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Remote Work Success

Today’s digital workforce—transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic—needs to rely on soft skills like communication, teamwork and self-motivation more than ever to be successful. Do your remote employees have the right soft skills? If not, you can fill gaps with smart hiring techniques, more insights on these critical behavioral competencies and focused training programs.

The soft skills most in-demand

In Understanding and Adapting to Today’s Massive Transformation of Work, a survey of 275 HR professionals published by the HR Research Institute (powered by in partnership with SkillSurvey, HR professionals named the three most critical soft skills for employees to be successful.

These are the soft skills cited by more than half:

  • Communicating and collaborating well with others (60%)
  • Managing time effectively (58%)
  • Taking initiative and self-motivating (54%)

It takes discipline and self-motivation to stay focused when working remotely, as there are no colleagues present to lend support, keep issues or projects top of mind, or even apply reminders. So, good communication and collaboration skills are crucial—they help remote workers keep team members up to date with progress and concerns.

In addition, remote workers with good time management and self-motivation skills can more successfully combat distractions at home and isolation. They know how to step up communication with peers and managers to mitigate these corrosive dynamics.

Some of the other important soft skills that remote workers need to be successful, that were cited by survey respondents include the ability to:

  • Work independently (38%)
  • Show adaptability (28%)
  • Build and maintain relationships with others (26%)
  • Display technological savviness (18%)
  • Show emotional maturity (10%)

It’s interesting to note that only 18% of respondents in the survey said that displaying technological savvy is a competency for successful remote work. So, it would appear that soft skills are more crucial for successful remote work than hard skills. Perhaps it’s because when it comes to picking up the tech skills for such tasks as video conferencing – it comes down to having critical soft skills  – like being adaptable, interested in learning  new things, and a willingness to reach out to others when you need help.

Include soft skills in your training programs

The report emphasizes that employers should look to develop the worker competencies that lead to success. Even if there’s a gap in remote workers’ soft skills, you can boost their communication, collaboration, time management and motivational skills by offering formal training programs. Employees with new or improved soft skills will have more power to boost productivity levels. Plus, training employees in new skill sets improves your succession management efforts.

Despite these benefits, few organizations today offer extensive training in soft skills, according to the survey. And the report notes that wide-spread soft skills training is more commonly reserved for those in professional/managerial positions.

  • Only 20% say their organization provides tailored formal learning and development for soft skills—to a high or very high degree.
  • Just 25% offer skills necessary to thrive during the pandemic—to a high or very high degree.

Soft skills training helps boost engagement

The survey also measured what differentiates organizations with high levels of engagement from those with lower levels. For one, we found that “engagement leaders” have a better grasp of employees’ soft skills than “engagement laggards.” Having more detailed data about employees and their skills helps improve the employee experience. Greater knowledge of which employees have the right skills can help you match up the most qualified employees with new internal career opportunities. According to the new survey,

  • Nearly half (48%) of engagement leader organizations have a detailed and current knowledge of employees’ problem-solving skills, while 42% have the same level of knowledge about their soft skills.
  • Just 29% of laggard organizations have a detailed and current knowledge of employees’ problem-solving skills, while 28% have the same grasp of employees’ soft skills.

This may be why engagement leaders are more likely to offer extensive training in soft skills.

  • 29% of engagement leaders said their organizations provide tailored, formal learning and development for soft skills—to a high or very high degree.
  • Only 9% of engagement laggards answered the same way.

How to find remote workers with good soft skills

The most reliable screening method to find remote workers with outstanding soft skills is to ask job candidates’ references for their assessment. SkillSurvey’s candidate feedback reports include a specific competency cluster that shows ratings for the soft skills that relate to a job candidate’s ability to work remotely. The majority of candidate’s references complete SkillSurvey’s digital reference checking surveys because they’re delivered by email from the job candidate. References click a link to an online survey where they can rate the candidate’s soft skills that relate to the job role. SkillSurvey’s library includes hundreds of job-specific surveys created by I/O scientists. Because the surveys offer references confidentiality in their ratings and responses (knowing that their input is only provided to the hiring organization in a report that averages all references’ ratings), many references feel more comfortable providing honest feedback.

But the benefit to using digital reference checks, extends beyond the hiring process. The insights obtained in the detailed reports can be reviewed by onboarding trainers and hiring managers to target specific training areas to boost new hires success. With our talent intelligence platform, soft skills measurement can continue after an employee starts with the supervisor surveys available through SkillSurvey Post-hire.

Many industry observers expect organizations to continue to, at some level, keep workers operating remotely—even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. You can maintain your business and hiring edge by using better reference checking methods to find new workers with the best soft skills. And help your existing employee base improve their behavioral skills by offering dedicated training.

Read more survey findings about how to better hire and manage your digital workforce by downloading the full report.

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