IT careers: 5 essential soft skills to strengthen

Soft skills can help you and your team navigate these challenging days. Post-quarantine, their value to your IT career will only increase: Work on these five
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soft skills: relationship-building

In the world of IT careers, soft skills often take a back seat to technical skills. Developing soft skills can be challenging, as they are generally neither measurable nor objective, and easy to overlook in the day-to-day pressures of the function.

This is particularly true in today’s work environment, as we all adapt to working remotely while also juggling personal and family responsibilities. However, soft skills can not only help support your team throughout these challenging days, but also help prepare everyone for life post-quarantine.

5 soft skills key to your IT career

Here are five of the most important soft skills for IT professionals to develop:

1. Communications

Technology makes remote collaboration possible, and there are numerous tools available for video calls, messaging, file sharing, and more. This helps enable real-time interactions, but it can also be overwhelming.

[ For more advice on leading remote teams, read 8 remote work lessons: Stay agile and expect surprises. ]

When my organization first went into lockdown, we stepped up video calls but soon found that they were taking up too much time. I now check in with everyone on my team at the start of the day to offer support, while also giving them the time they need to do their job. And if anyone needs help throughout the day, I’m available via phone or instant message.

It is also important to understand how your team members work. I try to use all forms of communication as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. People are generally much more likely to communicate openly if they can communicate in their preferred way.

2. Empathy

Whether you are interacting with a customer, a team member, or a supplier, empathy leads to better, more trusting relationships. Instead of focusing solely on what someone is doing, think about why they are doing it. This allows you to see the situation from their perspective and influences how you deal with them.

Granted, this is more difficult in remote work situations as there are fewer physical signs to observe. You might not know how someone is feeling or coping unless you ask, so build extra time into calls and meetings to allow team members to ask questions and share any concerns they may be having.

Ultimately, try to impress on your team the importance of being kind to each other – you never know what unique circumstances or challenges others may be facing at any given time. (If Professor Robert Kelly can be interrupted by his two children on a BBC TV interview, it could happen to the best of us!)

3. Critical thinking and problem-solving

The ability to analyze a problem, identify a solution, and implement it is a critical skill for all IT professionals. The first step to developing this skill is to encourage an open dialogue with your team members. Nothing should be off the agenda – really listen to what everyone has to say.

Encourage everyone to explain problems in their own words and help them work through their own solutions. This builds confidence and encourages them to solve problems on their own. These days, building trust is more important than ever: We must trust our teams to deliver when they are working remotely.

Encourage team members to explain problems in their own words and help them work through their own solutions.

4. Adaptability

We are all adapting to disruption in both our personal and our work lives at an unprecedented rate. Under current circumstances, we can’t expect our teams to adhere to traditional work hours and patterns. This shift in expectations requires a mindset change that focuses on outcomes rather than desk time.

Keep in mind that some people may be juggling work with other commitments such as home-schooling or looking after young children. They might not be able to work standard hours, so it’s important to give them the flexibility to work when it best suits them. Accommodating your team’s needs enables them to better adapt to ongoing challenges and disruption and to be more productive when they are working.

I try to always lead by example. As a working mum of two children under 5, I find that late afternoons and evenings are my most challenging times. I block these times in my calendar to avoid meetings and conflicts, letting my team know that if I am needed, the phone is the only route. I hope this shows them that working flexibly is both possible and accepted.

5. Social/interpersonal skills

Many people who work remotely find it lonely, saying that they miss the banter and informal chats. You can help by scheduling virtual social events. This also boosts team spirit and helps team members develop core social and communication skills.

Make it a team objective to maintain contests and games, informal team hangouts over coffee, or Friday afternoon happy hours – these provide a great way for the team to stay connected and keep communicating. Keep these events light on agenda; I generally provide a quick update on the week and then let the conversation flow to maintain those all-important water-cooler conversations.

Soft skills matter moving forward

Soft skills should be deemed essential skills: They are increasingly a key requirement when recruiting C-suite executives and across the whole IT sector. LinkedIn’s annual Global Talent Trends 2019 report ranked soft skills and flexible working as the top two trends in acquiring and retaining talent.

This is not a short-term trend. As remote work increasingly becomes the norm in an ever-changing world, IT professionals with well-honed essential skills will be in great demand.

[ Want to build your leadership EQ? See 10 emotional intelligence must-reads for leaders. ]

Hannah’s career has seen her work on ground-breaking public sector projects in the UK, US, and Australia. She has crossed sectors from Defense to Healthcare with clients including public sector services supplier SSCL, the BBC and the National Health Service.