Head of Content The School of Life
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Six emotional skill sets for remote workforces to thrive

21st Aug 2019
business woman video conferencing her team
iStock/AndreyPopov

Flexible working means teams spend less time meeting face-to-face, but this brings with it a new set of emotional requirements. Here, we look at the soft skills workers will need to navigate this new environment.

By 2022, 42.5% of the global workforce will be mobile - able to work remotely from anywhere in the world. Along with the benefits this brings in terms of speed and convenience comes new challenges for organisations operating with an increasingly fragmented workforce.

With members of remote teams being separated physically, how can we keep teams connected and feeling like they’re part of something bigger than themselves?

How do we help individuals manage their time and objectives and ensure productivity doesn’t boil over into stress and burnout?

How can we ensure they are equipped to use and interact with new tools and technologies in healthy, positive ways?  

The answer lies in cultivating sets of specific emotional skills within organisations.

Developing psychological tools

More than ever, the skills we need to succeed at work aren’t manual, but emotional and psychological.

Over the ten years of The School of Life’s existence, we’ve discovered that these skills can be learned and honed - just like going to the gym builds muscle, or practicing scales helps us master a musical instrument.

Emotional skills help us develop creative ideas, take feedback well, and continue growing and learning.

As Darwin noted, collaboration is one of the attributes that has allowed humankind to prevail as species. It has become increasingly important to the success of organisations.

They can prevent our productivity and effectiveness from being hampered by sadness, burnout and decreased motivation.

They allow us to negotiate disputes and problems that arise between colleagues and within teams.

Moreover, they help us do this even when we can’t be face to face – which, as we have seen, makes them all the more vital for a workforce growing ever-more remote.

Below are some of the emotional skill sets workers need to thrive in this new culture of work.

1. Collaboration

As Darwin noted, collaboration is one of the attributes that has allowed humankind to prevail as species. It has become increasingly important to the success of organisations, within which the average amount of time spent collaborating has grown by over 50% in the last two decades.

The skills of effective collaboration, including communication, diplomacy and empathy, allow us to express ourselves clearly, listen better, align our assumptions within a team, build long-term trusting relationships with stakeholders, and manage conflicts when they arise.

By practicing imaginative empathy about what it might be like to be from another culture or setting time aside to discuss how we prefer to use technology to communicate about different topics, we can collaborate better even as we work across the globe from colleagues and clients.

2. Influence

In a world where organisational structures are increasingly horizontal, the ability to influence others has become a vital component for effective leadership.

Whilst technology has helped us to vastly improve the efficiency and quality of the work we produce, we will get nowhere unless we possess the skills of influence, including eloquence, charm, innovation and supportiveness.

Without knowing ourselves, we’re unlikely to be able to learn and grow; to make the most of our strengths and recognise our weaknesses and blind spots.

We need to be able to communicate our hard work and sell our ideas to stakeholders, to present a vision that is accessible and inspiring.

Practicing how we communicate information and sell ideas can help us be persuasive – even at vast distances over email or through phone and video calls.  

3. Flexibility

The ways we work are always evolving, with advances in technology only increasing the pace of change.

In order to keep up, we need to develop the skills of flexibility, including adaptability, calm and resilience, to help us cope with uncertainty and change.

Becoming flexible can help us adapt to new cultures, norms, technologies and team structures even as changes within (and outside) the workplace gather pace.

4. Productivity

Getting things done has, of course, always been crucial, but now it involves more psychological agility as we are required to think in new and better ways.

It’s especially important that we develop the skills that productivity requires, including creativity, decisiveness, effectiveness and entrepreneurship, allowing us to prioritise the right tasks and focus closely where needed even as we work from home.

5. Self knowledge

Though it might sound a little abstract, self knowledge is in fact the most vital skillset we require to thrive in business as well as in life.

Without knowing ourselves, we’re unlikely to be able to learn and grow; to make the most of our strengths and recognise our weaknesses and blind spots.

Skills like self-awareness, confidence and a sense of purpose that allow us to reflect and act on feedback become especially important as we work in an increasingly atomised environment where colleagues must take responsibility for their own development.

6. Maturity

Finally, it is crucial that we are able to grow and regularly improve. Maturity is  about recognising the need for continued growth throughout our lifetimes and being open to hearing about our imperfections.

It involves a willingness to take feedback and practice and a commitment to improvement.  

Maturity is an especially urgent task in today’s working world because we’ll need to keep growing throughout our working lives in order to adapt.

It’s no longer usually possible (or desirable) to do one job for our whole lives now; we will need to learn new skills and ways of relating to people in order to adapt to new technologies and new roles.

Organisations can adapt to the new expectations we have around work. By recruiting for and helping to build the right skills, particularly emotional skills in the workforce, leaders can not only help employees find the growth and fulfilment they seek but also build more successful teams and organisations.

To help their teams and organisations succeed in a remote workplace, leaders should equip employees with the emotional skills that will allow them to work independently and collaboratively, and thereby to flourish in work and life.

Interested in this topic? Read How to meet the training demands of remote workers.

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