Updated: Apr 2, 2021
During my career, I have worked with teams of different cultures, locations, time zones, etc., and everything from the comfort of my cubicle, I can say I had colleagues working in the same office but my teams, supervisor, and direct reports where all in a different country. This scenario was not any different than the one we're living in right now, except that I'm at home instead of a building office.
But I know that for many this is something brand new, in my last job they didn't even allow working from home at all and I know for sure this is not an easy transition, especially for leaders that are used to have their entire teams in the same location.
Now more than ever we know that keeping your skills up-to-date is an essential part of your career development, and soft skills are not the exception, leaders have to keep up with the new challenges and make sure your teams are engaged, motivated, and can address any issue that your team has.
Soft skills or interpersonal skills are behavioral competencies that include proficiencies such as communication skills, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, negotiation influence, team building, and group facilitation.
One of the more important and most difficult aspects of a leadership position is managing people; during your professional life you will work with top performance teams, self-managed, proactive, and very knowledgeable but this will not always be the case, you will have to deal with cross-functional teams, team members that don’t report directly to you, underperforming team members, etc., this creates a big challenge for a leader and this is why it is very important to develop your soft skills
Remote work involves a team member working from an alternative worksite which can be their home or in some other place that is not the company's place of business either permanently or reporting to the office regularly.
With the latest restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has been forced into our life and it is here to stay. Some studies suggest that about 20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week and some companies are already planning to shift to flexible workspaces after positive experiences with remote work during the pandemic. You could further read more in this article: The future of work after COVID-19 | McKinsey
Upskill your Soft Skills
Now to answer the initial question, are soft skills changing due to a remote work environment? the answer is YES, and I'm going to talk about the 5 more crucial according to my experience.
Leadership: It is the ability to inspire other people to achieve their goals by aligning their own goals, the project, and the company’s goals. A leader could face challenges such as lack of real-time collaboration, communication gaps, difficulty to maintain your team motivated, technology challenges, etc.
Some recommendations to help you as a leader to overcome these challenges are:
Be present, have regular one on ones with your team members, make yourself available, always assume positive intent.
Address the challenges upfront, be transparent with your team, listen to what everyone thinks, and engage in solutions.
Create a sense of community, keep virtual meetings, ensure everyone keeps cameras on, consider a team meeting at least once a week.
Communications: This is not much different than working on site. As a leader you need to create effective communication, you have to know what, who, how, and when to communicate, when working remotely the importance is the same "Very Important", you need to ensure the message has been understood, sometimes just sending an email will not be enough, use your communication tools wisely like email, email approvals, chats, phone calls, virtual meetings, electronics signatures, etc.
Ethics and Integrity – This might sound like a no brainer but this is one of the most important aspects in a leader and everyone's life, a leader has to be clear and honest about our intentions, be transparent, accountable, remember that as leader integrity is something your team is expecting, leaders represent the company they are working for Good work ethics can be applied whether or not a team member works remotely. cultivating good habits like minimizing distractions, staying connected, keeping a work schedule, work on results over time spent, punctuality, and respecting deadlines, is a good way to maintain good team members engagement and performance through good work ethics.
Conflict Resolution: Conflict resolution is about solving differences between two or more parties, the bigger and complex the project is the more differences will arise. A leader must be able to address problems directly and immediately, you have to be aware that conflicts trigger strong emotions. The most common techniques are Forcing, Win-Win, Compromising, Withdrawing, and Smoothing. I highly recommend you research and learn these techniques.
If you are managing a remote team, the conflicts are the same for all companies, no matter if the team is collocated or it is remote, what matters is that you need to get on top of virtual conflicts, the techniques that I mentioned before are truly applicable. Consider the following tips to help you manage conflicts with remote teams.
Lead well and lead by example, clear communications and expectations about projects, tasks, goals, and tasks help to avoid conflicts.
Regular meetings, one on one, team meetings are valuable, this helps the team to understand and respect each other, do not focus only on business meetings, you can have social meetings similar to going out to lunch with the team, or celebrating a birthday, etc., you can bring these activities to a remote environment with very good acceptance.
People in virtual meetings tend to be more open and less inhibited about what they say than when they are in a face to face meeting, Train the team to be positive with their messaging, ask often about risks, issues, or even feelings, and be always proactive to identify any situation.
In conclusion, remote work is here to stay, and shifting focus from a local to a remote environment needs to be understood and take advantage of this new dynamic, if you are leading a team, I'm sure you already have the basics and maybe already an established leader and moving to a remote environment should not be a challenge, it is all about adapting what you know and utilizing the new tools already available.