In 2016, the World Economic Forum predicted that 35 percent of the skills deemed essential would have changed within five years. This was before a pandemic further exacerbated the need for automation, data, and remote work. The notion of cultivating soft skills is no longer a lofty idea for companies to graze over. Soft skills are critical for ensuring employees and companies stay relevant and afloat, especially during uncertain times.
While hard skills such as computer programming or machine operation are specific to one job, soft skills such as time management and teamwork are more transferable among jobs and industries. Whether you are contemplating a career shift or your company wants to focus on staff training, soft skill development should be a priority. Here are four reasons why.
Change is inevitable
(soft skills needed: adaptability, stress management, resiliency)
The pandemic ushered in a flood of unplanned pivots for employers and employees, but a myriad of unexpected transitions occur all the time in a workplace. A 2017 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that 55 percent of people who experienced organizational change at work reported feeling chronic stress, and more recently in the 2020 APA stress survey, 78 percent of respondents shared that the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life. Being able to adapt and manage difficult situations will help keep your cortisol levels down and build resilience for future changes to come. One way to do this is to focus on what’s called your locus of control. Defined by clinical psychologist Julian Rotter, the locus of control looks at whether you believe your circumstances are due to the influence of an external force or whether you believe you have an internal responsibility for what happens in your life. Shifting from external to internal locus of control leads to positive psychological well-being and work performance. This, in turn, results in higher levels of resilience.
As a company, resilience and adaptability can be achieved by:
Normalising wellbeing and mental health
Celebrating strengths and achievements, especially during stressful transitions
Providing opportunities for mentorship and peer-to-peer support
Communicating openly, honestly and frequently
Encouraging active listening, regular feedback and transparency
Home is no longer removed from our work day
(soft skills needed: empathy and teamwork)
The boundary between home and work is no longer the rigid line it used to be. Virtual meetings are held wherever a laptop can be perched, kids are walking into Zoom calls, and pets are yapping in the background. Rather than feeling frustrated by these interruptions, use them as an opportunity to connect and empathise. Most likely, others will be able to relate to your experience. “If you share your kid’s latest funny antics or your own latest area for improvement, you’ll also help your team see you as a real person,” shares Adam Tiouririne from Opus Vox. If you have team members across the country or world, try to keep in mind what is happening in their region and check to see if and how they’re affected.
No one is watching over your shoulder
(soft skills needed: initiative, motivation, time management)
Most of us are relieved not to be in an office within earshot and eyeshot of colleagues and managers. That said, it puts the weight of responsibility on ourselves to keep motivated and manage our time during the day. Staying productive can be difficult with all the distractions working from home can create. At LeadMe, we emphasise the importance of finding your daily rhythm and identifying the times that you get your best work done. For some, that may be first thing in the morning and for others it may be from 2-4pm. Whenever it is for you, schedule your most creative, high-level projects in those time blocks.
Our days are driven by circadian and ultradian cycles. Research by Nathaniel Kleitman proposed we have a basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC) of 90-minutes. At the beginning of your 90-minute cycle, you’ll feel energised and focused, but by the end, you might feel tired or mentally overwhelmed. “Our bodies send us clear signals when we need a break, including fidgetiness, hunger, drowsiness and loss of focus. But mostly, we override them. Instead, we find artificial ways to pump up our energy: caffeine, foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, and our body’s own stress hormones — adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol,” Tony Schwartz, journalist and author, shares in an article, For Real Productivity, Less is Truly More. Instead of working straight through the cycles of your day, try setting a timer for 90 minutes. When your alarm beeps, take an uninterrupted 20-minute break away from screens and notifications before coming back to your work.
Virtual communication is still very nuanced
(soft skills needed: communication, emotional intelligence)
While many communication cues don’t translate the same way from in-person to virtual, how we interact with others is still based on our emotional intelligence. John Mayer and Peter Salovey, two U.S.-based researchers, first defined the term Emotional Intelligence and classified it into four capabilities that are applicable whether you are communicating online or face-to-face.
Are you able to name your emotions?
Are you able to manage your emotional response?
Can you pick up on others’ emotions?
Are you able to regulate your and others’ emotions?