10 essential soft skills for the remote work era

10 essential soft skills for the remote work era

How can you best support your colleagues and teams during this ongoing period of remote work? Prioritize and cultivate these soft skills, leaders

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6. Intentional attention

"Make sure that people realize you are noticing what they are achieving."

There are no casual meetings in the remote environment. Indeed, nearly nothing happens by accident. “Even in virtual meetings, everyone is focused on getting things done quickly, moving to action, and getting off the phone,” Bates says. “You are missing the casual opportunities that used to exist to connect in this way.”

One thing that pays dividends, particularly in the work-from-home world, is making it a point to recognize and praise successes and contributions. “The remote workplace is isolating, and it’s easy for your team to feel like they are working in a vacuum,” says Bates. “More than ever, it is important to take the time in your meetings and one-on-ones to acknowledge hard work, project successes, wins big or small.” Be specific and as public as possible. “Make sure that people realize you are noticing what they are achieving and that you value their contribution personally,” Bates says.

7. Motivational speaking

"Telling stories is a great way to create mutual understanding and mobilize people."

Consider scheduling time into your meeting agenda to inspire the team. “Telling stories is a great way to create mutual understanding and mobilize people,” Bates says. ”Presenting them with a challenge and then sharing a story about overcoming it helps you to get out of telling mode and create meaning behind what you say.” 

Instead of kicking off a meeting by saying, “I believe in this team,” an IT leader might go further. “What if instead, you said, ‘I believe in this team because a year ago we faced a similar challenge when we got behind in delivering on customer orders. We rose to the occasion then, and we did it because all of you dug deep and were resourceful. You got together and removed some of the red tape, and we ended up exceeding on our goals. And this is what is going to help us move forward during this challenging time,’” says Bates. “It’s the same underlying message but you have added the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ and made it tangible.”

8. Tone setting

How you speak can be as important as what you say, especially in the virtual world in which other cues are harder to interpret. “Learning to keep your energy high and uplifting is essential, especially when leading a meeting,” says Christopherson. “But knowing when to slow your comments to deliver a more serious message is critical.”

Taking the time to understand how your tone impacts mood and developing this softer skill is particularly important now. “It’s critical that you adapt, and learning these skills will make you indispensable,” Christopherson says. “Don’t expect them to always come naturally.”

9. Curiosity

Consider more specific and probing alternatives to "How are you doing?," such as "Where do you think your team is struggling the most?"

Ask questions to open up the avenue for real sharing. If you ask someone how they are, chances are they’ll say they’re fine or ok – maybe even great. But a more specific and probing question primes the pump for more in-depth dialogue. Consider: “How is it working out having the kids at home during the day?” or “Where do you think your team is struggling the most?” or “What’s your sense of the organization right now?”

And then really listen to the answers. “Also be prepared to share your perspective on the question so you contribute as well,” Bates says. “This doesn’t mean you have to reveal private information. Just be real, be straightforward, and tell it like it is.”

10. Optimism

Everyone has a choice when faced with difficulties. We can look at them as insurmountable challenges or as solutions waiting to happen. Optimism is a critical facet of emotional intelligence ­– and invaluable during this extended remote working period. As Martyn Newman, clinical psychologist and founder of leadership consultancy RocheMartin, explained in our recent article on the topic, optimism is a strategy for “sensing new opportunities, seeing over the horizon, and developing deep emotional courage and resilience in the face of setbacks.”

This mindset may take more effort, but it could be less burdensome than the alternative. “Do we want to go through life in a cautious, negative state, always looking out for something bad that’s going to happen and perhaps even bringing it on?” Roush asks. “Or do we rewire ourselves so that we see it all as part of the ride? What we can control is how we respond. We can choose the mindset and the mood that we wake up with every morning.”

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

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