With the rapid acceleration of digitalization in businesses worldwide, the importance of “human skills” has become more evident. Before the pandemic hit in 2020, many companies had already begun introducing hybrid working practices and technologies. This was driven by a need to serve customers more productively, while supporting employee work–life balance. But, almost overnight the pandemic changed things, turning hybrid working from aspiration to necessity.
With employees suddenly distanced from each other and also their customers, businesses had to transform their definition of working. It is estimated that the workplace evolved 5–10 years in just one year from 2020 to 2021. As this trend becomes the norm, future company success will depend more on the acquisition of new roles and new skillsets, particularly digital-focused and higher-level soft skills, or human skills.
A future in technology
Familiarity with digital tools is crucial for success in today’s knowledge-based economy. Despite this, only 4.2% of people surveyed in a recent Wiley whitepaper on “Bridging the Digital Skills Divide” said they were completely satisfied with the level and availability of digital skills. It also highlighted that 60.6% believe that the availability of digital skills training programs is below what is required.
According to the Wiley whitepaper, the most important workplace skill for the future is problem solving (85.3%), followed by data analytics (80.3%).
However, a greater separation of the physical and digital worlds means there will also be a greater need for soft skills in order to help to unify teams, improve reactivity, increase productivity – all while keeping a human touch.
Human skills in a digital world
There are several soft skills that machines are unable to replicate, at least to any level of proficiency. They include critical thinking, emotional intelligence, collaboration, accountability, and mindfulness, among many others.
In an environment where bots and other AI-based tools can handle many day-to-day tasks, these human skills will become increasingly valuable.
What are the most in-demand human skills?
According to CrossKnowledge Faculty member Tom Chatfield, critical thinking is what distinguishes us from machines. This makes it crucial to meeting the challenges posed by digitization. Primarily, it enables us to explore problems from different perspectives and identify good and bad reasoning. At a basic level, this helps us deal with information overload. But it also strengthens our decision-making and problem-solving abilities, helping us understand and rapidly adapt to the complexities of new technologies as they evolve.
“The Future of Jobs” Working Economic Forum report recently listed “critical thinking and analysis” as one the most important skillsets leading up to 2025.
It is not only practical knowledge that helps us navigate the ever-changing digital worlds in which we live and work. The ability to manage your feelings and your interactions with colleagues is also key.
It can be all too easy to dismiss emotions as negative or unnecessary in business – they can be overpowering and lead to conflict or miscommunication. However, emotional intelligence enables employees to balance their emotions, enabling us to constructively tackle difficulties and stress, while giving us the capacity to think more clearly and creatively. According to CrossKnowledge Faculty member Gill Hasson emotional intelligence improves communication and collaboration by cultivating empathy and balancing our emotions in the workplace.
Teamwork is what gives humans their biggest advantage over computers. Interpersonal development not only improves employee well-being and belonging, but it also encourages project support and innovation by pooling the collective talents and perspectives of each team.
The secret to improving collaboration is developing trust. This means showing vulnerability, admitting mistakes, allowing constructive conflict, obtaining cross-team support, and demonstrating accountability – all uniquely human skills. By elevating trust and freeing teams from siloed, divisional constraints, there is no limit to what they can achieve!
Physically separated by distance and communicating mainly via digital tools, it can be harder to maintain trust, support, and motivation. This makes professional accountability – not just for the successes, but for the failures too – even more important.
Strategic advisor and CrossKnowledge faculty member Dr. Vince Molinaro says that one of the biggest team dysfunctions is reluctance to hold one another accountable. It’s important that leaders set an example to staff and stay upfront about which behaviors result in performance problems. They also need to feel comfortable exchanging honest and constructive feedback with members of the team.
In a world full of digital distractions, a feeling of inner peace and finding your center is essential. The way to achieve this is through mindfulness, which is a mental practice that enables us to focus awareness on the present moment, while acknowledging and letting go of distractions and stressors that affect health and performance.
Practicing mindfulness is scientifically proven to reduce stress, aid sleep, help concentration, and enhance innovative thinking – all fundamental ingredients for productivity in a demanding digital environment. It can be particularly helpful for employees who have difficulty concentrating or who share a home office space with family members.
Hard skills will not be enough to prepare your teams for the challenges and opportunities ahead. The way we work has evolved, requiring a whole different set of skills. Not only digital skills, but those uniquely human skills which are key to giving us an advantage in the digital workplaces of today and tomorrow.