The importance of soft skills in the workplace is increasing, particularly as more businesses start to adopt remote working as a permanent option.
It can’t have escaped your notice that the business landscape has undergone some dramatic shifts in the past year or so. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to move away from in-person practices, instead adopting remote operations. Toward the end of 2020, around 24% of UK employees were working exclusively from home. With more businesses considering making the shift a more permanent feature, there is an imperative to swiftly and effectively adjust.
While the technical specifics of most roles stay the same whether in the office or at home, there is certainly a different set of soft skills that employees need to thrive in a home working environment. As such, human resources (HR) and recruitment specialists are increasingly having to rethink how they identify and interview candidates who are mentally, emotionally and practice best suited to the challenges of remote operations.
We’re going to take a closer look at what soft skills are most important and useful for remote workers, and why they need to be a priority at this time.
Perhaps the most important soft skills for remote employees are those that surround communication. The work from home environment sees employees as more isolated than those who would be working from an office. There isn’t always the same sense of automatic discussion that you get in physical groups or with supervisors who are in the same room when support is needed.
Therefore, when finding potential remote candidates, it can be useful to focus on the following:
1. Honest Assessment
One of the key challenges that arise from remote operations is it is not always visibly obvious that an employee may be having problems. It’s important to seek out candidates that are forthcoming about any issues, and when they need help. When you’re reviewing resumes or taking interviews, potential employees’ ability to effectively define their personal strengths and weaknesses can be a good indicator of this. It suggests that they have a sense of self-awareness and that they are willing to address challenging questions about their abilities openly.
2. Agile Approaches
Not every candidate is going to be entirely comfortable with all methods of communication. However, remote work often requires a more flexible approach than in the office. Workers may have to jump onto video calls or deal with the difficulties of Zoom meetings, and probably utilise project management applications to provide updates on their projects. Therefore it’s important to identify candidates that have an agile approach to their communications skills.
As communication with remote workers moves to Zoom/Teams calls, using video profiling as part of the selection process is a good idea, and this can provide insights into applicants’ communication skills, confidence, and personality. This is also a good case for adopting behavioural assessment tools to get a better understanding of what motivates and engages an individual. Also, gamification tasks that relate to the type of work they will be doing are a great way to see how people perform.
Workers who continue to be productive while at home are vital to your success. However, it’s just as important to understand that the human attributes of every member of the team have the potential to enhance or derail projects. With a workforce that is distributed physically apart from one another, candidates who possess empathetic soft skills can be among the most valuable.
Some aspects to consider in candidates include:
It is not uncommon for people to have issues with a remote environment if they’re used to working in an office. A recent study found that even before the pandemic, loneliness was a problem for 19% of remote workers polled. These elements can naturally affect work, and the last thing you want is a team that responds badly when one of their numbers is struggling. Look out for candidates who have a strong sense of compassion. Embrace those who recognise that it is every member of a team’s responsibility to get one another through the difficult days.
2. Active Listening
Empathetic employees can gain a deeper understanding of not just the colleagues they’re working with, but also the needs of customers. In remote scenarios, your workers don’t have the luxury of having in-person interactions with other people, creating bonds, or responding to body language.
Hiring workers with excellent active listening skills is a good starting point, with the ability to be attentive without interrupting and understand that this process doesn’t necessarily mean that their customer needs them to find a solution. Sometimes a customer will just need a worker to hear them out, particularly at this time of increased stress or when they’re facing a difficult situation. They should also know where to set boundaries in this, too, and how to use their empathy to help both parties move forward.
While your business is technically hiring remote workers as full-time employees, being a self-starter is still important. They’ll be on their own a lot of the time, making decisions independently and problem-solving without immediate support. As such, we recommend you focus your hiring on candidates that are resourceful in their thoughts and actions.
When you’re reviewing the hiring possibilities, a sign of resourcefulness is whether candidates have experience in independent projects. Those which they undertake as part of their previous work history are good, but it can be a better indicator of self-drive if they have pursued opportunities under their own steam.
This may be in the form of a business they previously started, a set of self-taught skills they’ve gained, or creative productions that they have engaged in. Whether or not these were financially successful is largely immaterial. Rather, during interviews, you can talk to them about their motivations for starting these projects, what challenges they faced, and how they attempted to address them.
That said, it’s worth remembering that most soft skills — including resourcefulness — can be taught. Your performance review templates should ideally include a focus on where self-starting skills and providing coaching that can fill in the gaps when they aren’t present. Adding to your talent development program is an important part of your adjustment to remote operations, so you can build resourcefulness traits among your workforce. This could include a mentorship with business leaders to gain insights into entrepreneurial and executive mindsets.
Following COVID-19 many businesses have made the shift to remote operations. To succeed, it’s important to focus on employees who can provide specific soft skills that complement this way of working. Good communication, an empathetic disposition, and resourcefulness are essential — but be sure to be open to providing training and development in these areas where appropriate.