Jobs and the Future of Work

Hybrid working: Why your company should embrace digital soft skills

Digital soft skills are increasingly important in the world of work.

Digital soft skills are increasingly important in the world of work. Image: Unsplash/Domenico Loia

Matias Acosta
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  • Even prior to the pandemic, 87% of employees lacked cognitive, interpersonal and leadership soft skills required for the future labour market.
  • The post-pandemic hybrid workplace requires a set of digital soft skills that will become increasingly important as engaging digitally becomes the norm.
  • Employees of all levels, including leaders, should master these skills in order to be better prepared for the 'new normal' of hybrid work.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly nine in 10 (87%) of workers lacked cognitive, interpersonal, and leadership soft skills for the future labour market. Now, as the pandemic transitions into endemic, it has left us with a new hybrid workplace.

This new normal redefines the soft skills knowledge gap that has already existed and makes us rethink what skills are needed for the future of work.

Soft skills define how we engage with one another and typically include leadership, team building, communication and problem-solving, among other cognitive and socio-emotional skills. Today, they are not considered to be part of digital literacy.

However, it is impossible to engage with each other in the hybrid workplace without digital tools. We are thus witnessing the rise of a new set of digital soft skills that will become ever more important as engaging digitally becomes the norm. The earlier people master these new skills, the better prepared they will be for the future hybrid work.

Digital soft skills vital for leadership in hybrid workplace

Let me start by exploring digital leadership. For that, we should first agree on what leadership means: a leader sets a vision, inspiring others to perform at their best. This means we should explore whether performance assessment, inspiration, and setting a vision change when working digitally.

A leader must understand people and build trust to inspire. I am a great fan of situational leadership, an empathetic way to evaluate someone's needs to excel.

In hybrid jobs, understanding someone and building trust can be difficult. Traditional leaders could think about solving this issue by having more team meetings. In a hybrid workplace where multitasking is the most common practice and attention is a rare commodity, this is the greatest error a digital leader could make.

The best approach is becoming more intentional by having fewer meetings with the right people and planning open agendas ahead. This is how meetings can become more effective for hybrid teams, freeing digital leaders to have extra one-to-one trust-building meetings.

A digital leader cannot know when or how people work in a hybrid workplace, shifting working priorities from time to measurable outcomes. It means data literacy and business intelligence become even more important, and digital leaders should be digital generalists capable of adapting to, and being aware of, the latest digital management trends.

Effective communication is also intrinsic to inspiring people and aligning a team for a vision. Communication is likely the most affected soft skill by the hybrid work because it is mediated via an online platform, thereby reducing non-verbal behaviour considerably.

This makes clear communication in a digital environment much harder because it is limited to words and facial expressions. Mastering mirroring or reframing techniques used in negotiation coupled with facial expressions is a great idea to improve digital communication.

Choice of digital platforms key to communication

The choice of platform matters a lot for facilitating communication in hybrid teams, and staying on top of the latest tools is part of the generalist digital knowledge required.

I am a fan of the Jitsi for video conferencing, an open software with lots of functionalities and easy to implement. Besides video conferencing, tools for internal communication also evolve.

Suppose your company is only communicating via email. It is missing out on the latest tools like Slack, Discord, Microsoft Teams or other alternatives that allow having dedicated written or videoconference communication channels and activities for sharing good news, cultural moments, celebrations and other experiences.

Imagine your organization has a culture of using social media instead of these dedicated tools. In that case, your company's culture creates a cybersecurity risk and does not promote clear personal and professional boundaries. These two aspects are critical to digital literacy and important know-how for creating a healthy hybrid working environment.

Some may think digital leadership is only relevant for team leaders or managers. This is far from true. Self-leadership in a hybrid workspace is more important than before and comes with changes. In contrast to an in-person working setting, no-one will chase team members to do their work and set routines.

Digital self-leadership also means constantly thinking about integrating into the team. This might be particularly hard for introverted people, but it matters to avoid becoming isolated and to support career growth.

Digital soft skills require experiential learning

To master digital leadership, organizations or individuals should recreate leadership scenarios because digital soft skills require experiential rather than instructional learning. Skill-based digital volunteering, e-mentoring or e-shadowing programmes are some solutions that could be explored to develop these skills.

The hybrid workplace also affects team building, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. Serendipitous encounters rarely happen in a hybrid environment. Similarly to digital leadership, mastering these skills also requires intentionality. It is important to create or seek digital activities to engage either synchronically or asynchronically.

The digitalization of companies has been ongoing for decades. The shift to the new hybrid workplace is a recent trend, though, and it transforms how we engage with people and the soft skills required for career growth and transitions.

Learning these new digital soft skills is critical to becoming resilient to changes and thriving professionally. There is no better way to remain on top of digital soft skills trends than to participate in human-centred continuous experiential learning programmes.

It is in companies' best interest to work on such training opportunities because an upskilled workforce with digital soft skills can rapidly adapt to industry changes and perform better.

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