When it comes to our jobs, we all require a necessary and diverse skillset to perform them. But an all-rounder in the workplace will not just be good at their job, they’ll also be easy to work with. The difference here comes down to our grasp of hard and soft skills. Resume experts Zety explain the difference between these as follows:
Hard skills are teachable and measurable abilities, such as writing, reading, math or the ability to use computer programs. By contrast, soft skills are the traits that make you a good employee, such as etiquette, communication and listening, and getting along with other people.
Importance of Soft Skills
Soft skills are a fundamental part of working, yet they often play second fiddle to the more technical aspects of our jobs. While a potential employee may seem great on paper, it’s not until they’re actually working as part of a team that how great they are as a colleague becomes apparent. Remote working relies more heavily on soft skills than in-office working, as the social, cultural and verbal cues generated by in-person interactions are diluted in a remote environment.
Mastering soft skills is a delicate balancing act. While “softness” might be interpreted as appearing more malleable in the workplace, in practice it translates into an employee claiming personal responsibility for their time, their diligence and their interactions with others. Hard skills can be learned on the job, but soft skills require a more nuanced approach that leans on self awareness, compassion and curiosity about themselves and the people and world around them.
Essential Soft Skills for Remote Workers
Remote work requires excellent communication, and given the nature of working across timezones and locations, this is a soft skill that should be prioritised. There are various different channels and platforms remote workers use. Slack, Zoom and Google are some of the most common, yet communication across all of these channels differs wildly. Written communication via messaging on Slack is different to email correspondence on Google, so mastering communication on all these platforms is fundamental to successful interactions when working remotely.
Don’t forget about in-person communication as well. Effective communication encompasses the acts of both speaking and listening. School yourself in the art of active listening; this will foster empathy and understanding, two of the greatest interpersonal skills there are.
Empathy and understanding are also signs of high emotional intelligence. Back in the day, traditional societal values were mirrored in the workplace, meaning there was no place for qualities like vulnerability or compassion. These days, that landscape has changed entirely, and, especially in the wake of a shared universal experience like the pandemic, being able to emotionally read yourself and others has never been more valuable.
Self-awareness is a hugely important soft skill for remote workers, as it is key to knowing under what conditions you perform best, and self-regulating any distractions that might pull you away from work. Emotional intelligence is even more important in the context of remote work, as this Forbes article explains, given the fact that our in-person interactions, and all the non-verbal cues that accompany them, are removed.
In addition to working across timezones and locations, all employees, whether remote or in-office, will also be working across languages, cultures and generations. Workplaces are more diverse than ever, and inclusion is at the forefront of many company policies. Emotional intelligence also comes into play when interacting with a diverse set of coworkers, and it’s important that both managers and team members are informed about and responsive to the nuances, triggers and struggles of colleagues. As remote strategy company NoHQ says, “Remote workers with cross-cultural literacy will find common ground with others, be open to diverse viewpoints and listen to their co-workers. It’s also characterized by not making assumptions about other places and cultures.” Sylvia Gonner writes more about achieving cultural literacy and D&I in the workplace here.
Being adaptable and flexible are two of the most sought after soft skills for remote workers. Annie Lin, from recruiting software firm Lever, says, "Traits like adaptability and flexibility were important marks for a candidate, but not necessarily absolute must-haves. Now, if someone isn't adaptable and flexible and open to frequent changes in priorities, that's a dealbreaker. In today's new paradigm, flexibility, strong communication skills and the ability to adapt as working conditions evolve are the most important qualities a candidate can have."
The freedom remote work brings also comes with additional stresses. Whether that’s flying, frequently changing locations and apartments, modifying work setups and chasing decent WiFi, managing these fluctuations requires adaptability. The fluid nature of nascent companies which often favour a remote-first approach will also mean that workers need to move with the ebb and flow of the company as it moves forward.
One of the benefits of remote working is the ability to do your work on your schedule. However, this means that remote workers need to be self-motivated, organised and autonomous. "GitLab specifically hires those who are 'managers of one,' " says Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab. "Great remote workers thrive with a high degree of autonomy. They relish the freedom to accomplish goals on their own terms and recharge when it's time to recharge."