COVID-19 has forced companies to decentralise their tech workforces. The result has been the fragmentation of normal team dynamics. The comfort and personal connection of team meetings has been replaced with technologies that rob us of the cues that make face-to-face collaboration feel natural.
At the same time, many businesses are using the COVID-19 restraints to scale up their technologies and build new digital capabilities.
The result of this is a double-whammy for tech teams – a significant increase in workload and a dramatic reduction in ease of collaboration.
Tech teams are expected to be as productive than they were pre-COVID but in circumstances that are far from easy. The comfort and productiveness of the person-to-person daily scrum and sprint planning and review meetings have been replaced by a daisy chain of technologies that remove personal connection, greatly reduce non-verbal signals and generally complicate previously simple gatherings.
What has emerged is a heightened dependency on a range of soft skills. Previously, soft skills were not considered critical in the minds of many technology decision-makers and recruiters. But now they are.
The reality is that soft skills have always been part of the skill set for great tech talent. While these skills aren’t always specified in the JD, this skillset often determines who becomes client-facing, who gets the team lead, who makes it into management roles – and who remains in purely technical roles.
Now, in this decentralised environment even primarily technical roles need to be able to employ soft skills.
Think of your last Zoom meeting (which may be happening as you read this), and ask yourself if the meeting would be more efficient if the participants were better at…
Putting their view clearly and concisely
Demonstrating empathy and respect to the view of others on the call
Presenting their solutions and the benefits clearly and without unnecessary detail
Managing their time (including turning up to the meeting on time)
Observing communications etiquette and not talking over each other (as well as muting when they are not speaking)
Coming up with creative solutions instead of staring forgetfully at the webcam
Decentralised workforces and remote work conditions bring these skills (and the absence of them) into stark perspective.
These qualities are signs of soft skills in action – and they can make a huge difference to the productivity of a tech team and career trajectory of its members. According to Chicago tech recruiters Instant Access; “technology pros who also have the ability to communicate effectively, negotiate conflict, work well in teams and are adaptable to the ever-changing needs of a dynamic market are much more valuable to their organisations, especially at the managerial and executive level”.
And tech staff with good soft skills are in high demand. LinkedIn’s The Top Skills Companies Need Most in 2020 study found that “Topping this year’s list are creativity, collaboration, persuasion, and emotional intelligence—all skills that demonstrate how we work with others and bring new ideas to the table.”
In a work environment increasingly separated by physical distance, soft skills are the glue that bring human teams together and help them collaborate effectively.