What skills do you develop when working remotely?
Did you start working remotely for the first time when the Covid-19 pandemic hit? When Covid began to make its presence felt around the world, governments responded by locking down countries and sending everyone home. Many people left the office one day and started working from home the next.
Remote working practices before the pandemic were far more limited than they are now. According to Gartner, before Covid-19 hit, 30% of employees worked remotely. In 2023 that percentage increased to 48%. In 2020 most companies and services, with the exception of essential ones, either shut down or went online. It was a massive overnight shift and those organizations that adapted quickly and in response to these changing conditions and needs were successful. If you got left behind, you were unlikely to survive.
Switching to remote work was a steep learning curve for employers and employees alike. It took a while for everyone to figure out how to get the most out of it. Technology rapidly adapted. People adopted digital solutions at an accelerated rate: on a global level this was at a rate three years faster than expected, according to McKinsey research.
Some things became easier, some things got harder. Some skills fell by the wayside, others had to be learnt or developed. We found out what the necessary skills were the hard way, but now that remote and hybrid working are here to stay, we can look at what skills people develop when working remotely with a critical eye and see how they can be used and useful.
What is the situation with remote and hybrid working practices post pandemic?
A lot of people during the pandemic found that remote work suited them better than in-office work. People expected to have the option of continuing to work remotely post Covid and were disappointed when many employers insisted on having their employees back in the office.
As people looked at their lives and reassessed their priorities, in many cases they felt that their work was not aligned with what they wanted from life. This in part led to the Great Resignation: people were fed up with poor working conditions, earning too little for the work they were expected to do, or failing to achieve the work-life balance they were looking for.
Since the pandemic has eased employers have reacted differently. Some have moved to fully remote working practices, others have adopted a hybrid approach. Some are offering more flexibility than others. And yet others are insisting they need 100% of the workforce back in the office.
It is true that for some industries and sectors remote work is harder to integrate or implement. However, whatever the response, one thing is certain: remote working is here to stay, and we have both developed new skills through it and will need new skills for it – and life - going forward.
What are the top skills you develop with remote work?
When people first switched to working remotely at the beginning of the pandemic there were several skills that had to be developed very quickly.
Change can be hard, and people often find it hard to adapt to change. When lockdowns were enforced and people switched to working remotely overnight, they were forced to rapidly adapt. They had to find ways to make working from home ‘work’.
Whether they found that their working conditions were less than ideal, they struggled with technology or lacked certain technical skills, or they had to change the ways in which they worked, they had to be flexible and work with what they had, at least until a better solution could be offered.
2. Technological skills
Not everyone is a lover of technology. How often have you had to show someone how to do the same basic thing with their phone, or pointed them in the right direction to access a document, for example. Or maybe you are that person!
Many people, especially among the older generations, had not had to fully embrace the use of technology. Maybe they could get aways with basic computer skills. Some have relied on having the IT department on speed dial and have never felt the need to learn how to do anything for themselves.
The pandemic meant that many people had to very quickly learn how to become much more tech savvy and self-sufficient. New technologies and ways of working were developed that are here to stay. We had to adapt all our meetings to create new online ways of doing things. We needed to learn new etiquette and methods to replicate the in-person versions we were all used to.
What used to be a simple ‘videoconference’ has since evolved into something a lot more collaborative and with far greater possibilities. We can now recreate all the elements of in-person workshops and meetings using virtual whiteboards and all their associated tools, for example.
3. Remote communication skills
Being in the same workspace as someone is not the same as meeting with them virtually. We need to make connections during online meetings but we do not have all the usual cues we get from body language. We also have to deal with things like cameras being off or people looking at different screens rather than in the direction their camera is facing.
We can’t always tell if we are being listened to and it is harder for people to know when it is appropriate for them to speak. We have breakout rooms to set up for sub-groups and other technical issues to adapt to. We have had to learn how to develop our communication skills to take all these things into account. And some people are better at it than others.
