What Does Remote Empathy Look Like?

The COVID 19 crisis has taught us a lot about ourselves. We have grown used to the structure of an office. We are used to having a place where we do business that is separate from where we live. Even if you work remotely on a regular basis, your week looks a lot like this:

  • Weekly staff meeting with the boss
  • Weekly update with the team
  • Update session to prepare for the discussion on Zoom with the boss so you can discuss what was proposed just yesterday
  • Wrap up meetings to discuss the week’s events and prepare for next week

That was life before coronavirus. During shelter-in-place orders, you have to be the consummate professional and home body all while sharing limited resources. It’s a lot. The skill that is needed to be successful during this time is empathy.

How does that look for you now that you are leading from home office, or, if we’re being honest, your couch, hammock, or tub?

Consummate Professional

Is Zoom or Bluejean on speed dial? Do you find that your team does not have enough time to get the actual work done because you have them in meeting after meeting? By working remotely, we have learned the importance of clear communication between team members. Your team, people, or organization want a leader they can trust who is clear on the direction for the team, is consistent, and has the ability to stand in their shoes. We have never worked like this in our lifetime. We know what to look for, but this situation makes how things are done very different. A strong leader will be able to allow normal to define itself based on current requirements.

Balancing Home Work

Remember that your team is now at home full time. Even if employees work from home on a regular basis, the things that kept distractions at a minimum are now limited. The needs of their personal lives are now front and center. We are all suddenly at the mercy of public works. Parents are now the center of their child’s world. Students need help with schoolwork — at home. Families need to be fed — at home. Daytime pet care is done at home, and sometimes by the at home children which may become its own priority!(When you hear “let’s give the dog a bath!” in the background of a conference call, it’s time to let your employee go check on the dog.)

Besides the changes required with everyone at home sharing resources, we are testing the capacity of our infrastructure. With most people needing access to maintain their workload and entertain themselves, high-speed internet connections are being meted throughout neighborhoods. This means slower connection speeds and slower-than-desired productivity. Software and online platforms are being taxed as well. Just when the person who has never used Zoom before gets their account set up, the platform begins glitching out. It sounds like my life when I had full IT support right upstairs or a help ticket away. Been there. Done that. Being at home with co-workers guiding you through and the added pressure of trying to figure it out with enough time to conduct a meeting adds a whole new layer of frustration.

Above All — Empathy

Understanding that co-workers are balancing work and life in close quarters with limited resources is the definition of the empathy we need right now. Between meetings, collaborators have to connect with one another for clarification. There may be delay between stakeholders for a variety of reasons noted above. Keep expectations for quality work high but be open to the way deliverables are completed being different. The office is now at home. They hours are running together. As an empathetic leader, look at the end result instead of the “how” details. Balance may be lunch from 11:30–1 to allow for preparation, eating, and clean up, with the extra time for final touches on a project may be given after 8 pm when the house is quiet. The goal is quality work that is ready for execution. The timeline on which the work is done is not important. And remember that work, in any situation, is a welcome distraction from the new roles being required of us. A strong leader offers flexibility for adjustments.

Give your team some room. This shift may open up creativity that you never knew you could tap into. There is little doubt that normal is never going to look like it once did — which is wonderful! The need to be resourceful and flexible are showing us new ways to work, live, and play. Being empathetic to the needs of your team allows you to build a stronger trust with them that will allow you all to do more and be better as the new normal, or what I refer to as new rules of the game, together — even though it’s hard to see right now.

Shift Points

  • When managing remote employees and teams, clear communication between leadership and among the team is critical.
  • Embrace the shift in routine. Accommodate extra time for online meetings, additional clarification between stakeholders, and in-person family concerns.
  • Give people your best! Empathy is the leadership value, to keep you and the team on track.
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