Home » Future of work » The role of human skills in a disconnected workforce

Tracey MacLennan

Head of Organisational Effectiveness, Insights

This year we have seen a shift to remote based working and while for many this has provided a number of benefits; we can’t overlook the impact on human interaction and soft skills.

When LinkedIn declared back in January that 2020 is the year of human-to-human connection, I doubt they knew exactly how prophetic that statement would be. For many, it has taken being physically distanced from friends, family and colleagues to fully appreciate the positive benefits of daily human interaction.

At work, we have managed to adjust – remarkably well – to moving all our collaboration to virtual alternatives. Yes, we are still connecting, but it takes a bit more effort to sustain the depth of relationships we want and need in our organisations.

The importance of human skills

This is why human skills – traditionally called ‘soft skills’ – have become even more vital. Employee wellbeing has shot up the executive priority ladder, with workplace culture and relationships contributing heavily to employee mental health.

Some companies, recognising the strains of recent months, have given employees more time off to avoid burnout, such as Google’s ‘collective wellbeing’ holiday. Companies still need to do more to look after wellbeing within the workplace.

Understanding challenges to remote working

When we conducted research into the challenges remote employees face, it was the human factors, not the technological ones, that had the biggest impact on both productivity and wellbeing.

When we empower our people to build connections, nurture relationships and engage with others at a more personal level by using our human skills, we are creating a space for them to thrive.

Respondents to the research reported that the inevitable consequence of virtual working was relationships that focused on tasks only, at the expense of meaningful connections. Trust was also a concern, with 42% citing this as the hardest cultural attribute to re-create and that affects how well people work together.1

Human skills, like the ability to communicate, listen and empathise, are the key to keeping us connected. Currently, with a predominance of remote working, the quality of human conversations has been dropping. The damage this does to our employees can be significant: disengagement, isolation and de-motivation. In fact, recent CIPD research reveals that 50% of employees working outside their usual office environments have seen their workplace connections worsen.2

Workplace conditions to connect employees

Understanding – the most essential human skill. Understanding combines a genuine interest in others with a willingness to embrace how they differ from you. It’s the cornerstone of solid relationships – especially now we’re under increased pressure at work and home.

Communication – the two-way kind. Communicating isn’t simply relaying a message, especially now the majority of our communication is between people sitting alone at home. Truly effective communication is a difficult skill to master because it’s about considering your audience, tailoring your message and – most importantly – taking time to listen to concerns and feedback.

Care – because it’s important. Caring, as an applied human skill, enhances employee wellbeing in a climate where isolation and stress are very real problems. It’s the individual touches – the ‘offline’ conversations – that make the real difference and help you transform a ‘workplace’ into a ‘community’.

There’s a real sense of community spirit at Insights and our people have missed the informal social connection they enjoyed in the office. Instead, we’ve been building community through activities like our Stepping Challenge, where colleagues log steps in their local area. So far from our Dundee office, we’re on target to collectively walk to our Australia office by Christmas!

By underestimating the importance of human relationships on our happiness and performance, we do our businesses – and our employees – a disservice. When we empower our people to build connections, nurture relationships and engage with others at a more personal level by using our human skills, we are creating a space for them to thrive. That is true whether relationships are built in an office, or at home!

Insights is a global people development company who put human skills and connections at the core of their learning. We’ve helped millions of people from different countries and cultures understand themselves and others, enabling them to build deeper and more productive relationships.

For more info visit: www.info.insights.com/human-skills

1 https://info.insights.com/hubfs/Globally_Dispersed_Teams_Playbook.pdf
2 https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/work/trends/goodwork/covid-impact

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