The past four years have revolutionised the way the world works – literally. Although billions of people still earn a living in brick-and-mortar establishments, the percentage of those working remotely jumped from around 7% in 2015 to 28% in 2023

While most people find working from home appealing, engaging in the virtual workplace can be challenging for even the most knowledgeable individuals. Remote working can also deteriorate interpersonal relationships. 

One of the most significant issues in this situation is the breakdown of non-verbal communication. Another is the gradual erosion of empathy.

However, empathy influences employees’ happiness, engagement levels, and productivity, making it an important contributor to a company’s success. In this article, we’ll explain how to create a positive culture and associations using non-verbal communication and how to show empathy in your day-to-day interactions working remotely.


Non-verbal communication encompasses a range of behaviours, including eye contact, gestures, tone of voice, body language/stance, gestures, and facial expressions. We use non-verbal cues in almost all of our interactions, and mostly, we use them unconsciously. Avoiding eye contact, for example, can be interpreted as a sign of dishonesty, while a smile generally indicates friendliness. 


Empathy refers to the ability of humans to “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes. It’s not pity, but the capacity to see the person sitting across from you and acknowledge the reality of their experience.


We rely heavily on these unconscious actions, which only become apparent when they’re removed. 

Instead of sitting across the table from your employees, you’re sitting at your laptop. While virtual meeting platforms have been (and are) exceptionally useful over the past few years, they don’t measure up to face-to-face contact. 


When working remotely, office politics can be diluted and intensified. This type of working means fewer interactions, but lots of opportunities for miscommunication, which is the ideal environment for intolerance to flourish.

Non-verbal communication and empathy are closely linked, which is why remote workers tend to struggle more and more as time passes.


Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication, no matter what the context. The meaning of a word can change depending on the speaker’s facial expression. 

Research has shown that gestures form part of what could be called “a universal gesture system that enables us to communicate with each other regardless of language, hearing ability, or sightedness. 

Successful companies are successful in part because of the high standard of communication they achieve among employers and employees. The ability to converse with people from diverse backgrounds and non-English speakers, for example, is absolutely essential for multinational corporations.


Non-verbal communication refers to:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Tone of voice
  3. Body language and gestures
  4. Facial expressions
  5. Proxemics (the spatial element of communication)
  6. Haptics (touch)

Here’s how each of these communication styles affects interactions and how to combat them:

Eye contact 

One obvious non-verbal casualty of remote working is good old eye contact. Virtual meeting platforms allow people to see one another to some extent, but a lot of details of communication styles get lost in cyberspace. 

Talking to people on Skype, Google Meet, or Zoom is more often than not like fighting your way through a heavy fog—both with audio and video quality. Not everyone’s audio syncs; cameras can be jittery, and there can be odd delays or pauses.

For some people, making eye contact through a screen can feel even more intimidating than doing so in person. The result? Virtual meetings full of zoned-out employees.

The solution: Practice making eye contact with every person you speak to.

Tone of voice

While it is possible to discern tone of voice over a phone call or on a virtual meeting platform, it’s not quite the same as a face-to-face interaction. The tone you may use in a face-to-face meeting may not be interpreted as well when on video, and you often need to adjust your speaking volume for the microphone to catch the nuances in your voice.

The solution: Speak clearly, enunciate your words, and keep your tone light and bright wherever possible.

Body language and gestures

It goes without saying that body language is virtually eliminated from a digital workspace. However, this element of non-verbal communication is more significant than most of us realise until it’s removed. 

Turning away from a colleague, walking towards them, or shrugging our shoulders are unconscious behaviours that allow us to understand the intention behind another’s words. Seeing fellow employees from the chest up (or not at all) removes this ability. 

The solution: Ask for everyone’s cameras to be turned on and position yours to show as much of your upper body as possible. Use your hands as much as possible.

Facial expressions

Like eye contact, facial expressions are usually muffled by virtual communication. Filter effects on cameras can smooth out lines and add an almost unnatural quality to faces, or the camera simply doesn’t pick up the same minute expressions that we’re so used to seeing in real life.

The solution: Be expressive and use your expressions to convey meaning.


This term refers to the role of spatial separation or personal space in various contexts, including interactions between individuals and groups. Proxemics is yet another element of non-verbal communication that has been devastated by working remotely.

The solution: Engage in diversity and inclusion activities that create a feeling of being in comfortable proximity to one another, even remotely.


This method of non-verbal communication is often forgotten, and it’s completely eliminated for remote workers. Referring to the role of touch in interactions, the haptics umbrella covers everything from a presidential handshake to sexual intimacy.

The solution: Ramp up verbal, visual, and written communication. 


It’s unlikely that the working world will return to its pre-pandemic state. However, more companies are allowing remote working, and more people are determined to work from home. 

As we’ve shown, there are a variety of ways to navigate the above challenges. However, the first is simply to acknowledge their impact. Addressing the breakdown of communication and empathy has to start with a renewed commitment to communication, whether verbal, non-verbal, written, or visual.

Talk to your employees or colleagues about the disconnect, and ask them if there is anything they feel uncomfortable about or if there are any ways you can create more engaging interactions in the remote world. Improving communication in the virtual workplace needs to be done proactively, and by acknowledging it, you can work together to fix the flaws.


Remote working and these interpersonal and communication challenges are here to stay. For employers, the challenge is to tackle the challenges this poses head-on and to create a new feeling of engagement and connection that builds stronger teams and encourages collaboration.

Author: Addisson Shaw – Content Scrivener

Photo credit: StockCake

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