Why are employee social skills more important now than ever?

The importance of employee social skills

The ability to communicate effectively is critical in today’s business world. Which requires far more collaboration to achieve business goals than in decades past. The more easily a team can understand each other the faster they can innovate and produce results. Understanding fosters trust which helps teams perform well in disruptive and uncertain times.

How do employee social skills help with performance overall?

When teams have strong social skills they build trust, accountability and maximize business results. Even in challenging times… Numerous studies show supportive environments produce better results. They also have healthier and more engaged employees. Additionally, absenteeism, healthcare costs, and turnover are lower.

Why are employee social skills still important for remote workers?

When working remotely, it’s easy for communication to become transactional. Consequently, this leaves many team members feeling isolated and even lonely. Since most of the communication is text-based, it often lacks tone and body language.  

Additionally, we all interpret digital conversations differently. For instance: Some people feel that using punctuation in a text message is passive-aggressive. While others say it’s just good grammar.

Two social skills remote employees should continue to sharpen

These employee social skills may provide a strong, impactful boost at work:

1.  Be Aware of Your Digital Body Language  

Often in our haste to reply to a message we are too brief to tell the other person what our intentions are. As a result, we can create lots of confusion and follow-up messages that steal time and productivity. Give context to help the listener understand your intentions so you get the best quality response the first time.  

Erica Dhawan’s new book, “Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance”, is an excellent resource. 

Example: Leader sends a meeting request for an “Update” meeting with no agenda with a direct report on Friday. The leader sets the meeting for Monday at 8 am. Employee freaks out all weekend thinking he will be laid off. After all,  there have been budget cuts recently. He comes into the meeting a wreck. Then learns his leader just wants a standard project update before the quarterly meeting. 

2.  Keep the small talk in virtual meetings 

It’s critical to be intentional when you work remotely. Do quick check-ins before diving into the work in meetings. For 1 on 1 meetings, try to check-in. Ask them to share what’s new. For regular team meetings, add a quick ice breaker to the agenda. This can help the team connect as people beyond the screen. It may feel like trivia, but these anecdotes build bridges. 

Example: Recently on a team call, we did the “before 18” ice breaker. Each shared fun accomplishments before the age of 18. I learned I’m working with amazing people. Including a celebrity’s childhood friend and award-winning classical musician. 

In the SHRM blog, “4 Essential Soft Skills for Successful Remote Work”, Darren Murph suggests managers ask direct reports what their preferred communication platform is and how often they wish to be contacted.  

“Messages hit different when people are sitting in their home, and leaders must be aware that a more empathetic touch should be considered.” 

When you aren’t in an office together, you can’t rely on the coffee break and quick hallway project check-ins that help team members feel connected and aligned. You must be intentional to develop key relationships and the trust you need to keep your projects moving forward.

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