Soft skills refer to both character traits and interpersonal skills that will influence how well an individual can work or interact with others. In the world of work they can be described as non-technical skills and are sometimes referred to as transferable skills or professional skills. These skills make it easier for an employee to form relationships with colleagues, to create trust and offer dependability. Soft skills also enhance the ability to lead teams.
Most interactions with other people require some level of soft skills, yet the importance of nurturing these soft skills is often undervalued by employers. There is generally far less workplace training provided for soft skills than for hard skills, such as computer or project management skills. As such, organisations seem to expect people to know how to behave on the job and to naturally grasp the importance of soft skills such as taking initiative, communicating effectively and listening, which often is not the case. 1
Yet, when it comes to the hiring of top talent: as the world of work heads toward a new normal in the wake of the coronavirus – a world that incorporates the ever-increasing use of digital technology and a rise in employees working from home, no matter the level of employee’s seniority, their role or the industry they work in, soft skills have risen to the forefront in hiring and recruitment decisions.
In this new normal, it’s important to know which soft skills are critical for effective remote work and how managers can best identify and bring out those skills in their direct reports. 2
The ability to communicate tops the list
Communication skills (being the ability for leaders and employees to communicate via the spoken and written word) are arguably the most important soft skills in the workplace – in nearly every position, in every workplace, in every industry. Communication skills can be learned and improved upon with the right training, but it may take time for employees to learn and practice effective communication skills, particularly if team members come from diverse cultural backgrounds, are not communicating in their first language at work or if an individual has a naturally shy disposition.
“Communication skills can be learned and improved upon with the right training, but it may take time for employees to learn and practice effective communication skills…”
As the importance of strong communication is essential to the success of an organisation, here are five key aspects that are affected by communications skills:
- Team building: Building an effective team is actually all about how members of the team communicate and collaborate. By implementing effective strategies to boost communication leaders will go a long way toward building effective teams. In turn, this will boost morale and improve employee satisfaction.
- Empowering communication: Competent communication is not just the ability to speak to people but to empower members of a team to speak to each other. Facilitating strong communication channels is key.
- Employee satisfaction: Employee satisfaction hinges on them having a voice and being listened to, whether it be in regards to voicing an idea they have or about a complaint they need to make. Well established lines of communication should afford everyone, no matter their level, the ability to freely communicate with their peers, colleagues and superiors.
- Innovation: When employees are enabled to freely communicate ideas without fear of ridicule or retribution, they are more likely to bring their idea to the table. Innovation relies heavily on the communication of ideas and an organisation that encourages communication is far more likely to be an innovative one.
- Growth: Communication can be viewed both internally and externally. By building cohesive teams that have well-developed lines of communication, internally, an organisation better ensures that the message being delivered externally is consistent. Plus, any growth project relies on strong communication among all its stakeholders.
- Strong management: When managers are strong communicators, they are better able to manage their teams. The key responsibilities of any manager, which include delegation of tasks, conflict management, motivation and relationship building, are all much easier when that manager is a strong communicator.
Important attributes for remote workers
In a blog published in December 2020 by author Dan Hawthorne of US career and skills company, Pairin, the article reveals the findings of Pairin’s research to identify the eight most important personal attributes associated with working remotely. These are:
- Service Orientation: The ability to anticipate, identify and meet people’s often unspoken needs through assistance, products or services and the drive to generate customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Social Awareness: The ability to relate and respond to the feelings, needs and concerns of individuals or broader societal groups.
- Conflict Management: The ability to effectively negotiate and resolve disagreements.
- Building relationships: The drive to draw close to and remain loyal to another person or people—to truly connect and enjoyably engage with them.
- Assertiveness: The all-round ability to express oneself and interact with boldness, enthusiasm and confidence.
- Critical Thinking: The ability to gather and objectively assess key information as a guide to belief or action – or an intellectual process that uses analysis, conceptualisation, synthesis and evaluation.
- Stress Tolerance: The ability to endure pressure or uncertainty without becoming negative (for example, hopeless, bitter or hostile) toward self or others.
- Supportiveness: The ability and drive to assist, protect and provide for others in emotional or physical need
Nurturing soft skills starts at the top
When it comes to creating a work environment where soft skills are seen to be valued and the appropriate training provided, leaders should show they, too, are students at heart and encourage their employees to focus on ongoing soft skills development. In this way, nurturing soft skills becomes more of the innate fabric of company culture rather than the provision of a training programme. Even better than outside training would be the company encouraging its leaders to hold their own internal webinars or brown bag sessions on a soft skill topic close to their hearts to truly drive home the message and underline its importance. 3