Emotional Intelligence And Remote Teams (I): self-awareness & self-Management

Written by Mauricio Lopez

We’ve been thinking a lot about how important emotional intelligence (EI) is when running a remote workplace and have been exploring it here in our blog. As we’ve written: teams run by leaders with high levels of EI tend to express higher levels of motivation, satisfaction and creativity -- and this is true whether these teams work in an office space together or are working remotely and spread around the world.

But the ways in which EI is developed and deployed has to change when a team is not working together in person but rather belongs to a distributed workplace. Without reliable whole-body language, social cues, and a shared physical space, we can’t navigate emotional intelligence the same way, and thus we have to think about what changes and why in a remote space, and how to respond to these changes.

But with smart techniques and a thoughtful structure to our days, we can use EI to become aware and in control of our own emotions, which is the first step to also being able to understand and positively affect the emotions of those around us. Two of the four key domains of EI named by experts Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis -- self-awareness and self-management -- cover how well we are able to identify our own feelings, understand why we feel that way, and use this to manage our emotions in beneficial ways.

Here we’ll dig into those two EI domains, and ask: How can we develop and deploy these two domains of emotional intelligence as distributed workers working on remote or nearshore teams?

1. Identify Your Own Feelings

The first step toward self-awareness is being able to notice how you feel and name it. When we show up to work, it’s easy to enter auto-pilot: sit down and get to it. But when we’re working in an office, certain natural structures aid in creating a transition from “life” to “work” which feels healthy and differentiated -- which allow us to begin the day self-aware: a commute, a change of scenery, a desk, a chat by the coffee machine, an elevator conversation with a peer or superior, etc.

When we transition to working remotely, we lose these natural transitions, and thus we run the risk of sliding from life into work without paying attention to our moods or feelings. Especially if our home life is stressful or distracting (and it can easily be during times like these). How can we improve our self-awareness when it comes to noticing how we feel?

Build New Routine: One gift of remote work is we don’t have to commute! But don’t throw out the beauty of a commute just because you get to save time. There is power to leaving the house and enjoying an intermediate time between “life” and work” -- so create new transitionary routines to help create space and ground the work day in emotional calm.

Consider: taking a short walk around the block (a “pantomimed” stress free commute); or writing in a journal (leave “life” stress on the page so work begins stress-free); meditating or deep breathing for 5 minutes (get calm before you confront your tasks). Whatever it is, a “transitional” routine can be the first step to identifying and clarifying how you feel at the start of every workday.

2. Understand Why You Feel How You Do

Once you’ve built a transitional routine into your day, it’s common that you’ll begin to notice how you feel more clearly. If you journal, for instance, you might find yourself noting down or processing stress from your life (e.g. “today I am so tired” or “I really need a massage”). This is the first step toward healthy emotional intelligence in the domain of self-awareness. The next step is to begin to identify and understand why you feel how you.

Check in with your body: While society, and work in particular, wants us to be mental creatures, using our intellectual capabilities to create and manage knowledge, we are at the end of the day embodied creatures, too: physical, eating, breathing, animals. Every emotion we experience begins in the body and is felt there (though it also lives in the brain). Use this to your advantage when seeking to understand the root cause of your emotion, and when looking for ways to process these emotions so that you’re not distracted and drained while working from home.

Consider: once you can articulate how you feel, ask yourself where you feel it. Is it tension in your neck? A raw heat in your belly? Or perhaps it’s a ringing in your ears? Identifying the physical manifestation of your feelings will help you create space to understand why you feel as you do.

Then take advantage of working remotely: stand up, move around, sit on the floor, take deep breaths, do some yoga, take another walk. Allow yourself to connect the feeling in your body to the situation in your life which may be causing this reaction.

Are you bringing professional worries into the workday (e.g. “Am I able to meet that deadline?” or “how can I do X task most efficiently today?”) or life worries into the office flow (“will my child do well at school?” or “is my spouse angry with me?”) When we sit quietly with our body, our mind has a chance to intuitively tell us where the root of our emotions lie. Pay attention to those cues so you can understand not just that you feel, or how you feel, but why.

Remember: if knowledge is power, self-knowledge is wisdom.

3. Manage Your Emotions

The final step once you’ve identified your feelings, allowed yourself to feel them, and begun to build an understanding of the root cause beneath each feeling, is to manage them. Managing emotions is an important aspect of self-management and when you work in a remote environment it’s more important than ever. Without the social rhymes of colleagues, the uplifting mood of peers, the distractions of a lunch “out” with friends, or the natural regulations of a boss or manager interceding to change your mood, we all must be emotional self-managers.

Don’t well: Once you know why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, don’t dwell. Science tells us that we experience an emotion in our body for only 90 seconds at a time. After that 90 seconds, we don’t continue to feel it, rather, we transfer it to our brain, which then thinks about it -- thus triggering another 90 seconds, and then another, on and on until we begin to think about something else! Which is to say: once you’ve identified what you’re feeling and begin to understand the cause for that feeling, don’t keep processing it in your mind. Instead: do something about it.

If you have a deadline you’re worried about, reach out to someone via email, Slack, or Zoom. If you’re worried about how your kid is doing at school, make a note to follow-up with their teachers during your lunch break. If you’re worried about your spouse, set an alarm to check in with them at the end of the day. Whatever it is that’s triggering a Groundhog’s Day of emotional reaction: react, and then let go of it.

Release yourself from the root emotion by reacting to it immediately, or by setting a concrete action-step or planned reaction for later in the day. This will send cues to your brain to release that lingering worry and to stop re-triggering your body to experience that negative emotion again and again. Then, give yourself a 90 second break to let the energy go, and get back to work.

Over time, as your emotional intelligence in the domain of self-management increases, this cycle will become second nature, and you will find yourself calmer, more efficient, and more able to be aware of the emotional experiences and relational cues of your team. (Which we will explore soon in our next blog on emotional intelligence and remote teams!)


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Written by Mauricio Lopez

Mauricio has been at the forefront of technology for +15 years. He is constantly integrating new technologies including frameworks, CMS, and standard industry models. He is a pragmatic problem-solver and customizes solutions based on the best schema/language/application for each project. As the CTO at Jobsity, he ensures that his team is always up to date with the latest advances in software development by researching the software ecosystem, implementing professional development initiatives, and coordinating with new and existing clients about their needs.