The Top 5 Soft Skills Every Employee Needs for Business to Thrive in 2021 and Beyond

The challenges that companies face in 2021 are significantly different from any previous year. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the tables, requiring many companies to pivot their efforts in a variety of ways. These challenges are truly unprecedented. By extension, this means that the skills companies are looking for in their employees are changing. Companies need employees who have the right skills to help them in these unsure times.

Remote work, Zoom meetings, collaborating from afar – as companies take on 2021, these challenges are ever-present. While some of the skills employees will need to thrive this year are hard skills like knowing how to run a Zoom room, others are soft skills. In this blog post, we’re taking an in-depth look at five of the most important soft skills that employees need to have in order for a business to prosper in 2021.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are non-technical skills that play an essential role in how people work. Different aspects of a person’s character and personality can be considered soft skills, as can social skills, mindsets and emotional intelligence.

Soft skills are different from hard skills, which are more technical. For example, computer programming is a hard skill, while critical thinking (which might be a part of many aspects of computer programming) is a soft skill.

There’s a common misconception that soft skills can’t be taught, that they’re just a part of who a person is. While soft skills may be a bit more challenging to adopt than hard skills, and it’s not as easy as memorizing facts or learning a system, there are many soft skills training programs that can help employees and employers become better at the soft skills they might be lacking.

Why Businesses Need to Focus on Soft Skills in 2021 If They Want to Succeed

With unemployment on the rise, the job market is more competitive than ever. When a job opens up, applications flood in from numerous potential employees who all have the training and the know-how – the hard skills – to get the job done.

What sets any of these candidates apart from the others? How can businesses get a sense of who will be the best fit? This is when it’s so important to look at soft skills. Who has the adaptability to shift seamlessly between long days at the office and working from home? Who is a creative problem solver, capable of innovating when remote work makes collaboration more difficult? Who is a clear enough communicator that they can convey important messages to their teams, not only orally but also through email and chat? These are the questions hiring managers need to ask themselves in order to make the best hiring decisions in 2021.

Meanwhile, employees who have always thrived before, relying on their hard skills to flourish in the office, may find themselves floundering in 2021 if their soft skills aren’t up to par. Maybe they were great at communicating in the boardroom, but they struggle to express themselves over the phone or through email. Maybe they were incredibly efficient in their tasks when working from the office, but they don’t have the adaptability to work as well when they’re limited to the technology they have at home. In these cases, businesses must focus on soft skills training for their existing employees. Because let’s face it: Soft skills can either make or break an employee’s happiness and productivity.

The Top Five Soft Skills Employees Must Develop in 2021

1. Adaptability

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that circumstances change fast and we can expect them to continue changing quickly throughout 2021. Adaptability is the ability to change an approach to a job to keep up with fluctuating circumstances. It’s about employees who aren’t so stuck in their ways that they can’t make a shift when a better way of doing something becomes available. In 2021, adaptability is important both for employees in regular operations and those in leadership. This is not a year for staying stagnant.

2. Clear Communication Beyond Face-to-Face

Because many companies are still operating remotely, being a great face-to-face communicator isn’t enough in 2021. Conversations between coworkers are taking many different avenues: phone calls, Zoom calls, text messages, emails, chats and more. To thrive in 2021, employees must be excellent at both written and oral communication. Clarity and patience are key elements of this.

Being a good communicator includes paying attention to the details, such as knowing the company’s audience, asking for feedback and avoiding relying on visual aids.

3. Listening

Listening goes hand-in-hand with communicating, but this skill is complex enough to earn its own place on this list. In 2021, it’s not as easy as it used to be to ask someone to reiterate a point they already made. It’s not possible to just pop into their office and ask them to repeat what they said.

Let’s be clear – being a good listener doesn’t mean never needing to ask for clarification. It means paying attention and remembering what others have said. It means taking others’ needs and preferences into consideration when making decisions. It means hearing what’s said, giving it the consideration it deserves, and asking questions right away if something isn’t clear.

Bad listeners zone out, act like they understand when they don’t, and struggle to improve based on feedback – all habits that are particularly problematic in today’s work environment.

4. Creative Problem Solving

Employees who know how to innovate are bringing their employers great value in 2021. As businesses adjust to the new reality of trying to be profitable in the midst of a pandemic, those who can find visionary ways to complete projects and creatively solve problems are a great asset.

To be a good creative problem solver, it’s important to figure out how to think outside the box and approach challenges in new and unexpected ways. Being a creative problem solver is about willingness to try new techniques that may or may not work, and moving on from failures while celebrating successes.

5. Emotional Intelligence

From stressing over current events to worrying about ill friends and family members, mental and emotional health and well-being is one of the biggest challenges people are facing in 2021. As much as we try to keep our work and personal lives separate, interior struggles can show up during the workday. That’s why emotional intelligence is crucial now more than ever before.

A big part of well-developed emotional intelligence is treating others with sensitivity and empathizing with collaborators when they struggle. It’s about knowing how to deliver feedback without hurting someone’s feelings, and recognizing when taking a break to regroup emotionally might lead to increased productivity moving forward.

Getting Ahead of the Curve with Soft Skills Training

For employees and HR departments alike, it’s crucial to keep these fundamental soft skills in mind as business decisions are made this year. Improved soft skills can lead to benefits such as happier workers, better operational systems, higher profit margins and so many more.

If you think that you or your organization is lacking in these essential skills, it’s time to get ahead of the curve and begin investigating employee soft skills training options. When employees know how to better adapt, communicate, listen, solve problems creatively, and approach situations with increased emotional intelligence, it can truly transform a business.

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