Improving your Soft Skills as a Remote Worker

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In today's landscape, where discussions about artificial intelligence are increasingly prominent, the development of soft skills is a vital element for workplace effectiveness. However, the challenge intensifies when working remotely, particularly in an environment heavily reliant on Teams and Zoom. The absence of regular face-to-face interactions with colleagues makes it more difficult to acquire the nuances of effective communication and collaboration. This raises the question: How can we develop soft skills in a virtual setting dominated by Teams calls? Here are a few practical strategies.

Developing soft skills such as empathy, creativity, and problem-solving poses a challenge in the context of full-time remote work. The absence of regular in-person interactions with colleagues makes it difficult to grasp social cues and nuances that are essential for effective communication, collaboration, and teamwork.

To address this challenge, it's crucial to explore ways to enhance soft skills in a predominantly Teams-oriented work environment. Taking proactive steps to ensure access to quality feedback comparable to that received by colleagues in the office is vital for professional growth.

According to a study by LinkedIn, 92% of talent professionals say that soft skills are just as, if not more important than hard or technical skills. In other languages such as French or Spanish, soft skills are called “compétences/competencias transversales”, which means skills you can deploy in any kind of professional situation and which are essential for success.

While cultivating soft skills as a remote worker may pose challenges, it´s not impossible. Being intentional about interactions and considering the impression you make are essential in a virtual work setting. For those seeking to enhance their soft skills while working from home, here are some suggested steps to try.

Start with Self-reflection

To enhance soft skills, it is important to first identify the specific skills you want to strengthen. Rather than solely focusing on technical skills or knowledge, everyone should reflect on their personal development. This involves assessing personal strengths and weaknesses through introspection and seeking honest feedback from friends, colleagues, and mentors. Once the target skills are identified, creating a plan or roadmap is essential. For example, if effective communication is a focus, participating in public speaking workshops, joining a Toastmasters group, or taking online courses on persuasive communication can be practical steps.

Strategic Engagement: Building Meaningful Connections

In the absence of casual interactions like hallway chats and team-building events, engagement with colleagues is crucial. Cultivating a common understanding is recommended, involving the establishment of common ground and shared values through meaningful conversations. Start with small questions about work preferences and gradually delve deeper, asking about hobbies, passions, and personal motivations. These conversations not only build rapport but also provide opportunities to enhance emotional intelligence. The objective is not necessarily to form close friendships, but to establish a foundation of respect and trust. Try to understand who your colleagues are as people when they aren´t talking about business and while doing so, turn your camera on. No one wants to make a meaningful connection with a black box.

Make Colleagues Feel Seen and Heard

In a virtual work environment dominated by on-screen meetings, the tendency is often to stick to the agenda and get straight to the point. Don´t underestimate the value of seemingly idle time during group meetings as an opportunity to connect with colleagues and build relationships. Use active listening, so every colleague pays attention to what others are saying, retaining and referencing details shared. To enhance connections, another suggestion is to employ techniques such as taking notes on personal details, like vacation plans or the names of their pets, and use this information for thoughtful follow-ups. The goal is to make colleagues feel acknowledged and valued beyond their professional context.

Ask for Feedback

In a remote work setup, where spontaneous coaching is limited, actively seeking feedback from your team and manager becomes crucial. This can involve scheduled check-ins or requesting immediate impressions. For instance, expressing an interest in personal growth and soft skills development during a discussion on work matters can open the door to feedback. Proactively prompting your manager before a meeting or presentation about the type of feedback you're seeking is another tip. Leveraging the remote setting, consider direct messaging for real-time feedback, asking specific questions about alternative approaches, or seeing which arguments resonated more with the group. The aim is to emulate the subtle cues of in-person interactions.

Demonstrate your Work Ethic

As a remote worker, establishing trust and showcasing soft skills demands extra effort. This involves effectively managing time and workloads, prioritizing tasks, and adapting to changes in plans, just as you would in the office. Demonstrate your work ethic through concrete results and prompt responses. Be disciplined about managing expectations and meeting deadlines. Communicate regularly and be a reliable team member. Focus time can be important too. If you need to unplug to concentrate, tell your manager and team members so that they understand that it’s a sign of productivity, rather than disengagement.

Principles to remember for developing soft skills in a virtual work environment:

  • Identify the soft skills you need to enhance and create a development plan with engaging activities.
  • Be curious, practice active listening, and take note of important details about colleagues to demonstrate attentiveness.
  • Proactively seek feedback to capitalize on opportunities for improvement in a virtual work setting.
  • Be a passive conversationalist. Instead, actively connect with colleagues through meaningful questions.
  • Disappear for extended periods; demonstrate a strong work ethic to build trust remotely.

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