During what has been a unique and challenging year, many employees who traditionally worked in populated office environments began working from home. According to an October Gallup poll
, nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so.
Remote work has its advantages, such as regained commute time and more flexibility in working hours. Conversely, it can present obstacles to staying focused and connected to team members. Interestingly, it is not education, work experience, nor seniority that determines whether someone can excel in a virtual workplace. Soft skills are a critical factor.
These qualities, often referred to as interpersonal skills, pertain to how employees interact with one another. Of the skills in this category, five stand out for their relevance as many Americans navigate the challenges of work-life balance: Flexibility; Motivation; Teamwork; Time Management; and Leadership. Evaluating these skills in prospective employees and helping existing team members improve upon them is becoming increasingly important.
Having flexibility means that remote workers sometimes deviate from a conventional weekday-workday schedule in order to meet the demands of their roles. More than ever, this involves time swapping of a company assignment with a personal commitment. For example, a conference with a child’s teacher may occur on a weekday afternoon; finalizing a report may occur during evening hours.
It also refers to adaptability. Employees who are adaptable adjust more easily to changing circumstances and new environments. Some employers are adopting a fully remote and some a partially remote work plan. Professionals who modify their work approach to meet the unique demands of each situation are valuable to their employers. A third example of flexibility is reprioritizing a task list to pursue new opportunities or to meet updated deadlines.
While motivation is needed in any job, a remote office location requires that professionals have the discipline and drive to begin and complete projects without physical interaction with a team. As part of a FastTrack360 study, 71% of executives say employee engagement is one of the most important factors in their company’s success. Organizations falling in the top quarter of engagement within Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report
experienced 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales, and 21% higher profitability than their bottom-quarter counterparts.
It can be helpful for employees to consider the purpose behind each project and how each task contributes to the big picture objectives of the organization. Sometimes current events can be a threat to motivation, so it is necessary to set realistic professional goals that account for this expected energy drain.
Most employees have internet and VPN (virtual private network) connection options to access company information from a remote location. This makes file sharing much easier when required. Working remotely does not have to be synonymous with working autonomously. By seeking out advice from coworkers, joining forces to problem solve, and dividing tasks within an assignment among multiple people, teams can ensure more contact.
During physical distancing, social interaction can be diminished. Video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype, afford team members the opportunity to hold virtual meetings on a regularly scheduled basis, interact on video calls instead of email exclusively, attend industry seminars and conferences, and even socialize during team lunches, coffee hours, or happy hours to help build camaraderie in an isolating time.
Properly managing time is not limited to the speed by which a task is completed. It means employees can identify and maintain a focus on the most important tasks, thereby operating efficiently and contributing to the bottom line of their organization. A rather bleak synopsis from Cornerstone Dynamics
is that 80% of the average workday is spent on activities with “little value” or “no value.” Author Brian Tracy suggests that devoting fewer than 15 minutes planning your day will save at least two hours of wasted time and effort throughout the day. Learning how to determine which tasks have the most return on investment is a key to productivity, as are minimizing distractions and accurately estimating how much time certain activities require.
Scheduling and taking regular breaks for physical and mental health is another essential—and sometimes overlooked—component of time management.
While this trait may not apply to professionals at all levels, it occupies a top spot on the list due to the expansive effect it can have. Good leaders possess the four above-listed soft skills and bring them out in their direct reports. In an unprecedented and unpredictable time, leaders need to provide stability and positivity to their teams. Those with emotional intelligence and patience often excel at balancing the needs of employees with the needs of the organization.
They are flexible enough to manage unique personalities, can inspire members of the team through praise and appreciation for their work, encourage and reward collaboration among team members, and address potential time management issues by appropriately delegating tasks.
If you would like more information about evaluating soft skills in candidates or current employees, please contact us
to reach a Helbling search consultant.