As a result of the pandemic, the global workforce received a fast-track education in virtual work interactions. But now, as the dust settles, remote and hybrid work models are defining the future of work. And familiarity with messaging apps and offline communication isn’t going to be enough. For those who want to remain competitive, developing skills in virtual intelligence is essential.
When you hear the term “virtual intelligence,” you may immediately connect it with the idea of AI and the metaverse. But it’s not just machines that need to adapt. Work will continue to skew toward remote operations and we may begin to live more and more in virtual worlds.
Now is the time to equip your employees with the skills that will help them thrive in a more virtual work environment.
What is virtual intelligence?
There’s been a lot of buzz about employee IQ and EQ in learning and development in recent years. And it makes sense. You want your people to have the intellectual and emotional prowess to be productive and work well together.
Virtual intelligence, or virtual EQ, carries the same importance. It refers to a capacity to use different tools to make virtual teamwork and leadership as effective as traditional work. It means having the skills to grow your company in the new normal that includes virtual work.
Why virtual intelligence is essential in today’s workplace
Companies did their best to get things up and running with a remote work model during the pandemic. Industries across the board made big strides in digital transformation. But now that many companies are opting to keep remote or hybrid workplace models, it’s time to look at a more thorough skill set.
Virtual workspaces look different from traditional offices. And employees need new perspectives and competencies to move their organization forward. Consider the following traits of virtual work that call for new skills:
- Virtual work is more dynamic. Workflow changes day-to-day when you’re dealing with remote or hybrid teams. Some days, people need to be in the office and collaboration can happen in real-time. Other times, colleagues may work from home to be more focused. Or, some team members may be working in different time zones, so you’ll depend more on asynchronous communication and work patterns. To keep work running smoothly, your employees will need the skills and flexibility to collaborate as effectively online.
- Leadership requires more awareness. Before the shift to virtual work, a good manager could pick up verbal and non-verbal cues from their staff. They’d have eyes on who contributed to projects and could be available for quick, informal troubleshooting. But with some or all of their team now working offsite, it can be difficult to see who’s struggling. Or, to register when someone’s left out of key communications or work assignments.
- Boundaries become blurred. When work happens across different working hours, it’s easy for employees to feel they always need to be “on.” Without boundaries, they try to respond in real-time to everything that comes their way. The lines between work life and home life begin to blur. Or, no guidelines have been set around which forms of communication are best for which situations. So, people may feel the need to resolve every question with a formal video conference. “Zoom fatigue” sets in and people start to dread meetings. In either case, without clear boundaries, people burn out.
- Building team unity is less straightforward. Team members need to trust one another to be productive. Building that kind of trust is more difficult if you never meet or work synchronously on projects. In a traditional environment, team building happens with casual in-person interactions. It requires more deliberate action in a virtual environment.
Employees need a variety of skills to navigate remote and virtual work environments. As you plan out your training strategy, make sure to include skill sets that will help employees achieve virtual EQ.
How to develop virtual intelligence
Knowing exactly what your employees need will take planning as well as fine-tuning along the way. To get started, here are four skills you can focus on to help your team develop virtual intelligence.
1. Time management and organization
Transitioning to a remote or hybrid workplace can dramatically change the structure of the workday. Employees used to regular check-ins and real-time coworking may struggle with how to manage their time. Give them the skills to handle their (new) workflow.
You can reduce stress by helping people establish systems to meet deadlines and expectations. Teach them to create schedules that also allow them to unplug from work as needed.
2. Wellbeing and mindfulness
It’s also crucial that people be aware of their own emotions in a changing work environment. Emotions affect how people show up to meetings and conversations, in person or online. Teach people to recognize what they’re feeling and how to manage their feelings so they can resolve any issues productively.
You can also help people manage stress with self-care and mindfulness techniques. Give them information on how to set and maintain useful boundaries to keep anxiety and burnout from becoming a problem.
3. Sharing information—and learning how to listen
Communication skills are especially important when employees don’t have the benefit of reading tone. Or, chatting casually through problems. You can help them compensate by offering courses on how to resolve difficult topics or disagreements. Include content on how to present concerns and how to be timely about communication.
And don’t forget that good communication isn’t just about getting your own ideas out. It also involves understanding how to listen to others. When everyone’s not in the same room, it can be easy to overlook some voices. Teach people how to really hear others. How to ask the right questions and be inclusive in their communication.
4. Relationship building and teamwork
Trust is important for a functioning team. But it can be hard to build when team members only interact as faces in group video conferences or through brief Slack messages.
Teach your people skills for strengthening teamwork so they can build these crucial relationships no matter where they are.
A new intelligence for the future of work
Creating a training program for a virtual workplace requires clear goals and lots of planning. And not everything your employees need to learn is about new technical skills or new digital work and communication tools. You need to equip them with the intelligence to adapt their skills to the future of work.
Start with the key competencies you know will come into play. Then refine your strategy as needed. Check in regularly to see how people are feeling about their jobs. If you detect any stress or burnout, see if you can pinpoint the sources. Then make changes—to your work processes or your training content—to create a productive work environment.
Support your employees in developing the virtual EQ to thrive in today’s business environment. You’ll protect their wellbeing and keep your company on track to thrive moving forward.
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