Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the future of work was undergoing a digital transformation, in which technology was impacting the workforce across all industries.
Now, as millions of working professionals have successfully transitioned to working from home, there are a new set of challenges. Navigating this new virtual landscape will require not only a shift in perspective, but also a new set of soft skills, such as the ability to be an inclusive leader, collaborate with a team, and generate new ideas and solutions.
These intangible and universal skills will be essential to make this remote environment an ideal workspace for efficiency, even when it often seems like the opposite. Here are six soft skills you need to make it happen.
The office is now your home, and your home is now your office. Your time feels more fluid than ever before. Your email, which was already in constant use, is now overflowing with reminders, questions, demands, and courtesy calls. The systems that worked for you in an office setting will not suffice in a fully virtual environment.
You'll need to set up new folders for your emails, flagging ones that need a follow-up, and don’t let them accumulate. Keep a chart of tasks that you need to complete along with their deadlines, and make a note when you have completed each one. For some, that may take the form of a list; for others, a calendar. Also, take detailed notes from meetings or assignments, and organize these notes afterwards. Ask questions when something is unclear, and record the clarification for future reference.
While there’s little you can do to stop your office from being moved to your house and your email from being overflowed, you can take steps to make your time feel less fluid. When multiple assignments pile up at the same time, make a list of everything you need to do and divide your time accordingly. Before the start of each day, make a schedule, and do your best to stick to that schedule, but also be ready for any unexpected changes and prepare to be flexible. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, set aside time to be “at work” and time to be “at home,” and try not to let the two mingle.
Nowadays, virtual communication is a must. Unfortunately, this form of communication is more likely to come with awkwardness if not handled properly. Just as one has to learn good in-person communication skills to succeed in the professional workplace, we must now also learn excellent virtual communication skills to thrive in the remote workplace.
Here are a few tips: Before your virtual meeting begins, set a specific timeline for the meeting, with a scheduled start time and end time, and stick to it. Also, have a list of light-hearted (or not) conversation starters—beyond the classic and often overused “How is your day going?”— for you and your team to discuss, in case there is ever a delay or lag in the meeting. Think ahead about how you want to transition from each point to the next instead of “winging it.” Finally, close your meeting (right on time) with a quick summation of your team’s next steps and a “thank you,” and then leave the meeting, avoiding any awkward lingering last moments.
Conflict management is essential in any place of business, but it is of the upmost importance in a remote setting, as social distance is one more factor that exacerbates miscommunication. With that in mind, as soon as you know of a conflict, before making assumptions, contact all parties concerned and have an open dialogue about the conflict voice-to-voice and face-to-face, not via text or email. Seeing a person’s face and hearing the tone of their voice adds immensely to your understanding of their words. Then, with the complete picture in view, move forward with appropriate steps.
This time has shown all of us the value of adaptability, as we have all had to adjust to a completely new work setting—with new methods, objectives, and challenges—in a very short amount of time. To continue to thrive in this time, keep up that attitude of adaptability. Expect the unexpected. Always be prepared for change. Think of creative solutions to problems that haven’t even occurred yet.
Every morning, remind yourself of the right perspective: this situation is also challenging for your coworkers or employees, and everyone will have to work together to get through this. With every setback, think before you act. Take a moment to breathe and reflect on the bigger picture as you process immediate difficulties.
Have patience with coworkers who are experiencing technical difficulties on their computer and with coworkers who are delayed because they do not have a dedicated workspace in their home with four children, and with any other complications that have arisen out of COVID-19. As long as we all continue to treat each other with respect, we will rise out of this challenging time.