The need for soft skills is extremely apparent in a nearly 100% remote world. That percentage of remote workers is already starting to change as some cities and towns start to transition toward a “new normal,” but you can expect remote work to stick around for the foreseeable future (heck, it was already increasingly common before the pandemic hit).
Just as remote work was popular before March, we were also seeing a big push toward hiring for soft skills during our conversations with recruiters and clients. While technical capabilities, education, and experience will always be important, the tide has turned toward soft skills as increasingly important when making a hire.
For teams and individuals who were new to remote work, there was a seismic shift in the ability to communicate. Everyone had to figure out their comfort zones -- when to talk, which tools, how to prepare and work uninterrupted -- while also learning as their colleagues determined their own comfort zones.
All while dealing with the stress and circumstances surrounding quarantine AND doing their jobs. Whew! It’s exhausting to think about!
Our ability to relate to one another while dealing with a stressful situation centered on our ability to stay calm, show empathy toward our coworkers, and to effectively communicate expectations, questions, frustrations, and more.
A deficiency in any of those (or any range of additional) soft skills would quickly emerge as an issue as employees became frustrated or work didn’t get done.
Technical/professional skills and experience are, of course, important, but the last few months have definitely been a time for soft skills to shine.
With more online courses and the ability to self-teach, soft skills can be increasingly rare.
In many roles, there are a plethora of resources available to learn (and even master) what you need to know for the job, But soft skills aren’t so easy to teach. You can find 100 courses online to teach you a programming language. And those classes are easy to take and practice. After taking the course and completing the assignments, boom, you’re able to program using that language.
There aren’t as many courses available in “delivering clear feedback using an online chat tool.” And if there actually are any courses out there (please send me links if there are -- I’m curious!), you can’t practice what you’re learning in a controlled environment. You’re trying to learn and implement in the real world!
Aside from that element, there are simply too many fluctuations and variables that impact day-to-day conversations (whether online or in-person) that require soft skills. They are too difficult to teach effectively, and learning takes time, patience, and feedback from a boss (or bosses) who are willing to coach and guide -- plus employees who recognize their need to learn.
It’s a lot. And it takes a lot of time and effort.
Employers are increasingly recognizing this, and are seeking out talent that has a variety of soft skills that will immediately impact their ability to contribute as part of the team.
We are more than our skills and professional backgrounds, and employers are increasingly recognizing that attracting, hiring, and retaining talent means embracing and supporting the “whole” employee. As we’ve all had to deal with the stress, worry, and uncertainty that has accompanied this pandemic, our ability to understand and empathize with candidates, colleagues, bosses, clients, vendors, and everyone we meet has never been more important.
The need for empathy and understanding will only continue as we try and resume work in an office under a “new normal” that hasn’t been defined yet. There is still so much uncertainty. Employers, bosses, and colleagues will need to view each other as 360, full human beings, and not just the skills and deliverables they bring to or create at work.
Understanding the soft skills your team brings to the table helps you understand and support the individuals on your team where it’s most important.
I’ve already touched upon a few of the most important soft skills for employers (and employees) right now, but here’s a list of those that are especially critical right now:
As noted above, our ability to understand the challenges our colleagues are facing, and to feel compassion for those who have struggles inside and outside the office, will be critical moving forward.
To decode whether candidates possess a capacity for empathy, ask for some examples of a time when a coworker or colleague was struggling. How did they respond? What did they do to help that colleague? You can also ask specific questions about challenges colleagues or even friends have faced during the pandemic.
The pandemic has opened up tremendous opportunities for every person in your organization to step up and be a leader. The individuals who step up to help out a colleague, offer suggestions, and become part of the solution are those you want helping your team to grow and move forward, whether they’re in leadership roles or not.
Behavioral questions can also help determine leadership potential during interviews. Asking about opportunities to improve processes or deliverables at a past employer can open up the field for input and examples from candidates. Be prepared to ask follow-up questions to get into the nitty-gritty of the candidate’s leadership capabilities.
It bears repeating, but the ability to clearly and concisely communicate with bosses, colleagues, clients -- everyone! -- has never been more important. In today’s landscape, it’s harder than ever to “cover for” an employee whose communication skills aren’t up to par (but who may have very strong technical skills, for example).
Communication and teamwork can go alongside one another. In fact, all of these soft skills work hand in hand. You can see where the ability to communicate is essential for successful teamwork. Or how the capacity to empathize with colleagues is essential to work together on a project or initiative. How a leader is needed to step up and delegate or otherwise guide teams...it’s pretty powerful when you look at these in a list, isn’t it?
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