WHEN YOU'RE BEHIND A SCREEN, IN AN ATTIC, THOUSANDS OF MILES FROM THE NEAREST CO-WORKER, BEING A GOOD COMMUNICATOR IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER.
%78 of freelancers say that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. As the workers of the future we understand that soft skills are invaluable to your success at a variety of companies. They’re what make you a more adaptable and collaborative worker. Fortunately, employers are catching up to the value of these skills. Unfortunately, the widespread adoption of remote work brought on by the pandemic could stunt this growing interest in soft skills. As workers spend less time in an office physically close to each other (and less time at a single company in general) people are wondering why anyone needs any interpersonal skills at all. Don’t fall for this trap. Soft skills, and lack thereof, translate across time, space, and screens. Value and improve your soft skills. Clients will notice the difference it makes.
SPEAKING FROM A FAR
We’ve all overacted to a text, panicked over an email, worried over a slightly aggressive sounding voicemail. Despite what we’ve convinced ourselves, technology is not an adequate replacement for actual human communication. It’s far easier to miscommunicate when you’re separated with someone else by a layer of technology. This is why soft skills are even more important when working remotely. Many criticisms of remote work are true. It makes collaboration more difficult, it hinders a company’s culture, and it can make some employees feel out of the loop. These draw backs should not stop anyone from adopting remote work, but instead should make them think on how to achieve the best of both worlds. It’s true that certain issues won’t be solved until advancement in technology are made. But in the short term, we can achieve successful communication and culture by building our soft-skills.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
To be fair, many soft skills are best improved by good leaders and leadership, but because freelancers are the ones who better understand the value of these skills, we’re going to need to take the lead here. Soft skills can be broken into two categories. Internal: confidence, self-awareness, work ethic, etc. and External: negotiating, collaboration, accepting criticism, etc. You need to develop your internal skills first because your external soft skills will reflect how you’re feeling inside. The three most important internal soft skills are emotional control, purpose, and self-awareness.
Workers need to be able to see a problem as temporary and solvable without putting blame on others; to control their emotions and stay focused so they don’t become overwhelmed at work. They need to believe that their work is about more than just money. Purpose will always make you work harder and more consistently than just doing something for money. Neither of these two skills (or any other soft skills for that matter) can be improved without self-awareness.
This may seem too easy, but the best way to work on these skills is to simply think about them. Be mindful of your words, actions, and feelings as you go through every day. Question the way you operate, always ask for feedback, and be confident enough in yourself that you can change when need be. Once you feel certain about those basic soft skills you can begin to work on others like discipline, collaboration, or even email writing; all of which can be improved through various means like classes, books, or meditation.
Some of you may be thinking “why? What’s the point?” You agree with employers that if the future of work is remote and freelance, who cares about your interpersonal skills? If you’re a longtime freelancer, then you’ve worked with enough clients over the years that you understand the importance of quickly getting along with people. If you’re new to this game then you might not understand that yet, especially if you became freelance to escape the world of office politics. Well what’s nice about freelancing is that you don’t have to stay at one business for very long, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a dick.
Despite employers’ conflicted feelings on the importance of soft skills, most would still answer the same way when asked if they want to work with someone they get along with. That’s one reason more and more job postings say so much about a company’s vibe and the vibe they’re looking for in a candidate. They want someone they’ll have a good time working with, but freelancers work at a plethora of different companies. There’s no way we’re going to jive with the culture of every business. Fortunately, we don’t have to. We need to come off as agreeable enough that we can jive with any culture for a limited period of time. Don’t worry so much about being the “right fit” for a company. It doesn’t matter as much for freelancers. Again, this doesn’t mean you can act whatever way you want, it just means your goal is to be a skeleton key. A tool that can fit any situation. Working on those basics soft skills is a great way to become that key.
There are many reasons employers didn’t used to value soft skills. One big one was that they can be difficult to measure, and so it was just assumed that some people had them and some didn’t. Soft-skill assessments can still be difficult, and so it’s up to you to convince a client of your soft skills.
As technology changes the way we work, it’s easy to think that soft-skills and the value they bring, are in the rear-view mirror. The opposite is true. As technology becomes a bigger part of our working lives, soft skills become proof of our value as humans. They’re the skills that your computer doesn’t have. At least not yet.