COVID-19 is proving that soft skills are hard to do without
Paige McDonough. Career Development Officer at Qatar Career Development Center – a member of Qatar Foundation – on why the dramatic workplace shifts created by the pandemic have heightened the importance of soft skills
Soft skills such as collaboration, communication, and leadership have always had an important role in the workplace. But in a pandemic-fraught world characterized by restructuring and work-from-home mandates, their value has sky-rocketed. With these factors also driving a greater emphasis on innately ‘human’ capabilities, COVID-19 has proved that soft skills are hard to do without.
Soft skills encompass everything from organization and time management to a good work ethic and a positive attitude. Also referred to as employability skills, interpersonal traits, people skills, or human elements, these non-technical skills are integral in the world of work, as knowledge alone is not enough to get the job done.
Even in pre-pandemic times, soft skills were expected to increase in value, according to a report by the World Economic Forum in 2018. Their research lists the most in-demand soft skills as critical thinking, persuasion, negotiation, attention to detail, resilience, flexibility, originality, initiative, and leadership. Additionally, emotional intelligence, or ‘EQ’ (emotional quotient), is a highly sought-after compilation of soft skills, according to HR Magazine. EQ’s main components are relationship management, empathy, self-awareness, self-management, and social skills – all invaluable traits in maintaining personal and professional effectiveness amid stressful and confusing times.
Similarly, LinkedIn’s 2020 Grad’s Guide to Getting Hired identified the most in-demand skills across all industries to be soft skills, with communication and problem solving leading the pack. Soft skills are so valuable that Deloitte forecasts they will be the most prominent feature of over two-thirds of all jobs by the year 2030.
COVID-19 has drastically altered the workplace and ushered in an era defined by virtual meetings and social distancing. The elimination of the physical office has forced us to redefine our interactions with colleagues. Gone are the days of impromptu in-person meetings or casual conversations in the breakroom, and here to stay are pre-planned video meetings and Zoom coffee chats. According to a global study by Adecco, this trend is here to stay. While the virtual workplace has its advantages, it also brings along certain communication challenges. Herein lies the importance of soft skills.
We have all experienced the awkwardness of video calls: frozen screens, distorted voices, and the inability to appropriately read body language cues. These nuances of the remote workplace make it difficult to allow conversation to flow naturally, and can therefore impact on productivity. For job-seekers, effectively navigating virtual communication and relationship-building will greatly increase self-efficacy and the ability to land a job.
Having employees with highly-evolved soft skills equals effective and efficient outputs for the organization, particularly in an uncertain economy. Creative thinkers who can solve problems with fewer resources; adaptable personalities who can perform different functions or utilize new software; and leaders who can communicate clearly when physically isolated are ingredients for success in a post-pandemic workplace.
For companies, the benefits of having a workforce rich with soft skills are tangible. From being more productive and increasing employee retention rates, to fostering a positive company culture, employers would be remiss not to focus on these skills. One study conducted at the University of Michigan found that soft skills training helped generate an 256 percent return on investment.
As a Career Practitioner, I’m asked the same question more and more often: how can I be more competitive in a flooded job market? The answer is to focus on developing your soft skills. Organizations need employees who are resilient, adaptable, empathetic, creative, and strong communicators to lead the recovery efforts post-pandemic.
So how do you develop these career-enhancing skills? The answer does not necessarily lie in the traditional classroom setting, but rather in extracurricular activities. Sure, you could take a course on leadership, or you could go out and demonstrate your leadership skills through experiences. By volunteering with a local organization, signing up to be a mentor or a student leader, or taking on a new project, you will be exposed to different ideas and perspectives. These experiences provide tangible opportunities to demonstrate your ability to collaborate, lead, listen, negotiate and motivate.
Teamwork skills can also be enhanced by joining a club, student group, a sports team or professional association. Many recruitment professionals express the desire to see team experiences on a candidate’s application as it clearly demonstrates the ability to work well with others.
The long-term effects of the pandemic are yet to be seen. During this time of economic regrowth, we know that demonstrating soft skills such as teamwork and emotional intelligence will help keep our virtual ship afloat in these troubled waters. As we forge ahead into the uncertain future, we know that now, more than ever, soft skills are hard to do without.