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3 must-have soft skills for the hybrid workplace

29th Jul 2021 | 10:40am

With more workers navigating the landscape of return to work, the hybrid format is proving to be more than a passing trend. This shift is because most of the long-term effects of the pandemic are largely unknown, incorporating remote working into the business model is prudent. It will allow employers to pivot quickly, should we go back into lockdown in the future.

Moreover, it’s in line with what employees want. Now that workers have had a taste of such a choice, flexibility comes up repeatedly, as one of the most important things for employees. And lastly, as people become more conscious of the social and environmental impact of what we do, companies have a responsibility to cut unnecessary travel.

However, we need to be realistic and admit that moving towards a new way of working means that employees need to develop a new skill set. Certain things are harder if we are not face-to-face. This could be anything from mending fractious working relationships, creative brainstorming and “reading the room,” a vital aspect of managing conflict and stopping it from escalating. This is not easy to do over video conference. But can still be accomplished if approached prudently. We must find a way to improve how we communicate virtually.

So, what are the core proficiencies that employees need to be developing in the hybrid workplace? In the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Jobs Report, the survey authors designate over a dozen key skills which they call the “top skills” employees need for future success in the workplace. Among these skills are a number of soft skills. These less outward-facing skills are important to success in the hybrid world.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is not necessarily something you are born with. It is a skill that can be developed with consistent effort. EQ is one of those skills that can serve you well if you are not face-to-face with someone.

When we speak virtually, we need to pay extra attention to our tone, explaining context, and develop awareness as to how we are coming across. There is a reason why texts and emails sometimes get misconstrued. It’s because context and how we present something is often just as important as what we say.

Developing our EQ is important to understand how our actions and behaviors might affect others. If we learn to understand our emotions better, we are at less risk of emotional hijacking (a physiological response where emotions override reason) and therefore, saying or acting in a counterproductive way. We are also able to better balance social awareness with relationship management. For example, we start to understand how empathy feeds into tough conversations (because we can put ourselves in the shoes of someone else), and we focus on clarity of communication and explanations.

To start building your EQ, pay attention to your self-awareness. Those who are self-aware understand their emotions and therefore, can better understand and manage other people’s emotional state.

Leadership and social influence

When you’re a successful leader, you transcend official job titles. The journey of becoming a great leader is highly personal, during which you develop core strengths, manage weaknesses, and learn to influence others in a way that is unique to you. If you think about great leaders, or those who you find inspiring, part of the reason you admire them might be because they genuinely seem to want to create positive change.

You can’t learn leadership from a textbook or by gaining a certain title or number of years of experience. Leadership and the ability to influence others are a result of understanding people. If we take the time to develop this, it is much easier to influence other people, because you will be able to speak to their purposes and motivations.

It is time for employers to build a culture of leadership at all levels of the organization—from junior employees to CEOs. As a leader, you cannot do everything yourself in a fast-changing business world. You need a team that takes ownership, that coaches and helps each other to cross the finish line together, that maintains each other’s energy. If you have this kind of culture, where people are also rewarded for these behaviors, then everyone can have the ability to influence change for good, and they will want to do so.

Taking initiative from the inside

In the future of work, as the pace of new technology becomes increasingly rapid, companies risk becoming irrelevant much more quickly than they have in the past. We have to realize that the old ways of working and focusing on maintaining the status quo might not cut it anymore. Companies need teams of people that can think creatively and take the initiative to innovate within their role.

“Intrapreneurship” within companies will become a skill that is in demand. Intrapreneurship is the system wherein the principles of entrepreneurship are practiced within the boundaries of a firm. An intrapreneur is a person who takes on the responsibility to innovate new ideas, products and processes or any new invention within the organization.

This skill can be practiced within any function, because it focuses on constantly questioning, testing processes, and asking how we can do things better and thinking of new ways that we can serve customer needs. For employees to be comfortable with this, their employers need to create the environment, where any person within an organization feels that they can, if not explicitly required to, contribute to the feedback and idea generation, without negative consequences.

If we make a concerted effort to develop those skills, then it can become a positive feedback loop. We become better at problem solving and better at proactively learning. We are more able to deter our emotional impulses, which stand in the way of listening to others and solving problems. Moreover, we become better able to work constructively as a team; and a high-performing team will always outperform one star performer.

Sara Sabin is a coach to executive and entrepreneur leaders. She is a business owner and has been the founder of many startups over the years.