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COVID-19 & Remote Work: How to Develop Soft Skills

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Amy Perkins, president at insideARM, had been working from home long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but that doesn’t mean shes immune to the challenges of working remotely. 

While many have newly transitioned to remote work and are continuing to adjust, Amy has had to make her own transition for dealing with the new environment. Despite working remotely normally, Amy has had to adjust her leadership style to her newly remote team.

A company-wide transition to remote work during a crisis can expose flaws in communication. “It’s definitely made us re-evaluate our communication strategies amongst one another,” Amy shares. For Amy, adjusting to a newly remote team meant more frequent communication about mental well-being.

“Hey, how are you feeling?”

“Are you doing okay?”

Asking these questions frequently allows Amy to understand the impacts of social distancing on her newly remote team members. Extroverted individuals may be feeling some serious social withdrawal, while introverted individuals may feel they lack support.

It’s important to understand how your team is being impacted by COVID-19 related changes.

The Biggest Challenges of Working Remotely [3:40]

The big three challenges are:

  • Focusing
  • Self-Motivation
  • Finding Joy

Amy says focus & self-motivation are without a doubt the biggest challenges of working remotely. This is because you can’t depend on driving your motivation from the office environment. No longer can you rely on others to “help fill some of those areas” while working from home.

For customer-facing employees that challenge is heightened. To remain available for the next customer, and resist the temptation to sit in “wrap time” when the manager isn’t nearby requires a whole other level of focus and self-motivation.

Next to focusing & self-motivation is the challenge of finding joy in work and your day to day life. While working remotely, it’s important to find ways to infuse joy into your life and work to avoid becoming “robotic.” Amy says one of the simplest ways to do this is by taking short breaks.

Soft Skills Needed to Work From Home Successfully [7:35]

Strong soft skills, in addition to technical skills, can be a strong indicator of employee performance when working remotely. So the first step, on the employer-side, is to identify those during the interview process before selecting a new hire.

Soft skills are difficult to teach. That’s why it’s better to select candidates that have them well-developed in the beginning. If you’ve hired someone that is lacking in certain soft skills, the first step is for them to acknowledge where they have a gap and want to improve.

Amy says the most important soft skills to look out for when hiring a remote employee or engaging in professional development are the following:

  • Work Ethic: Self-discipline, independence, etc.
  • Listening skills: Listen to fully hear what others are saying, not just for what to respond with.
  • Strong communication: Ability ensure you’re getting the same amount of exposure as you would in the office and communicate using different methods (video conferencing, phone calls, instant messaging, e-mail, etc.)
  • Time management
  • Adaptability: During COVID-19, this may be the single most important to soft skill to hire for or focus on developing due to the amount of change taking place.
  • Emotional intelligence: “Acknowledge that first we are people, and then we are people getting a job done,” Amy says.

Ways to Develop & Improve Your Soft Skills [11:15]

The development process for each of the soft skills mentioned above looks very different. Amy recommends focusing on developing work ethic to start. Here are the strategies she suggests:

  • Review quarterly goals
  • List out activities that need to be done between now and then in order to achieve those goals
  • Share the list with your boss and ask them to help hold you accountable
  • Engage in more frequent goal setting (i.e. setting goals for each day rather than each week)

For any soft skill though, the first step to improving is acknowledging your pitfalls and sharing them with your supervisor or a trusted colleague. Then, you can ask them to hold you accountable for improving.

Tips for Working Remotely & Staying Motivated During COVID-19 [15:00]

Show Yourself & Your Team Grace

That means not beating yourself up when you have an off day.

It’s okay to remind your employees that “we’re dealing with something unlike anyone has dealt with in a really long time,” when you see them being harsh on themselves, Amy says.

Let them (and yourself) know that it’s okay to:

  • Have a bad day
  • Fall apart once in a while
  • Be a little more emotional than normal

The best way to do this? Create a culture that lets people know “we recognize that sometimes we’re gonna be human, and that’s gonna pour into our work.”

Take Time to Recharge

Amy also recommends taking time to recharge while working remotely. Everybody has their “thing” that they enjoy, so make sure you remember to do that!

Focus on What You Can Control

Another tip for working remotely during COVID-19 specifically, is to refrain from focusing on the things you can’t  control both inside and outside of work. You may not be able to change your current situation, but you can make the best of it. You have control over how you react to the challenges you’re faced with.

Encourage yourself to focus only on the things you can control by taking time to write a list. On the list, include everything that you can control in your current environment. This helps you feel like you’re more in control of your situation.

Unwind After Work

Be sure to take time to unwind right after work as well. Rather than jumping right into completing the next thing on your to-do list, take some time to sit down and relax. Think of it as your (less stressful) commute home from work that you’d normally have when leaving the office.

Participate in Virtual Social Activities

Lastly, try not to neglect your social life! Think of the social events you used to enjoy before social distancing. Can any of those be done virtually? Amy shares some ideas:

  • Virtual happy hours
  • Virtual book clubs
  • Virtual workout classes

And although these virtual social activities may not give you the “recharge” you’re looking for, it’s worth it to try them out and feel a little bit better.

*If you’re working in the debt collection space, consider e-mailing Mike Gibb of AccountsRecovery.net for an invitation to join an industry slack channel! We also include the link to join a virtual happy hour that we host every week.*

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