Some people are still quite good at multitasking when it comes to virtual meetings, checking their emails or doing internet shopping. However, in virtual meetings, you often need to be even more proficient with your active listening skills and also your ability to engage your audience, whether it is one person or many.
4. Independent working
For some people the lack of supervision was a huge challenge when they switched to remote work. It can be difficult to find the self-discipline and motivation to build and manage an effective routine. Staying motivated and productive is not always easy, especially if you are used to being surrounded by people who help you with this.
Being able to manage your time effectively and being accountable are both key skills for remote workers, and these were tested at the start of the pandemic. Remote work requires a mindset shift and this was probably even greater during the pandemic as everything was very sudden then.
Once people have got used to a new way of working and developed the key skills necessary to work efficiently and effectively remotely, they are likely to find they are developing other skills too. For example, we have already mentioned that building a rapport with others can be more difficult online. We have to find rewarding ways in which to interact with other people. This can lead to other soft skills improving. For example:
5. Emotional intelligence
Remote work has meant that people have interacted with colleagues in new ways. Online meetings may have been interrupted by children or animals and given more insight into people’s personal lives. Technological problems and other challenges that people face can become more obvious when you are working from home.
People have needed to develop more empathy and respect and the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others. Managers have had to accept that just because an employee is working from home, it does not mean they are available all day, every day. Other people’s commitments and responsibilities have to be identified and respected within the boundaries of a working relationship.
We all learnt ways of coping with the pandemic and strengthened our resilience with the unexpected events that Covid precipitated. When the majority of the population started working from home it was an unknown situation and a question of juggling home and office life, fear and uncertainty, and social isolation.
These days remote and hybrid work is more likely to be a choice than a forced requirement, but this does not mean that we don’t build up our resilience: we still need to deal with all the ‘extra’ challenges that working from home can throw at us. We need to use our critical thinking and decision-making skills, along with managing our time effectively to stay accountable and to make sure our work and life boundaries do not blur too much.
As well as challenges, remote and hybrid working brings with it many positives. People thrive on opportunities to learn and develop, and remote work can help with this:
7. Continuous learning
Whether it is changes in technology, different ways of working, or upskilling and reskilling, people have to continuously adapt and change. The pandemic increased the number of things we can now do online instead of in person. This was also true of learning.
While skills training and development opportunities were available online prior to the pandemic, more sophisticated opportunities to learn are now more readily available. Virtual workshops can be made as engaging as in-person ones with the help of collaborative tools like online whiteboards, for example.
Remote working skills are skills for life
Not everyone embraces remote or hybrid working and not everyone even has the option to work remotely. However, following the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more employees want the opportunity to choose to work remotely, or at least to work on a hybrid basis. The skills you develop when working remotely are skills that can help in our own personal development as well as being ones that can benefit an employer.
Strong soft skills are key skills for employers
Over the past several years strong soft skills have been at the top of most employers’ lists of sought-after skills. Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center has all concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills).
With more jobs now being undertaken by automation and artificial intelligence – and the pandemic precipitating a faster than expected switch to greater automation – it’s no surprise that many companies are seeing a skills gap. Soft skills are in great demand. LinkedIn’s report on the most in-demand skills for 2023 noted that ‘75% of employers can’t find the talent they need with the right blend of technical and soft skills’.
Developing the skills of remote workers
The skills that remote workers develop can be improved and enhanced with the right conditions and skills training. If you look after your remote workers responsibly, they can become even more efficient and effective in the working environment as well as in their home lives.
Making sure that your employees have access to technology that will help them achieve their work goals is the first step. Online meetings and workshops are not exactly the same as in person ones, but they can be just as good, if not better, as long as you have the right tools.
At Klaxoon we have tools that can aid collaboration and teamwork when people are working remotely. They can help develop the soft skills that are so vital for employers and employees alike. Whether you need a virtual whiteboard space with great functionality and ready-to-use templates to help you increase engagement and productivity, or tools to drive better time management and creativity, we can help.
Why not check out our resources page to see how we can help your business work better and improve your teams’ efficiency?