Why businesses shouldn’t forget soft skills in the shift to hybrid work

Nikolas Kairinos, CEO, Soffos.ai  

After many months of adapting to hybrid working practices and remote training initiatives, many organizations are now finding themselves on the brink of yet more turmoil. ‘The Great Resignation’, as many are calling it, has seen workers quitting their roles for pastures new in record numbers. According to research from Microsoft earlier this year, this has been the case for over 40% of the global workforce, who have been considering leaving their role for a new opportunity in 2021. Likewise, UK job vacancies soared to all-time highs in July, putting jobseekers in the strong position of a ‘buyer’s market’, with available posts surpassing the one million mark for the first time ever.

Such figures should provide something of a wake-up call to organizations. Right now, we know that two things are certain: hybrid work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted. New working practices have opened up opportunities for some individuals and supported an improved work-life balance. At the same time, other employees may be struggling with the lack of actual face-to-face in-office interaction with mentors, as well as experiencing growing concerns about their career advancement in hybrid environments.

While firms are still learning as they go, they must act if they are to hold onto valued employees in the long-term. Here are some tips to keep staff motivated and engaged:

Soft skills will set your organization apart from the rest

Firstly, HR managers must re-evaluate their training priorities as organizations get into the swing of hybrid work. This should involve some people having some honest discussions about how to develop new skill sets – for example, ‘reading the room’ is more difficult via videoconferencing channels, as is taking part in team activities like collective brainstorming. In fact, research from Soffos earlier this year uncovered that over a third of companies have experienced communication breakdowns when working remotely, resulting in wasted time and resources, as staff members became accustomed to working in isolation. That said, employees can still work towards becoming adept communicators in remote or partially remote environments.

Solving this problem will involve placing a greater emphasis on soft skills when devising training strategies and individual development plans. It goes without saying that a digital-first working environment will require a whole new understanding of how team members can work together to meet business objectives. HR managers will need to think outside the box when it comes to developing skills like collaboration and active listening in the remote climate, as employees will likely need some further support to stay on the career progression track.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to training

Although soft skills can be difficult to measure or quantify given their subjective nature, there are some ways to gauge employee progress and competence in different areas. Training managers should begin by conducting an organization-wide skills audit to determine staff requirements – both on an individual and team basis. Naturally, needs will differ between employees and various departments, so personalization will be key.

To overcome the difficulties of collecting accurate insights, I would encourage training leaders to look beyond traditional questionnaires and one-on-one sessions where employees might struggle to determine where they need support – whether this is due to a reluctance to admit any weaknesses, or a general lack of awareness of where they might benefit from guidance.

For example, technologies powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) can capture sophisticated data analytics to identify blind spots. While some employees might be diligent workers who excel at the more technical aspects of their role, they may struggle when it comes to managing teams or delivering strong presentations. An AI-powered learning management system (LMS) would be able to present this priceless business intelligence, showing the courses that individuals are turning to and engaging with the most, as well as their progress.

AI-powered technologies can contribute to employee development schemes more directly, too. Conversational AI (CAI) platforms act as an on-demand source of knowledge to workers, allowing individuals to ask open-ended questions about their roles by engaging in continuous natural language conversations. If someone wants to practice a business pitch or ask a question about the product they are selling, for example, a CAI platform would be able to assist. By having something akin to a personal tutor on standby, workers will be able to retain knowledge for longer and actively work on their skills – whether that might be listening more closely, asking the right questions, or simply presenting their thoughts out loud.

Don’t let mentorship opportunities fall by the wayside

One of the most sorely missed aspects of attending physical office space is the opportunity to interact with and learn from valued co-workers. Younger members of the workforce in particular may feel this loss more strongly, given that they may perceive fewer opportunities to pick the brains of more experienced team members. Consequently, it is vital for training managers to provide innovative ways for staff to connect in hybrid and remote settings.

Encouraging more junior members of an organization to reach out to particularly knowledgeable workers or matching up employees with more seasoned managers would be a good start. Likewise, employees can sit in on video meetings to ‘shadow’ and observe effective leadership in action, and importantly, they might also learn a thing or two about adapting these skills to digital platforms. This can ensure that employees are actively contributing to their development and connecting with their peers, even in remote settings.

State of the art virtual reality (VR) solutions are also coming into play, enabling workers to recreate traditional office-based environments, wherever they are in the world. These simulations can replicate typical boardroom settings and meeting rooms, providing employees with first-hand practice and situational learning experiences that they can apply to their roles. Like AI, this is an opportunity that should definitely not be passed up.

Organizations will need to think long and hard about how they can best manage development opportunities and staff satisfaction in the remote climate. Building soft skills is a good place to start. The key will be providing employees with engaging and immersive opportunities, whether they are working from home or returning to the office, so they don’t miss out on the positive aspects of peer-to-peer learning.

Nikolas Kairinos is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Soffos, Inc. – an EdTech company producing a suite of AI-powered apps for corporate training, teaching and learning. You can register for beta testing any of the apps here.  

Author: Editorial Team

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