Emotions are contagious, part 2: How positive emotional contagion can work remotely

In a previous post I talked about how emotions are contagious, and The importance of taking time to reboot your mood when feeling down.

Contagious emotions can be a very powerful tool. If a team leader is upbeat and optimistic about their company and product, that will rub off onto the other team members making a happier and more productive team.

This works well when working in the same building

A lot of the research on emotional contagion, specifically the line of work pioneered by Elaine Hatfield, suggests that emotions are contagious because of subconscious mimicry of another person’s actions and facial expressions. If one person is smiling, the other person starts smiling too, even if they’re not particularly upbeat. And smiling automatically causes them to start feeling better.

This works in an office, where teams work together. A positive and happy team leader (or team member, for that matter) will rub off on the rest of the team, raising morale.

What about when working remotely?

But if you’re working in a remote-first company, there’s isn’t much face-time to get positive emotions to transfer between team members.

In one sense, not having that emotional transfer is a good thing, as it means that if you’re having a down day, that doesn’t rub off on the rest of the team. But are there ways when working remotely to still take advantage of all the good that contagious positivity can offer?

Emotions over social media are contagious

It turns out, from a study Facebook did in 2014, that emotions are contagious even without direct interaction. From livescience.com:

When Facebook removed positive posts from the news feeds of more than 680,000 users, those users made fewer positive posts and more negative ones. Similarly, when negative posts were removed, the opposite occurred.

The findings provide experimental evidence that emotions can be contagious, even without direct interaction or nonverbal cues, the researchers say

A study done on 3,800 twitter users also shows that “emotions spread virally through Twitter feeds — with positive emotions far more likely to spread than negative ones.” Also without any direct interaction between the tweeters.

This means that despite initial theories of emotional transfer being based on direct contact, there is emotional transfer through written communication as well.


But just leaving it to chance isn’t enough

Unfortunately, writing is often misinterpreted, and when it is, it’s usually not in the positive direction. This linked article cites Kristin Byron who argues that “receivers often misinterpret work emails as more emotionally negative or neutral than intended.”

This means that just leaving our communication up to chance doesn’t cut it when working remotely.

If we want to have positivity spill over between coworkers in a remote environment, we have to be consciously thinking about how we’re speaking and make sure that our good feelings come through.

Some strategies for positive communication

A great blog post on SEOPressor by Joanne Chong (@_joannechong) talks about some strategies that social media professionals can use to effectively express emotion to their audience. Many of these strategies can also be used when communicating with colleagues to improve team morale.

Be human

Make sure that your colleagues know that you’re being authentic and that when you’re excited and positive, it’s genuine.

People can see through fake emotions, even over chat. If you’re feeling down, find some ways to perk yourself up, but don’t be happy 100% of the time when it’s just not true.

Use Emojis

Emojis are pretty corny, but it’s no coincidence that Slack made them such a fundamental part of their platform.

A picture paints a thousand words, and emojis allow you to convey emotional cues with a single character.

Share your sense of accomplishment

Finished working on a cool new feature? Came up with an awesome new approach to a business challenge you were having? Share that feeling with your team!

If you were working in an office, people would see you walking around after you accomplished something cool, and your positivity would rub off. Don’t be shy about sharing those same accomplishments in a remote environment. (Disclaimer: Make sure you’re not doing it just to brag and put other people down, of course.)

Use gifs, jokes, and other means to make people smile

Sending funny gifs to your teammates might seem like a waste of time (and doing it all day long probably is). But finding ways throughout the day to put a smile on everyone’s face naturally makes everyone happier.

Because if you smile, you’ll magically start feeling happier.


For a fantastic post on how to run a remote company, I highly recommend this post by Gary Levitt at YalaBot.

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