How to engage your virtual team using emotional intelligence

By Carolyn Stern
Jun 14, 2021
How to engage your virtual team using emotional intelligence
Photo credit: fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

In our podcast episode, Carolyn Stern, professor with the School of Business at Capilano University, chats with Leah Giesbrecht, communications specialist at CPABC, about how we can use emotional intelligence to increase our effectiveness at work. Part of our Coffee Chats with CPABC podcast series.

The research is crystal clear – regardless of the type of work, EQ is the cornerstone of superior performance. Attend "Emotional Intelligence (EQ) - The Myths and The Mastery" a live webinar on July 19, 2023. Register today.

The pandemic has thrown us all a massive curveball, transforming the dynamics of how companies operate and how we work as teams and individuals.

This transformation has left many people feeling stressed, tired, and disengaged. According to one survey, 41% of employees feel burned out from their work. Employers are struggling to maintain morale and keep their teams enthusiastic and committed from afar.

One of the biggest challenges for leaders has been keeping their employees engaged. We have seen tactics like virtual happy hours and Zoom check-in calls. Although nobody will complain about getting paid to have a glass of wine, leaders need to recognize that engagement is built not through meetups but through genuine connections.

Engagement: The return on investment

With engagement falling, employees need more support in remote work environments. Even if you aren’t familiar with emotional intelligence as a leader, you should be aware of the impact of ignoring it. A 2017 study by the Engagement Institute uncovered that disengagement can cost U.S. companies between $450- 550 billion a year.

So how can leaders develop meaningful engagement? How do you connect authentically, communicate effectively, and thrive collectively in a virtual environment? This is done by learning how to engage your team using emotional intelligence.

How to engage your virtual team with emotional intelligence

Leaders recognize that they have to go above and beyond to engage their virtual team using emotional intelligence. Fun activities and spontaneous team meetings are light and entertaining, but the deep root of engagement stems from emotional intelligence techniques.

Every employee, virtual or not, wants to feel connected, appreciated, and fulfilled in their workplace. Building trust and empathy within your teams should be done with the ultimate goal in mind: employee engagement.

All emotional intelligence competencies are essential; however, there are specific competencies you should emphasize for engagement.

  1. Emotional self-awareness

    Emotional self-awareness is the ability to be aware of your emotions and triggers.

    As a leader, you need to be aware of your own emotions and how the external environment impacts your mood; how you show up to a meeting impacts how you communicate and connect with your team. The better you are at identifying how you feel, the better you will put yourself in other people’s shoes.

  2. Emotional expression

    Emotional expression is the ability to express how you are feeling constructively.

    A leader needs to be able to express themselves and share how they feel. Using more emotive language like “I want, I feel, I hope” will help you to be seen as more of an inspirational leader who can share a compelling vision. If your team is inspired, they will be more engaged.

  3. Interpersonal relationships

    Interpersonal relationships refers to the ability to build and nurture mutually satisfying relationships.

    As a leader, you need to build connections and have good social skills to build trust, gain buy-in, and leverage the resources you need to reach your teams’ goals. Your ability to form healthy relationships both with and within your team is essential, especially to help weather difficult times.

  4. Empathy

    Empathy is the ability to appreciate and understand how another person feels.

    A leader needs to build strong interpersonal relationships, and having high empathy makes a leader approachable and allows your team to feel safe and share their thoughts and ideas. This connection can take your organization to new heights. Leading with empathy enables you to grasp what another is feeling, even if it is much different from what you feel.

  5. Reality testing

    Reality testing is the ability to be mindful, present, and attuned to a moment or situation; to see things objectively.

    A leader who has a high level of reality testing is seen as grounded, objective, and in touch with the work environment. It’s important to avoid letting your subjectivity cloud your judgment. This is essential when it comes to engagement, as employees feel seen, heard, and respected for where they are – not just where you want them to be.

  6. Flexibility

    Flexibility is the ability to adapt to and cope well with change or the unfamiliar.

    A leader who has high flexibility can modify their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in response to change. These kinds of leaders embrace change and view it as a springboard for progress in the organization. They can accommodate and approach communication and learning from different perspectives and tactics and offer their team alternatives or innovative approaches to work.

    Investing in your own emotional intelligence requires an ongoing commitment. However, by making this investment and by acknowledging your employees’ emotions and acting on them effectively you can increase engagement and keep a healthy culture, as well as help keep your organization financially competitive.


Carolyn Stern is an expert on the subject of emotional intelligence. She is a professor with the School of Business at Capilano University, where she pioneered the integration of emotional intelligence into Capilano’s curriculum. Since launching her company EI Experience in 2017, Carolyn has helped more than 10,000 business leaders leverage their emotional intelligence skills to connect with their diverse workforce and develop high-performing teams.