For a long time, remote work was an occasional perk offered to few employees. Then the pandemic hit and many businesses became remote overnight. This led to one of the steepest learning curves that the global workforce has ever gone through.
Everyone from office workers to retail reps, human resources to accounting, employers to employees suddenly found themselves abruptly out of their comfort zones, trying to adapt to a new, virtual workplace.
The focus of this shift naturally gravitated toward hard skills. Everyone had to ensure that they had the hardware, the software, and the training to connect to virtual networks and operate in online workspaces. However, little attention was given to another critical (though easily overlooked) component of remote work: soft skills.
If you’ve been swept up into the great remote work experiment, there is a good chance that your situation won’t be changing any time soon.
With that in mind, here are a few of the most important soft skills that remote leaders and remote workers alike should have on their radars moving forward.
The ability to show a healthy level of the initiative has always been a boon to an ambitious professional. However, it is a necessity for a remote worker. Remote work is a naturally decentralized business structure that can make requests, questions, and transfers of information challenges.
While some of these concerns can be addressed through good communication (more on that further down), you must always be ready to show initiative whenever you are on your own — which is often.
In his article for Remote Work Hub, Cameron Woodsum points out that, “Team members who are unmotivated can result in managers having to spend a significant amount of time prodding them to complete tasks, and most managers agree this is not something they enjoy doing… particularly at a distance.”
To avoid being micromanaged, you’ll need to hone the ability to self-motivate, problem-solve, and act independently. Doing so is a cornerstone of success.
Remote work is still in its infancy. As such, it is in a perpetual state of improvement and adjustment. This can make it difficult to operate predictably.
For instance, meetings must be conducted utilizing the latest video conferencing software (which must be updated on every device and which every employee must be trained to use).
Another area that requires a willingness to perpetually adapt is virtual hiring, onboarding, and training. All three of these activities must be approached systematically. Organizational needs must be assessed, cloud-based resources and infrastructure must be set up, and new technology must be integrated as it becomes available.
Regardless of the department or activity, the ability to adapt and work with each situation is essential to remote success.
Communication is already a crucial skill for both personal and professional life. However, it is all the more important in a work scenario where you are physically removed from your coworkers at all times.
When you work in this kind of environment, the ability to communicate clearly and consistently is vital. This impacts how well you can collaborate with coworkers. It can also help you negotiate the various needs that come with remote work, such as remote-friendly benefits and equipment.
Video calls/meetings aside, it can be hard to communicate clearly when you don’t have facial expressions and body language to play off of. A typed message can be taken in many different ways when it is not straightforward and unambiguous.
Jill Pioter, director of communication at Psychological Associates, explains, “You want people to feel respected and heard and your tone of voice could be hard to read in an email, so make sure you’re balancing a certain amount of warmth with clear, candid messaging,”
Fortunately, we are finally entering an era of workplace communications where emojis and gifs (when explicitly allowed) aren’t seen as unprofessional. The use of these unconventional tools can help to convey emotion where it might have been missed before.
It is easy to sink into the background when you work remotely. Unless you are a boss or a project leader, you can slowly slip into anonymity as you sit in on Zoom meetings with your mic muted and send generic emails with basic information.
If you want to thrive as a remote worker, you need to find ways to infuse your work with a sense of yourself.
From personalized signatures to displaying good manners, reflecting personal interests in your conversation, using certain words and phrases, and even using a unique background for video chats, find ways to stand out as more than just another remote worker.
Perhaps the most important aspect of showing off your personality and standing out from less engaged coworkers is focusing on team building.
Andrea Bishop, a Senior Project Coordinator at Parson’s TKO, explains. “If your team is used to social time at the office, grab some time on the calendars for team building/social share remote meetings. Just because you are working from home does not mean the team relationships you have built need to change.”
If you are going to work remotely, you absolutely must be responsible. This goes hand in hand with the need to take initiative.
If you let responsibilities slide, it can cause a mess. In many cases in a remote setting, a task left unaccomplished won’t even be noticed until it has significantly impacted another remote worker or team.
It can be hard to tune out distractions, manage your time, and stay motivated, but it absolutely must be done. Even if it is completely unfair or unfounded, you will have to work harder as a remote worker to overcome the illusion that operating from home means you’re not working as hard as you would be in the office.
In her article for Forbes, Kerry Hannon reveals that “The biggest stumbling block for remote workers has been the underlying issue of trust.
Your manager has to know that you will produce and perform, make that boss look good and the employer successful. Meet your deadlines and exceed expectations. Moreover, accept or volunteer for stretch assignments or to add skills.”
If you want to increase your responsibility, work on things like your discipline and time management. These can help increase your awareness of what is expected of you and when it must be done.
Finally, it can be difficult to keep your spirits up as you work remotely. This is understandable, as remote work can be draining and intensely isolating.
This is why resilience is another soft skill that can be a lifesaver in a remote work setting. The ability to recognize that you are struggling and find ways to bolster your mind and body are essential to long-term success.
Resiliency can be cultivated in multiple ways. For instance, for groups, team-building exercises can help maintain a staff’s collective resiliency. On an individual level, personal habits, like taking a break to go for a walk or learning to properly unplug at the end of each workday, can have a huge impact on your mood and endurance.
Avoiding burnout is hugely important. In an article for Fast Company, Alain Hunkins pointed out the crucial need for buffers. “Now that our home is our office and our office is our home, buffers are more important than ever.
Some things to consider include scheduling your meetings shorter than normal half-hour intervals; try for 25 or 50 minutes instead.”
Developing Soft Skills for a Remote Future
Pandemic or not, remote work is clearly here to stay. If you want to succeed in the growing remote workforce, you must take the time to invest in your remote-friendly soft skills.
So examine yourself, utilize performance reviews from employers, and ask for feedback from coworkers to discover where your soft skills are lacking. Then come up with a plan to hone them so that you can not just survive but thrive in the virtual work environments that you find yourself in as the future unfolds.
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Ainsley Lawrence is a writer who loves to talk about good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. She is frequently lost in a good book.