By Amelia Hagen
As a people person, the lack of in-person events in the time of Covid-19 has been hard for me, but understandable. While it’s been handy to reduce my commute time to only the few seconds it takes for me to get to my computer, I miss the in-between chats at the office or on-the-go at the job that enable me to build the relationships I thrive on. But by the end of spring, I realized I was stretching myself in new and different ways as I worked to manage myself remotely and meaningfully engage with others from afar. Here are seven soft skills you too can build while working or studying remotely…
On Zoom or WebEx, you have a blatant opportunity to craft your ability to actively listen to others while communicating on these platforms. Reflect upon your more frequent oral and written diction — is it changing the meaning of what you are attempting to convey to colleagues? Additionally, assuming everyone you work with is working online, you may need to reassess what are appropriate response times to emails, instant chat messages, etc. At the same time, it is important to delineate hours when people are on- and off-line to encourage better work-life balance, something that companies, startups, and their employees around the world are struggling with during the pandemic, when often others picture their peers constantly at a device.
Perhaps most essential is the need to navigate intercultural communication online.
Flex your intercultural comms muscles by staying abreast of current affairs of the countries of your coworkers/classmates, by being mindful of comments or actions that may be misinterpreted, and by asking questions to demonstrate cultural inquisitiveness. And don’t forget: eye contact is king. Try placing a small sticker by your camera to remind yourself where to look when speaking.
Imagine you have been assigned a task or a project by your boss and you get stuck. What do you do when you are working remotely? You may not be able to reach anyone to help you or to answer your question. Develop your problem solving skills by becoming resourceful at unearthing the answer yourself, then presenting the solution and how you got there. Inherently, over time, you will also surely foster research and analysis skills.
In terms of critical thinking in the communication sphere, you can learn to understand when to start and stop speaking based on whether others are talking — and sometimes this is tricky across cyberspace!
You’re in front of your computer in a Zoom group meeting, listening to a presentation, or on a webinar. How many tabs do you have open on your computer? Are you checking a sports score? Chatting with a friend? This is your opportunity to practice the skill of focus. (Remember, multitasking is a myth.) In the meeting, you will likely need to remember or recall what someone said and you can help yourself by taking notes. If you are a student, you will be tested on material discussed in your online class. How are you managing this information and your engagement with it? Use this time to pay attention and concentrate on the matter at hand, without outside distractions pinging you. Practice focus and concentration with the Pomodoro Technique.
Working from home means you are probably experiencing a lack of immediate oversight. Think about how you are managing yourself, your time, your tasks, and your energy efficiency. If you have some flexibility, understand what times of day you are most productive, most focused, and/or most creative. Create a daily routine that involves getting up at the same time every morning and roughly finishing at the same time. Make a designated work space and put on normal clothes instead of staying in your pajamas all day. This will enable a better transition into work mode and empower you to stay on task with your work. Additionally, develop small incentives, or events, to motivate and reward yourself for staying on track through the day, week, and month. These could be as simple as watching a Netflix show or listening to a new podcast episode you have been looking forward to.
An increased amount of self-discipline will necessitate more organization on your part. Straddling various schedules, time zones, needs, personal obligations — like children doing school at home, perhaps teammates holding multiple jobs — all of it can be quite hectic. Hone your organization tactics and utilize both previously used tools and new ones that are more suitable to the remote environment. Maybe it’s Post-it Notes, a planner, your Google Calendar, or the meeting scheduling platform app, Calendly. As so much of my life has shifted online, so has my scheduling — I no longer use my physical planner, and have resorted to putting everything into Google Calendar instead. While you must keep yourself organized, you also benefit by inquiring about and understanding how your peers stay organized, and areas in which these may differ. Where do you keep important materials and files? Is everything on the cloud — or do you keep hard copies of certain documents for more convenient access at your desk? Thinking through these aspects will help set you up for remote work success.
Greater independence on the job can often mean increased job performance, wellbeing, motivation, and work-life integration. Consider what new or additional tasks you might be able to do yourself rather than delegate to a colleague, simply because they sit near you. What can you rely on yourself to do? Independence is underpinned here by self-motivation and a self-starter approach. You have to be the one to get things done on your own. Be proactive, rather than reactive. Avoid falling into the trap of being constantly reminded or monitored by supervisors or colleagues. Your goal should be to instill in others the confidence that you will not only get the job done, but also get it done better, and potentially, on time or early, at a lower cost, or at a higher quality than expected. Again, this is a supreme opportunity to show your impact.
Whether you are a student working on a group project or a young professional working within a cross-functional team across multiple time zones, you are more likely than not to be collaborating with people with different schedules. Take time to think about how you will handle this. How are you communicating times and time zones when meetings will take place? Do you know the general hours your teammates are working online and when you can reach them? Decide to take the lead sometimes and follow other times, in order to stretch your team building skills. What if you need to co-present a proposal or strategy to another team? How will you excel and prepare for that remotely while staying in sync before and on the day of? Denote how you will collect and submit finished work and who will be responsible for what by when, highlighting which platforms you will use to communicate and collaborate. Be aware of further ways you might be able to support one another remotely.
Of course, as time goes on, you’ll discover that you are actually pushing yourself far more than anticipated and hence, generating new skills that complement these and bolster your confidence to do good work from wherever. As I contemplate my own progress, it seems that these seven skills may just be the tip of the iceberg and I am certain you will feel similarly as you find your groove. I would love to hear what little epiphanies you experience.