How to encourage the development of soft skills in the hybrid workplace

Hybrid working, women sitting at table working outside

By Juliane Sterzl, SVP EMEA, CoachHub

A hybrid approach to the workplace has largely become the norm, rather than the exception. According to research conducted by Gallop, nine in 10 employees prefer some degree of long-term remote flexibility going forward.

In response, leaders should shift their focus to designing a workplace culture which embraces hybrid, leveraging key tools to ensure their workforce remains productive and well-connected.

With regards to learning and development, hybrid working encourages HR leaders to embrace the wide range of digital tools on the market. Not only do these tools allow employees to focus on their professional development regardless of their physical location, but can also support employees in reskilling for the hybrid environment. Especially key in the reskilling effort is the development of soft skills, to ensure consistent communication is maintained when not interacting face to face.

Soft skills are foundational to the modern workplace

Soft skills, otherwise known as behavioural and interpersonal skills, are integral to a successful workforce at every level. The umbrella term encapsulates skills such as strong communication, good teamwork, a knack for problem-solving, the ability to be empathetic in the workplace, and much more. These, therefore, differ from the ‘hard’ skills which often make up the list of requirements on job postings, such as the ability to code, understanding SEO, or even making high-class cocktails – depending on the business. Soft skills are about how an individual works, whereas hard skills are about what they do.

Whilst businesses may consider hard skills in the first instance when hiring a new employee, soft skills cannot be forgotten. For instance, someone may be incredibly talented at writing concise, creative reports and campaign briefs. But, if they lack the communication skills to work with their team and generate ideas, the final product will never be as good as it could be. Businesses cannot succeed without soft skills, regardless of the industry or an employee’s seniority.

Nurturing soft skills in a hybrid environment

Soft skills can be much more difficult to teach than hard skills. Often, soft skills do not form part of traditional approaches to education and training, as they are often not considered equal to hard skills for becoming employable. Some may also have a natural aptitude for interpersonal communication, leadership, and empathy for others. Even so, that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t benefit from resources and learning that helps them to improve.

Thankfully, there are a whole host of digital learning and development providers on the market to support employees in developing soft skills. For instance, personalised professional development programmes like digital coaching allow employees to choose from a wide range of skills and aptitudes to work on at a time and in a place that suits them. There is general consensus that when engaging with these programmes, employees tend to prioritise soft skills. CoachHub platform insights show that employees prioritised conflict management, communication, and emotional regulation when engaging with coaching in 2022. It’s not that the appetite isn’t there; it’s that employees need to be supplied with the tools that they need to thrive.

Building a people development programme that includes balanced, in-depth learning for employees on interpersonal skills is an urgent requirement for businesses. Not only are employees requesting such development opportunities, but there are benefits for the business too, including improved talent attraction and, ultimately, better talent retention. Digital coaching is an effective tool that allows employees to work on topics including conflict management and beyond.

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