Remote work created more vulnerable, compassionate relationships in the office

COVID changed everything, of course, both personally and professionally.

Some lost their jobs altogether. Many of those fortunate enough to keep them were—and maybe still are—relegated to dens or bedrooms, where Zoom or Microsoft Teams became the day-to-day touchpoint with the outside world.

Amanda Cahal headshot

Amanda Cahal

“We’ve been through a lot over the past few years,” said Amanda Cahal, director of MBA Global Programs and adjunct faculty member at the Daniels College of Business. “We shouldn’t underestimate the effects of COVID, the economic shutdown and, in so many cases, the loneliness on ourselves and each other. So the idea of how you leverage emotional intelligence—listening, being empathic, checking emotions, reading a room—and being human at work are more important than ever.”

This shift towards compassion and vulnerability could be one of the few positive aspects of the pandemic, Cahal said. She points to a study from INSEAD that examined how COVID affected the way teams work together. The result?

“Teams that struggled during the pandemic focused only on work and efficiency,” Cahal said. “Their communication was focused on the task at hand; it was very transactional. But the teams that remained connected and stayed engaged during COVID were leveraging the pandemic as a reason to exercise compassion with one another.”

It’s something Cahal teaches in her “Effective Communication Using Insights Discovery” workshop. The half-day Daniels class leans on the Insights Discovery System, a framework used extensively in organizations worldwide to improve interpersonal communications in the workplace, allowing people to enhance their personal leadership skills and develop high-performing teams.

The pandemic has provided an unprecedented, relatable, real-time case study that Cahal can reference in the classroom. It’s the perfect illustration of how trust and affinity for coworkers can build a stronger team.

“Working through Zoom and Microsoft Teams allowed us, literally, to see people’s homes and to see their lives in a different way,” she said. “We could see each other struggling and having a hard time, and we made ourselves a little more vulnerable than we otherwise would have.

Insights Discovery is used extensively in organizations worldwide to improve interpersonal communications in the workplace, allowing people to enhance their personal leadership skills and develop high-performing teams.

“Leveraging the pandemic to show empathy and compassion feels like one of the few silver linings from COVID.”

The old-school approach to the office prioritizes working relationships over personal relationships. In other words, you don’t need to like the people you work with; you just need to work together.

Cahal disagrees. Teams operate at a higher level when coworkers like one another, she said, because they can assume everyone has positive intentions. Communication and decision making improve.

“Can you work with somebody you don’t like? Of course, we’re all capable of being professional and getting the work done,” Cahal said. “But what opportunities are you missing? Are you solving problems in the most effective way? Are you leveraging the brain power of the entire team? I would argue that when affinity is absent and you are just exchanging information, then you’re not taking advantage of the cognitive diversity at the table.

“We work in teams for a reason,” she continued. “Collaborative teams are nine times more effective than individuals when it comes to decision-making. When things get hard and we’d rather just do something ourselves, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of the power of diverse thinking. Collaboration works.”

The next Effective Communications Using Insights Discovery workshops take place July 27 (availability is limited) and September 19.

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Executive Education at the Daniels College of Business offers webinars, workshops, courses and customized programs in a variety of leadership and business topics. We focus on education for working professionals, lessons for lifelong learners and bonding experiences for teams.
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