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Emotional and Social Intelligence Matter for Today's Hybrid Workforce. Do You Know Why?

Trying to figure out how to manage remote and hybrid employees? Understanding emotional and social intelligence can help.

Girts Ragelis | Shutterstock

Pre-pandemic, your fully in-person workforce went to casual lunches and had formal in-person meetings. As an owner or manager, you had plenty of chances to see how they interacted with each other (and with you).

Now that workforce is likely some combination of remote and hybrid, with online meetings the norm and in-person lunches a hit-or-miss affair. In fact, only 9% of offices anticipate being fully on-site for the future, versus 60% in 2020, while the number of hybrid workplaces has grown from 32% to 59%.1

That shift doesn't equal just empty meeting rooms. With little or no face time, it's harder to notice burnout, productivity challenges, and fraying teamwork. If you aren't talking over a cup of coffee, how do you support and manage what could be a far-flung workforce with tangled-up grievances?

Leaning into your own and your employees' emotional and social strengths can help. While workplaces used to focus a lot on intelligence quotient, or IQ, many small business owners are also harnessing the power of emotional quotient, or EQ, and social intelligence to recruit, retain, and grow.

What are EQ, IQ, and social intelligence?

All people have some level of EQ, IQ, and social intelligence. You probably know that people with higher IQ tend to demonstrate ability with topics such as spatial reasoning and mathematics.

But "people often confuse EQ and social intelligence," says Ina Purvanova, Ph.D, professor of leadership and management and department chair at Drake University's College of Business and Public Administration. "Think of EQ as knowing yourself—being in touch with your values, emotions, and reactions, and being able to control them. Social intelligence is being able to read others, which helps you build relationships."

All three can be measured by widely available tests such as the MESI Methodology, Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Tests, and the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.

'Leadership on steroids'

So why the focus on EQ and social intelligence while managing a workforce? Well, the pandemic of course.

"The shift to work-from-home brought employees' work and home lives together and we found ourselves in each other's homes—virtually," says Amy Hunold-Van Gundy, vice president of talent management at Principal®. "We met pets, children, spouses, and partners. We were in bedrooms, living rooms, at kitchen tables. We learned more about the personal side of each other's lives. That has allowed us to connect as more fully as ourselves."

It's also put a laser focus on leadership, says Purvanova. "We've always known good leadership is important, but in this shift to virtual and hybrid, it's now leadership on steroids: You have to be an even greater leader in this new work culture," she says. "Effective leadership is about bringing people together and making them feel like they are working together and contributing to a common cause, and that can be more difficult in hybrid or remote. It requires much more purposefulness and intentionality."

In other words, you'll have to know how to tap into your social and emotional intelligence, and you'll also have to understand those attributes in your employees, too.

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The role of social and emotional intelligence in managing a hybrid or remote workforce

If your business has shifted any part of its workforce to virtual or hybrid, you've probably already started using both social and emotional intelligence more than you would have in the past. You can keep fostering it in yourself, and figure out how it helps employees, too. "It's asking a lot of leaders," Purvanova says, "but you cannot be successful as virtual or hybrid leader without it."

  • Ask what you're really worried about. If you shifted from everyone in the office to a lot of people still working hybrid or remote, you're likely feeling a loss of control (that's your EQ at work), suggests Purvanova. Do you need that control, though? "How do you feel when someone trusts you? Valued, accountable, and responsible," Purvanova says. "Let go of that instinct and replace it with trust." And then figure out good check-ins with your employees (maybe it's a once-a-month, in-person lunch).
  • Acknowledge the science. A virtual or hybrid work culture may be different for you now, but scientists like Purvanova have been studying it for decades. "There's no known lack or drop of productivity that's dependent on where work takes place," she says.
  • Don't count hours. "The question is, What do you want people to do with their time regardless of where they spend their time?" Purvanova says. "Just because you're in the office 8–5 doesn't mean you're not updating your LinkedIn account versus working."
  • Be intentional about connection. If you're switching from counting hours to counting contributions, you will have to robustly develop your EQ and social intelligence to truly get to know your team, including their strengths. "That's the hard part," Purvanova says. "Leadership is a human activity that requires connectivity. That's the paradox of virtual: More happens through tech, but we have to be more human to have tech work well for us." For example, maybe an employee offers to work a staggered summer schedule to take care of childcare needs. Does it matter if they aren't at their desk every Wednesday afternoon if the work gets done—and they're happier? Probably not.
  • Ask for intentionality from employees, too. It's appropriate to call out ways team members can contribute more fully to the team, says Purvanova. That may be about simple to-dos such as turning on cameras or showing up on anchor days. "Set those common sense of standards and expectations," she says.
  • Recognize informal leadership. As you establish stronger connections, you may notice traits in team members that can help them rise to challenges. "There's this idea of informal leadership that helps people respond to needs, wants, and values as you work together on projects," Purvanova says. Can those leaders be given opportunities, such as spearheading a project, that help them develop their social and emotional intelligence even more?
  • Help the newbies. For new employees or employees with less work experience, it can be difficult to acclimate—and to read everyone's social and emotional cues as well as learn the workplace's culture—if no one is there to show them the ropes. "Do what you can as a leader to foster that connection," Purvanova says. That may mean an anchor day once or twice a week, new hire "buddies" to navigate jobs and projects, and face time with key team members, suggests Hunold-Van Gundy.

How you lead and foster your own social and emotional intelligence may change from year to year; after all, the new hybrid work culture is just that—new. "Connecting only comes through ongoing, intentional connection and conversations," Hunold-Van Gundy says. "And that takes time, something leaders and owners never have enough of. But prioritizing the relationships with employees and teams so they're set up to do their best work brings the highest level of engagement and performance."

You're busy running your business today. Get help planning for tomorrow at

Ina Purvanova as a guest is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group®

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professionals, and other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements. Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Company®, a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.

© 2022 Principal Financial Services, Inc.


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