Three soft skills to learn in the digital age

Embracing new technology, focusing on human connection and cultivating a holistic skillset are a few soft sills that will set engineers apart

By Morrissey Goodale May 20, 2024

In the landscape of professional services, where the mastery of soft skills has long been hailed as paramount, the advent of advanced technology and the normalization of hybrid and remote work models are heralding a sizable shift. As the AE workforce becomes increasingly diverse—with baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z coexisting and collaborating—philosophies and deployment of soft skills are being put into a blender.

Embracing technological advancements

Long gone are the days when a firm’s success rested solely on firm handshakes and face-to-face interactions across mahogany desks. While such traditional modes of engagement remain cherished by some, the digital age demands a more tech-savvy approach. The inclination of your employees—and your clients—is toward using digital platforms for communication, business development, mentorship, learning, and relationship building.

Virtual communication: With the hybrid/work-from-home model having become the norm for the majority of industry firms, the ability to effectively communicate through digital mediums such as videoconferencing, email, and instant messaging is vital. Virtual meetings, once an occasional necessity, are now integral to daily operations, requiring proficiency in conveying ideas, building rapport, and resolving conflicts remotely.

Prioritize clarity and conciseness. When communicating through digital mediums such as email or instant messaging, aim for clarity and brevity. Avoid jargon or ambiguous language, and use bullet points or numbered lists to organize information for easy and quick comprehension.

Networking in the digital sphere: Online platforms and professional forums continue to emerge as fertile grounds for cultivating professional relationships and exploring business opportunities. Millennials and Gen Zers adeptly navigate these virtual landscapes, leveraging social media to showcase expertise, engage with industry peers, and expand their professional circles beyond geographical constraints.

Get involved. Actively engage in online communities and discussions relevant to your firm’s target markets to build connections and establish thought leadership. Share valuable insights, participate in discussions, and offer assistance to demonstrate expertise and build credibility.

E-learning and mentorship: Traditional mentorship models, characterized by in-person guidance and face-to-face interactions, are being reimagined through e-mentoring programs and virtual coaching sessions. Technology facilitates seamless knowledge transfer across generations and geographical boundaries, empowering junior professionals to access mentorship and learning resources tailored to their needs and preferences.

Develop virtual mentoring channels. Create virtual mentorship opportunities within your organization. Encourage employees to approach potential mentors with specific goals and objectives for their mentorship relationship, and encourage them to actively seek feedback and guidance to maximize their learning and development. By the way, don’t exclude yourself from the experiment.

The persistence of human connection

Amidst the rapid digitalization of professional services, one timeless truth remains unchanged: the centrality of human connection. Regardless of technological advancements, the essence of soft skills lies in fostering meaningful relationships, understanding client needs, and collaborating effectively toward shared goals.

Empathy and emotional intelligence: While technology streamlines processes and enhances efficiency, it is empathy and emotional intelligence that underpin successful client interactions and team dynamics. The ability to understand and respond to emotions, anticipate concerns, and tailor solutions to meet unique requirements distinguishes exceptional professionals from mere service providers and order-takers.

Ask questions and listen for understanding—not agreement. Practice empathy and active listening to deepen understanding and build rapport. Ask open-ended questions, allowing clients ample opportunity to express themselves fully. When paraphrasing to confirm understanding, use affirmative responses to convey genuine interest and engagement. Leverage videoconferencing whenever possible to create a more personal connection and better gauge non-verbal cues, reinforcing your commitment to understanding and addressing concerns and objectives effectively.

Collaboration and teamwork: In a hybrid or remote work environment, fostering a culture of collaboration is imperative for driving innovation and achieving collective success. Soft skills such as active listening, conflict resolution, and constructive feedback remain essential for nurturing cohesive teams that thrive amidst digital disruption.

Invite participation. Foster a culture of collaboration by encouraging open communication, sharing credit for successes, and soliciting input from team members virtually. Embrace diversity of thought and perspective in digital collaboration, prioritizing collective goals over individual achievements while leveraging digital tools for effective teamwork and communication.

Adaptability and resilience: The rapid pace of technological change demands adaptability and resilience from professionals across generations. Whether it’s mastering new software tools, navigating virtual team dynamics, or responding to unforeseen challenges, the ability to embrace change and bounce back from setbacks is indispensable in an evolving landscape.

Don’t wallow in it. Develop resilience by maintaining a positive attitude, seeking support from colleagues or mentors virtually during challenging times, and focusing on solutions rather than dwelling on setbacks encountered in digital workspaces.

Cultivating a holistic skillset

As professional services firms navigate the intersection of human interaction and technological innovation, the key to success lies in cultivating a holistic skillset that encompasses both technical prowess and soft skills mastery.

Continuous learning and development: Embracing a growth mindset is essential for staying abreast of evolving technologies and industry trends. Professional development initiatives that blend technical training with soft skills enhancement empower professionals to thrive in a dynamic environment where the only constant is change.

Take responsibility for your own learning. Own your professional development by setting aside time for virtual learning and skill-building activities. Seek out opportunities for virtual training, workshops, or online courses that align with your career goals and interests, leveraging digital resources to enhance your knowledge and expertise.

Diversity and inclusion: Recognizing the diverse perspectives and strengths that each generation brings to the table is instrumental in fostering a culture of inclusion and innovation. By harnessing the unique talents of each generation, professional services firms can cultivate multidimensional teams capable of tackling complex challenges with creativity and agility.

Be deliberate. Actively promote diversity and inclusion within your organization by advocating for diverse hiring practices and participating in virtual employee resource groups or diversity initiatives. Foster an inclusive work environment where all voices are heard and valued virtually, leveraging digital platforms to facilitate diverse perspectives and contributions.

Ethical leadership: As technology permeates every facet of professional life, ethical considerations become increasingly critical. Upholding ethical standards and integrity in decision-making is essential for building trust with employees and clients, preserving reputation, and safeguarding against the ethical dilemmas posed by emerging technologies.

Set a high bar. Take responsibility for ethical decision-making, seek guidance or clarification virtually when faced with ethical dilemmas, and hold yourself and others accountable for upholding ethical principles in digital interactions and operations.

The evolution of soft skills is not a departure from humanity but a reflection of its enduring essence in a digitally driven world. While the tools and mediums of communication may evolve, the fundamental importance of empathy, collaboration, and adaptability remains unchanged. As the generations come together to shape the future of work, the intersection between technological advancements and human connection is becoming the birthplace of long-lasting competitive advantages.

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