6 job skills to succeed in the new world of work

Jul 22, 2020
Soft skills are already essential assets, but employers will look for particular aptitudes as the pandemic subsides and the ‘new normal’ takes hold.

By Dr. Annette Clancy

Coronavirus has changed how we work and how we live. The rapid change to online and remote working has challenged many of us as we juggle home, work, and caring responsibilities. This period has also helped to surface and refine new types of skills that will be essential in the ‘new’ world of work. Here, I reflect on just a few of them.

1. Adaptability

COVID-19 forced companies to adapt and change with unprecedented speed. Change is always on the agenda, but the pandemic accelerated it. To succeed in the future, workers will need to continually update their skills and be willing to adapt and be flexible. Job titles won’t necessarily fully describe the breadth of roles. In job interviews, candidates will need to give clear examples of how they have put these skills to work because the traditional CV won’t convey the nuance of someone’s adaptability. The conventional cover letter will also need more thought and will need to be adapted to each employer’s particular circumstance.

2. Creativity and innovation

Businesses have always had to come up with new ways to deliver services, but COVID-19 highlighted just how important creativity and innovation are to survival. The Abbey Theatre, for example, unable to present work on stage, created ‘Dear Ireland’ and invited Irish writers to write a postcard to Ireland – it asked them to imagine what Ireland might need to talk about during this time. The Abbey Theatre commissioned 50 writers to write monologues for 50 actors, each of whom performed on camera in lockdown. These performances were then broadcast live on the Abbey’s YouTube channel at the end of May (they are still available to view on YouTube).

The Abbey Theatre performs work on stage directly to an audience, so this type of pivot was a gamble for the theatre. However, the quality of the idea, its passion for creating work for Irish artists, and the novelty of delivery carried this over the line. This type of creativity and innovation, commitment to care for employees, and desire to connect with customers will be a crucial skill in a post-coronavirus environment.

3. Managing remote teams

Many of us have come to terms with Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom as part of our day-to-day routine during the pandemic. Some organisations such as Facebook and Twitter are now planning for permanent remote working. We are also likely to see remote working policies in many other non-technology firms in the future. The ability to manage remote teams effectively will be a critical skill in a post-coronavirus context, but this means more than managing a conversation with 12 people in a Zoom room! Research tells us, for example, that issues of trust are magnified when team members are remote (do you trust someone when you can’t see them?) Research also tells us that the maximum number for a remote team is 100. Beyond this number, it is difficult for people to engage in a task. Managing relations with, and between, people who will never be in the same room is a sophisticated skill that will be much in demand as remote working increases.

4. Critical thinking

COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout the world and due to the shortage of research and reliable information, fake news and unreliable data spread with comparable speed. Business leaders, politicians, and governments wanted to shift blame and avoid scrutiny. The capacity to parse information to determine what is accurate and reliable will be a valuable skill. Businesses need to know that objective and credible data inform their decisions. The capacity to critically analyse data to establish an informed opinion will, therefore, be valuable in the post-coronavirus world.

5. Trust-building and leadership

There have been stark differences in the type of leadership exhibited by those charged with guiding us through the COVID-19 pandemic. The unsuccessful leaders are those who tried to offer certainty by making false claims and offering false hope. The most successful leaders have built trust, admitted what they don’t know, and managed anxiety. Leaders do not always know the answer, but they recognise that followers are afraid in times of uncertainty. They also know that part of their role is to hold and contain uncertainty. In the future, this type of trust-building and containing skill will be more important than the ‘strong man’ version of leadership we have seen fail during this pandemic.

6. Emotional intelligence

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that anxiety is very real and it has severe consequences. In the future, employers will look for people who can assess the circumstances around them while also paying close attention to the emotional impact of decisions. Skills such as reflection and, more importantly, reflexivity will be critical. How well do you know yourself emotionally? How well do you know your impact on other people? What changes can you make to your management style as a result of knowing the answers to these questions? These are not intellectual questions that call for snappy answers at an interview; they are emotional questions that require an ongoing process, such as coaching, to answer.

These six skills are not a definitive list, but they offer a baseline from which others can develop.

Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.