Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Remotional Intelligence

As a less-than-enthusiastic commuter - and having just returned from a two day working visit to Head Office in Aberdeen - I've found my thoughts turning to the themes of Remote (or Home) Working and Emotional Intelligence.  I contend that for the former to be effective and beneficial for both the employer and the employee, both parties have to understand and apply the latter - you can't have one without the other.

Let's get some definitions out of the way...

Remote Working: "when people do their work at home, using a computer that is connected to the computer system in an office" (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English); "a situation in which an employee works mainly from home and communicates with the company by email and telephone" (Cambridge British English Dictionary)

Emotional Intelligence: “the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships” (Goleman, 1998); "the idea that in order to lead well, one first must understand one’s emotions and the emotions of those one works with" (www.strategyexpert.com)

Obviously there is a whole technical piece to be considered in enabling staff to work from home, but I don't intend to cover that in this blog - I want to concentrate on the people side of things.
This is the year of the London Olympics, and much has been made of the potential for into and cross-London travel to be severely impacted by a huge influx of tourist/event attendees, road closures, 'Zil lanes', tube overcrowding, security checks, etc and the doom-mongers would have us believe that travel and work as we know it in London will grind to a halt.  Businesses have therefore been advised  to encourage employees to either travel early/late or to telework from home.

As an occasional teleworker, managing a small team who also work between their homes and their local offices, I am very interested in this model and was hopeful that now might be the tipping point which changed the way UK businesses allowed their staff to work.  After all, if they can make it happen for the four or five weeks of Olympic and Paralympic competitions, then surely they could continue to do so thereafter.  Disappointingly, I've seen very little discussion about this, so thought I'd share my tuppenceworth.

On the day that I started this blog, one of my #PLN (personal learning network) @sahana2802, tweeted  this link to the Harvard Business Review Daily Stats page. http://web.hbr.org/email/archive/dailystat.php?date=010912

New research suggests that staff whose boss teleworks remotely from them get less feedback, feel less empowered, and are less satisfied with their jobs than workers whose bosses are on-site. In other words, their bosses are not displaying any emotionally intelligent behaviours!  So I tested that reasoning with my own team.  I sent them the link and asked them to reflect back to me how they felt, operating in a similarly remote working environment.  Here's a flavour of their responses.
"There are a lot of times when I do feel less motivated and very alone, despite being part of a team. We all work hard to mitigate this but, when people are busy it's very easy to forget your colleagues - sort of an out of sight out of mind effect."

"No I don't feel we get less feedback, are less satisfied and less empowered.  In fact I feel more empowered with us all working physically separately than if we were all in the same office each day.  I must say that I get the same if not more feedback from you than any of my previous bosses and I could not be more satisfied to know that you are happy to trust what I do without you breathing down my neck so to speak."

"We are lucky in the variety of different communication methods available to us, a lot of which I suspect others may not have. There are times when I wish we worked in the same office though as I think we're possibly missing some of the inspiration you get working in a team that only comes with regular face to face contact and sharing ideas, thoughts, successes and failures at the time in person." 

"From time to time I do miss not being able to turn around and ask you a question, have a look at something I'm developing or have a quick conversation whilst making a coffee.  But I know that I can use IM, pick up the phone or e-mail something to you and you will be at hand to answer my question.  Maybe that's the real issue - not that someone isn't physically present but that someone just can't be got hold of and doesn't show interest in what his/her colleagues do."

Hmmm, about 50/50 then... and a useful EI check for me and discussion topic with the team.

I haven't studied Transactional Analysis in any depth, nor NLP, but I try to adhere to some principles, as clarified for me in the work of Abe Wagner, international speaker and author of "The Transactional Manager" and "Say it straight or you'll show it crooked" ( http://www.abewagner.com/ ).  I keep a bulleted list (I know, I know...) of some of his principles, which are my emotional intelligence guidelines, tacked to my deskside.  Common sense, I would suggest, but sadly lacking in many, I find.

I have emboldened the ones I think most relevant to managers managing remote working staff and for those same staff interacting with their peers and their manager. I'm sure you might pick others, or indeed, all of them, because if I'm honest,  I think they're all relevant, for all work situations!

 Say it straight or you’ll show it crooked
• Understand your goals and direct your activity to accomplish them
 Treat yourself and others with dignity and respect
 Be self-determining and help others to be the same
• Be responsible for your own thinking, feeling and behaviour
• Live in the here and now
• Speak with the purpose of resolving issues, rather than proving you’re right
 Continue what works and modify or discontinue what does not work
 Ask for what you want and invite others to do the same
• Make agreements that you are willing, and intend, to keep
 Give, accept and ask for positive strokes and constructive feedback
• In a conflict, communicate only with people who can help you resolve that conflict
For me, it's about trust and maturity.  It's about being in adult to adult transactional relationships. If you are already in a team which operates like that, I'd suggest you are already suited to the remote/home working scenario and you might want to explore that with your employer.  If you are a micro-manager or are being managed by one, maybe not.

So is remote/home/tele-working the future? Are the Olympics going to be a tipping point? What is your organisation doing now or planning to do in the future? Should we have home working policies in place?  If so, what should they contain?  Can remote working be effective without exercising and applying emotional intelligence?  I'd be interested in your thoughts.


  1. I like this blog Niall. Like you said, adult to adult transactional analysis model relationships are essential for successful homeworking; if they can't be cultivated, then a virtual "my door is always ajar" policy is helful for those who find it difficult to be motivated to work alone.

  2. Niall: I appreciated the depth and scope of this post. I spent 2 1/2 years working remotely for a learning services firm. While I appreciated the flexibility of the arrangement, I definitely experienced some of the managerial communication/presence issues you raised here. There's a genuine opportunity to help managers develop the skills and attitudes required to make these new workplaces more functional.

  3. Paula and Mark, thanks for both taking the time to read, reflect and comment. It's a subject close to my heart, and the very act of having written this blog has made me change some of my manager behaviours to be more cogniscant of and responsive to my reporting team, my peer and my upward reporting colleagues. I am better, connected, as a well-known telecoms provider once said...