influence group processes to a statistically significant extent. When exercising optimism becomes a habit, we stop seeing a situation as permanent and pervasive. Perceiving something as permanent and pervasive can be overwhelming and we will feel helpless. One way to overcome this feeling is to be able to glimpse into the unknown future and see possibilities – a talent of imagination. When we start seeing possibilities, it gives us hope and resilience to take a step, however small, towards making the present situation better. Optimism, therefore, becomes a very important element in building and nurturing effective relationships.
As individuals, our success lies in our ability to be effective (both at work as well as our personal lives), to be able to build and maintain healthy relationships and manage our wellbeing & quality of life. Our claim to success encompasses all four outcomes and a skew in one or more upsets the proverbial applecart. EQ competencies help in getting this balance.
As our environments continue to change around us, it will become imperative for us to adapt to survive – in this context, EQ competencies becomes more important now than ever, for us to respond effectively to change, rather than react to it.