With companies across the nation (and around the world) suddenly experiencing a forced work-from-home (WFH) experiment, employees and their managers have been thrust into the unknown.
Many have had to sharpen their skills on the fly. Some may have needed to tweak their presentation styles to accommodate a totally remote audience. Some needed to gain a quick mastery of telecommunications technologies, while others had to rethink the skills they need to avoid distractions and effectively manage their time.
Hopefully, employees will be bringing these and other skills back into the workplace once they return. We reached out to industry experts and employers to get their feedback on what skills they hope employees who return to the office from a long WFH stint will bring back with them.
WFH can be a challenge from a focus standpoint for many staff even in “normal” times. Many struggle to avoid the distractions that are present at home. Some struggle with staying on task without the presence of a manager or other team members. But obviously, these are not “normal” times.
In addition to the anxiety and health concerns many are dealing with as a result of the COVID-19 virus itself, many also are struggling to juggle work with child care and child education. The ability to stay focused is a key skill required for success in this environment and one that managers hope their employees bring back to the office with them when they return.
At the start of the pandemic, Makenzie Rath, President of Talent Plus, Inc., communicated to her staff that focus is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the organization. “Focus is perhaps our greatest challenge as business uncertainty and personal health concerns abound yet it is also one of the greatest gifts we can provide to those who rely on us as leaders and influencers to help them plan for tomorrow,” she says.
“With children out of school, social containment, working from home and disruptions all around, focus is the ultimate currency in this climate. How well we maintain that laser focus on helping those around us combat today’s seemingly insurmountable upheaval, while simultaneously thinking, acting and collaborating strategically to plan for the business climate of tomorrow, will determine our collective success moving forward.”
With the vast majority of staff at many companies working from home and faced with local stay-at-home orders, in-person interactions with colleagues have largely disappeared. Without the ability to say “hi” to coworkers in the hallway or break room, stop by someone’s office or workspace, or meet as a group for a post-work happy hour or softball game, the ability to develop and maintain personal relationships with coworkers is increasingly valuable.
Building and maintaining relationships in a remote workplace is something that requires more conscious effort than building those relationships when physically located in the same building or workspace as coworkers. This conscious effort itself represents an important skill that companies hope their employees will have developed and honed during their months of remote work.
One factor that sets companies with a track record of long-term success apart from their competitors is the ability to be flexible and adaptable. A company that has remained in business for 20, 50, or 100+ years couldn’t have made it without the ability to shift and adapt to changing circumstances, and that ability comes from its employees and managers.
The tremendous changes brought on by COVID-19 have placed these skills in the spotlight for many organizations.
“The number one thing that I’ve witnessed with my team is an extraordinary ability to adapt and pivot amid workplace and market disruptions; adaptability and change management are skills in themselves that need to be developed and honed,” says Heidi Spirgi, Chief Marketing Officer for Cornerstone. “The shift to work from home and the expanded need for our company’s talent management services allowed my team to demonstrate their adaptability, and can be used as a learning moment and as evidence that we can and must adapt to changes that are sure to come in the future.”
Humanity and Compassion
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, argues that soft skills demonstrating a high level of emotional intelligence can be just as, if not more, important than skills focused more directly on productivity.
“Time management and self-sufficiency are important too but the real key is to recognize that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so it is critical to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another,” she says. “There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness. Being authentic, confident, empathetic, providing substance, staying relevant are all the qualities we need right now.”
The blurring of the lines between home life and work life has put a greater focus on personal physical and mental well-being for many. Some companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of employee wellness to their success in the workplace.
“We hope and observe our team developing more awareness of managing their own wellness,” says Fred Goff, CEO of Jobcase. “WFH is teaching us all better integration of work and home life. I love having kids come join meetings at Jobcase! You have the ability to take breaks more fluidly, to recharge with your kids, or find at-home activities to break up the day. My personal recommendation: Rescue an injured baby chipmunk—like my daughter recruited me to do.”
Great companies learn and adapt in the face of adversity and see opportunities amid challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created a great deal of change, adversity, and challenges, but it has also given companies the opportunity to look at the likely characteristics of the workplace of tomorrow. Forward-looking and proactive organizations are already thinking about what skills their staff members will need to thrive in this new world.