While the pandemic is not over — some health experts say that “herd immunity” may not be achieved until 2022 or beyond — there is growing (but cautious) optimism that the worst-of-the-worst is behind us. In fact, millions of people around the world in countries like the U.S., Canada, and the UK have started making their way back to the corporate office. And those who haven’t yet made an appearance around the ol’ water cooler will likely show up sometime later in 2021 — if not full-time, then at least a few days a week/month.
Some things in the work environment are going to be familiar — and that is a good thing, since after about a year and a half of confusion and chaos, we all need some stability and predictability right now. But other things are going to be different, including the skills required to thrive on the road ahead.
Below, we highlight six skills that Fast Company has identified as being especially valuable in the post-pandemic workplace:
Self-direction is not the same thing as self-management. Self-management is about holding oneself accountable, being organized, and meeting expectations and deadlines without the need for constant (or in some cases any) supervision. Self-direction is about taking an active role in acquiring the skills, resources, and support that one needs to do their job and build their career. In this sense, workers need to be their own “mini HR department” and not rely exclusively on their employer for professional development.
2. Digital Capabilities
When it comes to digital capabilities, there are two aspects that workers need to embrace — one obvious, and one unobvious. The obvious aspect is that they must be comfortable (and ideally enthusiastic) about using new digital tools and technologies. The unobvious aspect — and the one that is likely going to present some challenges going forward — is accepting the role of digital technologies in evaluating worker performance and productivity. Even now, we are seeing some tension as some remote workers are pushing back at what they perceive as invasive tracking and surveillance tools. This is definitely something to keep an eye on, including new legislation that may govern what employers can and cannot do.
Empathy is generally understood as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another; or, as Harper Lee wrote in her seminal book, To Kill a Mockingbird, it is about “climbing into another person’s skin and walking around in it.”
While the need for and value of empathy in the workplace is certainly not new, what is changing is an awareness that empathy can have a positive expression, as well. In other words, being empathetic is not just about identifying with and helping individuals who are suffering, struggling, or going through a difficult time. It is also about connecting with those who are inspired and enthusiastic, and seeing how one can contribute to that vision. This is an optimistic and positive version of empathy that we sorely need after so many months of anxiety and “worst-case-scenario” thinking.
4. Communication Management
As with skills like digital capabilities and empathy, there is nothing new about highlighting the importance of communication management. Indeed, even before smartphones (gasp!) and the internet (double gasp!), communication management has been a key ability. What is different now is that communication skills need to extend across platforms. Commented Brannon Lacey, President of PeopleScout, a recruitment process outsourcing firm: “You have to be better with your words. You have to use brevity and levity to be successful getting thoughts and concepts across in an effective and efficient way. And you also have to know when to use which platform and how to use video, audio, and digital communication in ways that don’t create more negative outcomes, such as Zoom fatigue or lack of engagement.”
The new twist on adaptability in a post-pandemic world is that workers at all levels — from new interns to seasoned executives — need to find tactics, strategies, methods, and tools to remain effective and functioning even when they are a little uncomfortable. To this end, workers who want to set themselves apart and secure their careers are advised to take on new challenges and go outside of their comfort zones to do, what Julia Lamm, a workforce strategy partner at PwC, refers to as “building the adaptability muscles.”
6. Motivational Skills
At first glance, this skill may seem a bit strange. After all, since when is motivating others an essential ability? The answer to that is linked to the previous discussion on adaptability. Workers who go outside of their comfort zone are likely to encounter some pushback along the way from those who want to maintain the status quo. And while boldly forging ahead may be expedient, it can trigger interpersonal conflict and damage relationships.
As such, workers need the ability to intelligently, respectfully, and effectively motivate others, getting their colleagues to buy into a vision they may not be 100 percent in favor of. Remarked Art Mazor, a global HR transformation leader: “I might be the greatest risk-taker — a very important one of the capabilities that lives within that dimension of change capabilities — but if I’m part of an organization that is not really ready for being bold in the face of ambiguity, then I’m going to be a bit on my island by myself.”
While we do not know exactly what the future will look like, we can all say this with certainty: COVID-19 will come to mark (and in many ways, already has marked) a profound inflection point in history. We will henceforth view the world through the lens of “pre-pandemic” and “post-pandemic.” Workers who cultivate the six skills highlighted above are very likely to be those who thrive vs. struggle in the new world of work, helping set the standard and example for others to admire, and indeed, to emulate.