Featured Articles

Using emotional intelligence to take care of yourself and others in a virtual world

Victoria Mattingly, PhD, CEO & Founder of Mattingly Solutions

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

For those of us fortunate to still have jobs in a COVID-19 world, I’m right alongside you, learning how to navigate a 100% remote role in a 100% virtual marketplace. Although we’re the lucky ones able to still perform our job during this unprecedented time…it doesn’t mean this #remotelife is easy. 

I believe that it is our responsibility as organizational psychologists to share evidence-based recommendations for how to navigate a disrupted working world. To provide resources to anyone making the sudden transition to a 100% remote role. To help our HR and business leader partners seeking best practices and interventions that are proven to work. And right now, most remote employees are under an enormous amount of stress. 

The job-demands resources model provides empirical evidence for the detrimental effect of workplace stress on our health, productivity and well-being (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). Stress is caused by excess demands, which include any aspect of work that require effort and resources to complete and endure. Examples include demanding workloads, unpleasant or insufficient physical environments, and emotionally draining client interactions:

•    Is your direct supervisor someone who supports you; has your back?
•    Do you have enough time and the right tools to complete your job? 

Yes, we have demands as employees, but also as humans working from home. For example: 

•    Do you have a designated workspace or home office?
•    Are you also responsible for childcare? Trying to homeschool between Zoom calls? 

Fortunately, we also have resources we can use to buffer or counteract the demands being placed on us in our remote work-life. Job resources refer to any physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects we can use to complete our work, achieve our goals, reduce the effect of remote work-life demands, and promote personal growth, learning, and development.

Examples of resources include:

•    Helpful colleagues
•    Regularly doing meaningful work
•    And emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify and manage emotions in yourself and others. Not only can we use EQ to better manage our remote-work lives, but another beautiful thing about EQ is that it can be improved.

Here are four ways you can use EQ to take care of yourself and others as a remote worker.

Note that the following tips correspond directly to the four quadrants of EQ, shown in this image

1) How to better understand your emotional experience as a remote worker 

The interesting thing about stress is that we all have different reactions to various stressors. Sure, certain life events (death of a spouse; divorce) are profoundly more stressful for most individuals. But when it comes to our day-to-day working experience, different demands trigger—and therefore stress out—people in different ways. We, therefore, need to have a good understanding of what features of our remote-life situation stress us out the most…so we have the right, personalized resources on hand to overcome or buffer that stress. Resources that meet our individual needs. 

Take the time to figure out the unique demands placed on you by your specific remote work-life situation. Then, think through the resources you have available to you. Even better, what resources COULD you have if you exerted the time and effort to cultivate them? For example, daily exercise is proven to combat depression and anxiety. If you are not already exercising daily, why not start now? What’s getting in the way?

2) How to use EQ to take care of your body and mind

When it comes to [not] working out, it often feels like it comes down to mind over matter—mentally willing myself to do my morning stretches or complete that 20-minute YouTube workout. But the relationship between body and mind also works the other way around: Working out helps us build our mental and emotional strength as well. It is often intimidating to try to incorporate a new fitness routine, especially if you don’t have access to a gym or a yoga studio. I therefore recommend:

•    Start small (e.g., a daily 10-minute yoga session rather than a few 60-minute full sessions per week) 
•    Begin with consistent, daily intentional actions (e.g., doing yoga immediately upon wake up)
•    Turn deliberate behaviors into automatic habits (e.g., “I don’t think about doing my daily yoga. I just wake up every day and do it.”) 

Mastering the art of controlling your actions requires the emotional control to behave in alignment with your values and goals, rather than doing whatever feels best in the moment (i.e., not working out). 

3) How to use EQ to better understand others in a virtual environment 

Humans have evolved to quickly read and interpret non-verbal cues when interacting with others. Is this person telling the truth? Can I trust them? Are they part of my tribe? 

This is why it is imperative to use video when trying to understand—and be understood—virtually. Encourage others to turn on their video by going first. Anecdotally, I have about a 95% conversion rate after nudging others to put on their video in response to me joining with mine. 

Public service announcement: Beware of Zoom Fatigue. Get up from your desk frequently throughout the day to not only give your body a stretch but your eyeballs a break. 

4) How EQ can help us better communicate and collaborate as virtual teams

A basic human need that commonly does NOT get met in virtual work settings is our need for connectedness. Human interaction. #IRL facetime. Although many of us claim to loath small talk and office chit chat, these human-to-human moments are good for our well-being as a communal species. They also help us better perform our job. 

Working in a remote role requires that we intentionally create the water cooler conversations we otherwise have naturally in an office setting. I recommend scheduling virtual 1:1 “coffee breaks” with members of your team by doing the following: 

•    Book 15 minutes in your calendars
•    Talk about anything BUT work
•    Listen intently
•    Share generously (any new playlists or recipes you’d recommend?)
•    Meaningfully connect
•    Wash, rinse, and repeat 

The Learning Doesn’t Need to Stop Here

If you like the above four tips and want a deeper dive into any of these best practices, you are in luck. I built a publicly available virtual course on Udemy entitled, “Making Remote Life Work.” As a thank you for reading this article, I made a limited number of free vouchers available for anyone who accesses this link from this page:


Thank you for coming to SIOP’s website and looking to I-O psychology for evidence-based best practices for navigating the current working world. Please come again soon and frequently. Especially as we learn to define the new normal together. Because work will never quite look the same ever again. 

Learn more about the author at www.mattinglysolutions.com 

From the Learning Resources for Practitioners (LRP) Committee:
Do you have expertise to share to help practitioners and the larger business community adapt during COVID-19 crisis? Feel free to contact Kimberly Adams, LRP Committee Chair, at kadams6006@gmail.com to discuss your idea and submission details. Thanks!

Find more resources for Working Through COVID-19 on SIOP’s new Remote Work page.
Find resources and advice on topics including work-life balance, worker well-being, managing remote teams, employee motivation and engagement, and organizational agility. New resources are being added on a regular basis.



Previous Article APA Board of Directors Call For Nominations
Next Article Thrive at Work at Home
7690 Rate this article:
Comments are only visible to subscribers.


Information on this website, including articles, white papers, and other resources, is provided by SIOP staff and members. We do not include third-party content on our website or in our publications, except in rare exceptions such as paid partnerships.