At the end of a long week after we launched a new product and fixed a multitude of issues, I could sense that my generally upbeat team was running low on energy. I saw slouched shoulders, lack of humor, and body language that screamed “we need a break.” And so, we took the rest of the day off. Being in the office, in the pre-pandemic world, provided leaders and managers with the opportunity to read their team’s energy based on interpersonal cues and body language. Leaders could pick up on subtle changes to an individual’s behavior and take the necessary actions to remedy any underlying issues. Since the move to remote or hybrid work, these visual cues have mostly disappeared. But that doesn’t mean we have to lead blindly. We can still read our team’s energy and emotions if we know where to look and what to pay attention to.
Here are five ways you can read your remote team’s energy or emotions when leading remotely.
1. Listen to your team
During 1:1 calls, team calls, or cross-functional calls, pay particular attention to how your team members converse with others. Are they talking slower than usual? Faster? Are there long gaps before they answer a question? Are there lots of sighs? Picking up any deviations from how your team members generally talk can be a great indication that perhaps your team is running low on energy or needs help with a certain issue.
2. Watch your remote team
Regularly connecting with your team is incredibly valuable when working remotely, as is encouraging everyone to have their cameras on. A daily team stand up meeting—even if it’s only 20 minutes— works wonders. It allows your team to discuss their progress and raise their hands if they have any issues. Equally important, it allows leaders to read everyone’s energy through body language and tone.
As an example, if your remote team generally has their cameras turned on, and during a particular meeting a team member has theirs turned off, it might be worth checking in with them after the call. This isn’t about micromanaging, as you want your employees to feel that they have your trust and the flexibility to take care of whatever they need. This is more of an opportunity to check for signs of burnout and proactively offer your support.
Leaders should also connect with their direct reports 1:1 on a weekly basis and make note of visual cues such as expressions and body language. Ask the simple question, “how are you actually feeling?” and just listen. Make it about your team.
3. Pay attention to email
We all know that colleague who loves to use exclamation marks! Or, the lack thereof. Paying attention to the tone of emails is also a great way to read your remote team’s emotions when in-office cues are missing. If someone always starts their email and replies with a “hello,” but their latest email went straight to the point, it might be worth checking in on the individual. Same goes for someone who generally uses exclamation marks and is cheerful, but in the latest exchange just wrote a few words and hit send.
That being said, it can be tough to read tone in email. So, before making any assumptions, it helps you to become familiar with the writing style of each individual on your team. The key is to look for any deviations.
4. Pay attention to chat
Similar to email, chat is a great way to read your team’s energy and emotions. Many teams use Slack, Microsoft Teams, among other platforms, and every individual on the team has their personal style of communication. Pay attention to any changes to an individual’s general tone. Also, if an individual is generally active in the public channel or team thread, but hasn’t been posting much lately, that may be a cue to reach out to that individual.
5. Listen to your colleagues and partners.
Lastly, don’t forget to check in with your partners and vendors, especially if your team manages external client or vendor relationships. Sometimes, a particular team member spends most of his or her day working with a different team or a client, and it may be tough for the direct manager to notice any changes to energy given the limited interaction.
During a scheduled catch-up, asking a client or a colleague how they think your team is doing, or if there is any cause for concern, can be very helpful. If there are potential areas of concern, you’ll be able to lean in and provide support to your team in a timely manner.
Tanvir Bhangoo is a bestselling author, acclaimed speaker, and team coach. Tanvir helps leaders worldwide build championship teams in disruptive and uncertain environments. Tanvir’s latest book, The P.R.O. Business Mindset: How to Lead Amid Disruption and Chaos, breaks down his unique leadership framework. This framework helped Tanvir win championships in the boardroom – based on what he had learned on the football field. Tanvir gets quoted in major media outlets, and often guest lectures at leading business schools.