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4 Skills Needed to Build a Powerful Remote Workforce in 2021

Date Published: January 07, 2021 | Last Updated: September 15, 2023 | By Jeramy

Businesses were thrust into remote working situations overnight. Without warning, companies all across the world were forced to build a remote workforce to survive. Now we must ensure those remote employees thrive and that takes an entirely new set of skills.

More than 800 HR leaders across numerous industries and regions were surveyed and identified the top 5 priorities for HR leaders in 2021, according to the latest report from Gartner.

With over 68% of respondents in agreement – building critical skills and competencies ranked #1. Additional priorities were in the categories of: organizational design and change management; current and future leadership bench; future of work; and employee experience.

It’s no surprise that cultivating skillsets led with over 20% interest over the runner-up priority. The primary reason for this strong emphasis on skill development? COVID-19.

The pandemic changed the way we work, and the traditional competencies and skills needed are no longer as obvious. With this change, the need for hard skills, such as technical, computer, or analytical skills, are definitely in need, with training that typically involves a standard format of courses and tests.

However, soft skills – the non-technical skills that relate to how you work, interact with colleagues, and solve problems – have quickly been identified as indispensable when working remotely.

How to Build a Remote Workforce

So, what are those soft skills that employees need to cultivate, based on a shift to a remote workplace?

#1: Developing Interpersonal Communication

“Somewhat surprisingly, interpersonal skills is where we’re seeing the biggest imbalance,” says Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn. “Communications is the No. 1 skills gap across those major cities in the United States.”

How can you provide learning opportunities focused on communication, when your team is dispersed across the country or world? It must be a priority to provide your employees with learning experiences that train them to nurture and apply their soft skills.

Invest in a learning plan and the software/training needed to develop interpersonal communication, provide opportunities for your employees to practice these skills, and set clear expectations on what is considered necessary and appropriate interpersonal communication within your organization – timely follow up, regular touchpoints with leaders, and so on.

#2: The Ability to Work Independently

“Remote employees need to be organized and mature. They need to work well without a lot of supervision and they must be able to complete projects by assigned deadlines,” David Bakke, MoneyCrashers.com. Now that we no longer have the benefit of knocking on our manager’s door for input, the need to work independently – being resourceful and a problem-solver – is a critical step to build a remote workforce.

How do we cultivate this skill, knowing that remote workers do not always find immediate answers or the help needed, as they once did within an office environment? Train your employees on the strengths of working independently – goal setting, assigning deadlines (to self and team members), providing clear and concise direction for any requests of others. Educate your teams on what skills make a successful, independent employee, and have them put those skills into practice daily.

#3: Strong Written Communication

Forbes writes, “When teams work remotely, at least half of all communication is done via writing rather than speaking.” This means that employees need to learn and understand how to communicate via multiple platforms – emails, texts, Slack channels, even using the chat function on a video call.

“You need to be able to communicate clearly no matter what platform you’re using.” Train your employees on the Dos and Don’ts of written communication, setting clear expectations from your organization. What level of formality or tone is appropriate, how to elicit helpful responses from teammates or managers, etc.

#4: Collaboration

“Working remotely doesn’t mean working alone,” says Ashira Prossack, Performance Leadership Coach. Yes, internal collaboration is easier when employees sit next to each other, so once you become physically disconnected, it is crucial for employees to stay connected.

Set expectations for levels of collaboration, and ensure your staff understands the resources and tools available to meet those expectations. Even with remote work, everyone is still part of a team, which means collaborating with colleagues on projects and tasks. Educate employees on how to get that done – how to solicit input and feedback, how to ensure key players are not missed in conversations.

Everyone should learn and understand exactly how remote collaboration is defined within your organization.

Building a remote workforce: Conclusion

As we enter 2021, primed and ready to continue the journey of leading and educating a remote workforce, make sure to put a strong emphasis on the skills listed above: interpersonal communication, working independently, written skills, and team collaboration. Identify training, educational software, and online classes that support this culture of participation, partnership, and self-motivation.

Ensure your employees understand that these skills are a priority and that they know where to find the resources they need to help them thrive in a remote environment. After all, talent is the key to organizational growth. Arm your talent with the skills they need to keep your business thriving remotely.