Working from Home? Soft Skills are Crucial for Success.

Working from Home or WFH means soft skills are even more critical to our collective success and happiness.

Everyone is working from home right now: some alone; some with children needing care if not homeschooling, everyone adjusting to this ‘new’ situation is still trying to achieve their work objectives. Everyone is uncertain about the future and when and how everyone will return to work and life outside.

Soft skills are even more important when people are working from home because WFH necessitates virtual or remote contact. People can’t be observed over time when they WFH so it’s hard to know what is really going on for them. People can consciously or unconsciously ‘hide’ in the distance. Additionally, WFH under stressful situations is, by definition, stressful and probably many more emotions many of which can interfere with our wellbeing and productivity.

Importance of Soft Skills

When I published my book in January I wrote that soft skills were crucial to work (and life) success. I still believe that and feel they are even more important with all the uncertainty caused by coronavirus. Many emotions are present for everyone at this time, so leaders can’t pretend emotions don’t exist nor ignore them and still expect people to be productive.

  • There’s a tangible cost and benefit to poor and good soft skills respectively – positive soft skills motivate others, create safety for innovation, build trust for empowerment and greater engagement.
  • Humans are emotionally driven even in business as our brain evolution is wired that way (bodily sensations enter the brain through the spinal cord which ‘hits’ the emotional space of our brain first before ‘getting to’ the higher reasoning part of the brain at the forehead).
  • Neuroscience has confirmed that the brain can create new neural pathways – we can learn new things regardless of age – it’s called neuroplasticity. This means that leaders and employees can learn new things when influenced positively through motivation and not being relentlessly driven.
  • Humans are social creatures or ‘herd animals’ – we survive in highly coordinated groups as outlined by Psychology Today so staff want to feel that they belong.

The work you want to be doing at home or having your team while WFH, those make-or-break tasks in your organization (and their associated measurements, key performance indicators – KPIs) can be made or broken by good or bad soft skills respectively.

Work from Home Soft Skill Tips for Individuals

Here are some tips for good interpersonal or soft skills. Some of these might seem selfish given people skills are about relationships – remember the best relationship you need to foster is the one with yourself.

  • Create a routine or schedule for yourself balancing work, family, rest and self-care.
  • Have a morning routine that sets you up for success – set an intention for the day, meditate or quiet time, journal, exercise, shower and dress for work, healthy breakfast.
  • Have a designated space for work ideally away from personal space.
  • Recognize this is a difficult time so practice self-care and compassion.
  • Know what works for you and schedule yourself accordingly. For example, if you’re usually more productive in the morning keep that time for what matters to you, your key tasks. If you’re an introvert, limit the number of group conference calls you participate in a day, or book quiet time after group calls.
  • Identify a relationship or project you’d like to improve, experiment with different behaviours – coaching instead of telling, listen instead of talking.
  • Take a moment before a call and think of the other person, who will you be interacting with? What’s their position on the subject you’ll be talking about? Step in their shoes for a moment.
  • Write down 3 things from the day that make you grateful. Capture what you’re proud of yourself for too.
  • Decide if you want to talk about how you are feeling and share when it works for you. If you’d rather not share, say that respectfully and move on with the work at hand. I’m hearing some people are overwhelmed by the repetitive answering of “how are you, really?”

Work from Home Soft Skill Tips for Leaders

The tips for individuals apply to leaders and there are some more when you’re thinking of others.

  • Be conscious of the extroverts in your group – they might be struggling more than the introverts
  • Notice who is in touch and who isn’t and ensure you reach out to all – via different mediums, timing and durations depending on the individual.
  • Engage with the WHOLE person, not just the work persona, as WHOLE people are showing up remotely. This means that often with video you are seeing your team member’s setting, their décor, pets, and sometimes family members.
  • Give feedback using the COIN model – find achievements, qualities and/or behaviours you can genuine give feedback on, mostly positive at this time. Remember, leaders in successful companies give 5-6 pieces of positive feedback to someone for every 1 piece of developmental feedback.
  • Ask for feedback – ask your direct reports what you should stop doing at this time, what you should start doing and what you should continue doing. These specific questions make it easier for people to give specific feedback. Getting feedback helps you know where to focus and it makes people feel valued and heard.
  • Cultivate some stories from this turbulent time. What are you learning from the experience? What’s working well and what isn’t? These real stories that you distil now can be used in the future to inspire and motivate your teams. Ask your team what they are learning to build bridges.
  • Be aware that different people will be handling WFH differently – adapt to the needs of each individual as much as you can.

The change to all of our lives with WFH for many of us due to the COVID-19 crisis requires courage and vulnerability. Courage to forge ahead, act despite the fear and uncertainty, to set a vision for yourself, your family and/or your team. Vulnerability because this is an unprecedented time, we don’t have experience with this type of situation where work/life is so blurred and all present.

Download the first chapter of my book by signing up here to learn more about the starting point for better soft skills.