Leadership: How to show empathy to hybrid work teams

Demonstrate emotional intelligence by incorporating these mindful phrases into your leadership vocabulary in 2022. Hybrid work teams will thank you
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As we adapt to a new hybrid work style that jumps between virtual and in-person, teams that were used to working in shared spaces now collaborate mainly via online tools. The physical distance can add a degree of difficulty to complex technology projects that normally would benefit from frequent personal interactions to spur creative problem-solving.

Even though team members are distributed, expectations for the quality of their work remain the same. As leaders, it’s up to us to tap into our emotional intelligence (EQ) to ensure that team members know we understand their challenges and are proactively seeking ways to help them stay productive and motivated.

[ Want a primer on hybrid work? Read What is a hybrid work model? Read also: Hybrid work: 4 best practices for fairness. ]

At SenecaGlobal, our clients are based in the United States and served by teams with resources that are located onshore and offshore. We've learned a lot as we've adapted to the sudden changes brought on by COVID-19 and plan to apply those lessons as we move forward in 2022.

Demonstrating intentional empathy

Shifting to a work-from-home or hybrid model means that employees need to carve out space in their personal dwellings, possibly while accommodating the needs of family members who are also working or learning at home.

[ How strong is your EQ? See our related article: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ] 

As managers, we need to be respectful of the burden these arrangements can place on our team members. It is important to regularly ask for feedback from associates to demonstrate that you understand how the situation may affect them and to offer solutions. Here are some questions to consider asking:

  • Are you able to fully disconnect from work at the end of the day?
  • Are you running into any roadblocks that make it difficult to collaborate with your teammates?
  • What are we doing that helps you feel connected to others? Is there anything we can do better?
  • Do you feel informed about what’s happening at the company?
  • Do you have the equipment, furniture, connectivity, and supplies you need to be comfortable and productive?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite things about your current work arrangements?

Fostering professional development

Leaders with high EQs also need to work with their employees to understand their professional goals and desire to learn new skills. When teams are distributed, it can be more challenging to provide one-on-one guidance or schedule knowledge-sharing sessions.

Staying on top of professional development goals can remain a priority if you seek input from team members and follow through on what you discover.

We find that the following types of questions help our associates assess their business and technology skills, define their career goals, and drive the learning opportunities we offer:

  • How do you like to learn (classroom, online, self-directed, etc.)?
  • What type of technology issues do you like to solve?
  • What motivates you to learn new skills?
  • What position or client project do you find exciting?
  • What types of hands-on projects will help you develop new skills?
  • What could your mentor/coach be doing better to help you achieve your goals?
  • What do you wish we offered, that we don’t currently, to help you achieve your goals?

Making work better for everyone

Working relationships that really work require emotional investments from both leadership and team members. Physical distance can introduce obstacles to building solid connections, but only if you let it.

Showing employees that you truly care about their wellbeing, work environment, and career progression is a critical step in making your company a more fulfilling place to work. And in the turbulent employment market we see ahead in 2022, creating a place employees want to stay, even when they are mostly working from home, is even more important.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Haranath Pinnamaneni is Senior Vice President, Technology and Delivery at SenecaGlobal. He builds and manages offshore teams that solve complex technology issues. He has more than 30 years of experience in IT services delivery, managing global teams that specialize in providing end-to-end solutions to clients using diverse technologies.
Dennis Spada, Senior Vice President, Delivery Services at SenecaGlobal, is responsible for client relationship management, development of practice innovation and delivery leadership support.