3 jun. 2021

The case for soft skills and how to teach them remotely

TRAINING 0 min om te lezen

Traditionally undervalued, the hard truth about soft skills is that they will become increasingly relevant. In a digitalized world where technical skills have a rapidly diminishing shelf life, they will make the difference at both an individual and organizational level. 

Soft skills are a combination of behavioral skills, personality traits and attitudes, based on emotional intelligence, that enable people to navigate their working environment and perform well in a diverse range of situations.

Why are soft skills important? 

Soft skills are more important than ever because they cannot yet be replaced by technology and are necessary in any job function, transcending roles, organizations and industries.

Well-developed soft skills account for stellar customer service, increased sales and productivity, improved dynamics across teams and fewer conflicts. Employees with first-rate soft skills are better liked, stay longer in the company and overall, perform better.  

Soft skills tend to be underrated, but in a world where AI and technology advancements are taking over many jobs, these skills are becoming increasingly relevant. McKinsey asserts that soft skills will be part of the key skill set for thriving amid uncertainty and navigating continuous change. In their research, the most important skills that emerged were high-cognitive ones such as problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, innovation or leadership. 

According to research conducted by LinkedIn, 92% of global talent professionals stated that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills and 80% of them say that soft skills are essential to organizational success.  

From another report by LinkedIn Learning from 2020, it emerged that creativity, persuasion, adaptability, collaboration and emotional intelligence are the most relevant. The same report repeated in 2021 exhibited slightly distinct skills.

L&D professionals cited the following: resilience and adaptability, communication across remote or distributed teams, emotional intelligence, cross-functional collaboration, leading through change, change management, dealing with stress/being more mindful, time management and creativity. This is most likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the sudden changes it has brought in working environments around the world. 


How to instill them successfully?
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No matter which soft skills you decide your organization needs, they are still notoriously difficult to teach and assess. Additionally, in a hybrid and flexible world of work, soft-skills training proves challenging.

To support your training efforts and strategy in a world where soft skills are becoming more prominent, we have listed practical tips to conduct successful training programs remotely. 


1. Organize live training sessions targeting soft skills specifically

Acknowledge the increasing relevance of soft skills and make them a priority. Dedicate full learning journeys or specific sections to the soft skills your workforce needs to acquire.  
Do not treat soft skills like a nice-to-have or the last point on the agenda at the end of a learning journey and don´t try to teach too many soft skills at once. When teaching soft skills, it´s better to narrow down the skills, focus and go in-depth. 

Once you have integrated soft skills sessions into your strategy, make sure your sessions are interactive and interesting by using varied content: videos, infographics, impactful images, polls and quizzes. Interactivity and engagement are also essential for knowledge acquirement.  

Make sure you observe your participants closely, maintain constant eye contact, pay attention to their body language and face expressions. 

Body language, observing facial cues and expressions are crucial in situations necessitating soft skills. As Learning Designer at Signify, Anke Smolders-Aidam states:

Eye contact is important to know whether the content is really getting through. Even if people see content and hear a voice but there is no human connector, their attention quickly drifts away.


2. Make full use of breakout rooms 

As we all know, practice makes perfect. Practising is one of the key aspects of teaching soft skills and when it comes to applying the concepts learned virtually, breakout rooms are one of the best features available to instructors. 

Create breakout rooms with 2-3 participants maximum as pairs or small groups work best for soft skills and give the chance to every person to get actively involved.  

What kind of activities can take place in breakout rooms? Role-based scenarios, for instance, are instrumental exercises. They are particularly useful when teaching customer skills, negotiation, conflict management and communication.  

Whether they are practising a conversation with a difficult customer or a high-level negotiation, explain the task at hand thoroughly, make instructions visible and give a specific goal.  

Join each breakout room to assist and assess learners. Once everyone is back in the main room ask them to reflect and share on their experience. 

3. Introduce offline exercises and online coaching   

As mentioned in a previous article, learning is not over once the training session is over. Give your participants homework – a scenario which they can work on or practice offline, with a partner or friend. Tell them to pay attention to reactions, to be aware of body language, mimic and all the cues essential in situations requiring well-developed soft skills. Ask them to reflect and report back on their experience. 

You can provide regular, individual check-ins or 121 coaching, either with the trainer, with external coaches or internal ones - higher management and people managers that can take a more active role, for example. These are particularly useful for leadership programs. 
Individual sessions will offer a more tailored and in-depth approach to soft skills acquirement, suited to each learner´s specific need. Furthermore, they will offer a safe space for practice, reflection and amelioration of skills as the coach will be able to give personal and specific feedback. 
Again, just like in any kind of live session, it is mandatory to observe body language, facial cues and expressions to assess the replies to the ideas presented and the reactions to the feedback received.  

Barco weConnect supports remote soft skills programs 

With Barco weConnect, instructors can design successful soft skills development programs. Our platform supports your efforts to instill soft skills by creating quality interaction and in-depth collaboration among learners remotely.  
Instructors are always connected to their audience and keep a steady flow for their sessions, even in breakout mode. They keep visual contact with everyone, spot participants asking for help and share content in the main room – content that will be visible while in breakout. 
Trainees freely collaborate and access shared breakout content, as well as content from the main session. They easily switch between multiple available views, ask questions, including silent ones, chat with peers, answer polls and quizzes, draw or add pins to the whiteboard.