You are working from home more: here are 6 ways to sharpen your social skills

Social skills aren’t just important after work hours. These skills – which are often characterized as “soft skills” – are a key to your success at work, even if you work remotely or from home, says recruitment specialist, Glassdoor.

“Whether it’s reading a colleague’s visual cues or responding to a leader’s request, it’s essential that social skills are at the forefront,” explains career and executive coach Adriana Llames Cowdin, adding, “the better you communicate and engage, the greater your success will be.”

Social skills can be even more important as a remote worker than if you’re based at an office. Why? Because you can miss out on casual, everyday conversations with your coworkers that can lead to more effortless relationship building and the chance to show off key social skills such as communication, active listening, empathy, and respect.

“This means that remote workers usually have to work twice as hard to form the connections [that are] needed to work together on projects, provide great customer service, communicate effectively … and fulfill their responsibilities,” explains leadership coach Nicole A. Bryan.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to hone your social skills when you work from home. But it will take more thought and effort. Here are six ways to help you sharpen your social skills when working remotely.

1. Stretch Your Communication Skills

No matter your industry or position, the ability to communicate effectively — both verbally and non-verbally — is very important. Easy-to-understand and direct communication helps make it easier for others to understand your thoughts and ideas.

To sharpen your communication skills when you work from home, try taking opportunities to present your work, both formally and informally, even if it is a simple show-and-tell with your coworkers.

Then, ask for feedback: Did your peers or manager understand your ideas? Because you can’t see your fellow team members’ body language, it’s important to ask them if they understand what was being shared. In other words, prioritize communication.

Career coach Sally Anne Carroll suggests learning how communication happens within your company and looking for ways to be an active participant. For example, if your company favors Slack over email, make sure to log on, send, and respond to messages throughout the day.

2. Practice Empathy

If empathy sounds like a social skill that should be reserved for friends and family, then think again. Empathy is “the ability to understand, relate, and identify with the feelings of someone else,” says Cowdin, and “when working in any environment, it’s important to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes.’”

Adds Carroll: “Cultivating empathy and being professionally transparent with others goes a long way towards building strong, trusting work relationships.”

Of course, cultivating empathy can be tough to do when you work remotely and don’t have a line-of-sight into what’s happening with co-workers. “It used to be the case that smiling or nodding hello when passing someone in the hallway was enough to build that connection,”

Says Inna Post, founder of Inna Post & Associates. “Now, we need to be more proactive.”

To sharpen your empathy skills, Cowdin recommends looking for opportunities in which you can “approach issues from the other person’s point of view.” You can do that by “asking clarifying questions,” she suggests.

And Carroll agrees: She recommends that you “practice the art of never assuming you know someone else’s context — asking questions instead of making statements and extending grace to colleagues in all situations,” even when you don’t agree.

Additionally, you can write down opportunities to show empathy. For instance, if a coworker mentions on a Zoom call that her dog is having surgery on Wednesday, take note – literally – to follow up on Thursday and ask how the surgery went.

“A single genuine question about someone’s child, parent, or pet can create a deeper connection than seeing someone’s face on hours and hours of impersonal meetings,” Post points out.

3. Practice Active Listening

Active listening goes beyond simply hearing what someone says. It’s actively engaging with the speaker. One way to do that is by paraphrasing and reflecting back what he or she says. Here’s how: Take notes while coworkers are talking and write down any specific key phrases.

Every now and then, repeat back what you have written down to ensure you are understanding them. At the end of each conversation, reiterate the key points and the key takeaways.

Active listening can be a bit trickier on Zoom or other video calls, on which most employees put themselves on mute when others speak. “However, it’s essential for people to know that they are being heard,” even on video calls, says Post.

She recommends turning your camera on and “nodding and smiling while your colleagues are speaking” so they know you’re really listening.

If you can’t turn on your camera, then Post suggests you keep your microphone on. Take care not to interrupt the speaker – and to keep background noise to a minimum.

But keeping your speaker on will allow you to “contribute to the conversation and give positive affirmations,” when possible, “so the other people don’t feel like they’re speaking into a vacuum,” Post says.

4. Stay Accountable and Visible

“There is an even greater need for workers whose home is their primary work location to take responsibility for their work and deliverables because the constant oversight of a co-located boss and team no longer exists,” says Bryan. Sometimes it’s easier to “hide out” behind a screen rather than make an extra effort to be visible when working remotely.

Accountability is such an important social skill to hone from home. To increase your accountability, keep a list of your goals, projects, and deliverables front-and-center. Share the goals during regular check-ins with your manager, and ask for feedback to help you stay on track.

In addition to accountability, visibility — literally, being seen — is also important for work-from-home employees. You can build up your visibility by virtually “raising your hand for assignments, special projects, and opportunities to share knowledge with your team,” Carroll says.

That might look like volunteering to lend a hand to a coworker, scheduling regular face-time meetings with your manager, or regularly contributing at team meetings and on projects. You can also “reach out to introduce yourself across functional lines, to new staff and congratulate others on wins,” she says. “Never forget that as a remote worker, you are still part of a team – you’re not an island.”

5. Set Realistic Boundaries

Even though you need to remain accountable and visible, you must also have boundaries.

It may sound anti-social, but setting boundaries is actually the opposite: “The ability to set healthy professional boundaries is key to healthy professional relationships, manageable workloads, effective and trustworthy teams and work-life balance in a remote, tech-enabled environment,” Carroll says. After all, if you’re burned out, you can’t give your best self to work.

You can sharpen your boundaries by “taking time to understand what boundaries need to be set and practicing making simple requests,” says Carroll, such as “fair distribution of workload, communicating email boundaries, or setting clear work hours or deliverable times.”

6. Learn to Navigate Conflicts Confidently

Conflicts can arise at work, even for remote workers. And because conflict can be impossible to avoid, learning to navigate it professionally is an important social skill for all workers to hone.

Post’s top piece of advice for navigating conflicts more effectively is to not “put yourself against people,” she advises. “Always place the problem on one side of the equation and your team on the other side” by using words such as “we” to “show camaraderie and empathy.”

Doing this will not only help you resolve problems more quickly, but it will help you build stronger and more empathetic connections with co-workers.

For example, Post says, “if you have to meet on Zoom to deal with a seemingly impossible problem, start the meeting by praising your colleagues for past success in dealing with a similar issue.

Try saying something like, ‘This isn’t the first time we’ve had to solve a problem like this. Kudos to Jane, who was able to find a workaround last week. Let’s think together about how we can solve this issue.’”

  • This article originally featured on Glassdoor, and can be found here

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You are working from home more: here are 6 ways to sharpen your social skills