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How to demonstrate empathy remotely



Nine months in and we are still working from home, some of us are now taking a mixed approach going into the office one or two days a week. Back in April, it was 46.6% (ONS April 20) of us worked remotely, it was new and for many a struggle especially with the only 24% of us having a dedicated room to call an office.


We have noticed a lot of questions and discussions around trying to be supportive and helpful but via a screen, not quite getting the message across. As one HR associate asked, ‘how do you show empathy when you’re in front of a screen?’


1. Get comfortable with the apps that your company uses quickly and meet the employee where they’re at i.e. talk to them or respond to them on their preferred medium/platform. 


2. Be explicit about what help and support there is, don’t hint or suggest. We are not great at picking up subtleties, micro suggestions or gestures through a screen. If you are not sure about this watch someone who is good at it and finds it easy to build rapport, watch and learn.


3. Use a mix of video, telephone calls and apps if that is where your staff are, certain employees may be far more comfortable on the telephone or video rather than an app. Sometimes it’s easier to talk on the telephone for some people as there’s no eye contact and it’s also a lot easier to pick up on tone and inflections in the voice. And it’s great to get a call out of the blue just asking how are you, everything OK?


4. Try and get a clear picture of how and where staff are working. Is it on the kitchen table or in the spare room? Genuine curiosity is a good thing, ask questions understand how they work because every persons situation is different. This will help build the picture, maybe they email more in the evening or very early, may be they don’t take calls after a certain time and insist on text or email. Build a picture and check in with them is it correct, what can be done to help?


5. Finally share a bit about yourself but don’t dominate the conversation, share what you’re struggling with, you don't have to be the ‘guru’ or the cool professional who appears to be swimming through with head held high. Revealing a little about yourself allows others to share and enables discussion. Be mindful of how staff like to communicate and notice when they’re most comfortable talking.