We are currently in the fourth wave of the digital revolution and all industries are changing as a result of that. The rise of the internet of things, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, to name just a few developments, give a new face to businesses all over the globe.
The health crisis generated an irreversible and speedy roll of digitization in the workplace, with employees moving their offices into their own homes. Virtual interaction and collaboration have become the norm and odds are that it will remain like this.
At the same time, our soft skills, such as empathy and interpersonal communication, are in need of sprucing up.
Top 3 soft skills to support when training a remote workforce
While technology does wonders for efficiency and better productivity, it also takes a toll on our mental state by being rather stressful. In order for teams to continue to function well as units, organizations must turn their attention to supporting three crucial soft skills: empathy, constant feedback, and adaptability.
Being empathetic is more important than ever in today’s corporate environment. And not only on the part of leaders, though indeed they need to set the tone. While CEOs overwhelmingly link their company’s financial performance to empathy in the workplace, 92% of employees believe that this soft skill remains undervalued.
Change is always a big factor for stress and when it happens as a result of a worldwide crisis, negative feelings can only increase. People process things differently and it is very important to be given the room and liberty to do so. Empathy allows employees to handle all interactions in this new normal with thoughtfulness and understanding. Frustration is inherent to the current situation even if individuals feel it at different levels.
In order to get a grip on things (and personal feelings), each individual should be encouraged to take some time and think about their own feelings and behavior. Practicing self-awareness will help understand both personal reactions and thoughts as well as other people’s actions.
In an environment where robotics and AI can greatly improve efficiency and results but have no capacity for thoughtful communication, the human component has to supply a much-needed surge in empathy.
Feedback needs to be constant and delivered by everyone.
For a very long time, feedback was equated with “manager evaluation”. That did not exactly give the concept a positive shine as most employees dreaded rather than looked forward to it. And not only underperformers. Assessments were not overly comfortable for top workers either.
Over time, however, the meaning of feedback and the methods of delivery have changed, and it has become a key component of smooth team collaboration. That is due mainly to the fact that feedback is no longer limited to managers and team leaders but encouraged between team members.
In the wake of the gig economy where specialists are brought on board for specific projects, the old top-down chains of feedback have become obsolete. Managers have the task of promoting constant feedback and ensuring there is a safe enough environment for it.
Practicing the empathy I have previously talked about greatly helps. Yet the essential thing when it comes to workplace feedback is to establish very clear goals and get the team’s buy-in for them. Then it will be easy to issue critical feedback when the situation calls for it.
This skill is no longer just useful, it’s downright compulsory.
Constant change was part of the business environment even before everyone got sent home to work from there over novel (and often not really well-functioning) apps and platforms. And uncertainty was also present but the general uneasy feeling of a generalized health crisis unprecedented.
As it is, the first step in how we perceive a change cycle is experiencing loss. While the shift towards remote work surely had its advantages for many employees, there were also many things (the daily physical interaction with colleagues for example) that left people feeling rather bereft.
Adaptability is not about ignoring or suppressing such reaction, quite the contrary. It’s important to acknowledge all transformations exactly for what they are, accept the negative sides while seeking to focus on the benefits. Knowing that the discomfort is temporary and taking steps towards the new normal will eventually render teams more adaptable and resilient.
The key is to find the right ways to move quickly from the early, negative stages of change to the constructive side of it. Surely, it’s not easy and takes consistency and practice but it’s the only way to move forward when faced with ongoing transformation.
Since this year has taken all organizations by surprise, it’s normal that their initial focus was on the non-human side of the transition – automation, AI, the right online communication tools, and constructing functional delivery processes. Now, most of those are well in place so it’s time to shift attention to these highly consequential soft skills and design training to help everyone master them.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.