Soft Skills for a Hybrid Work Environment

Whether on-site, hybrid or fully remote, strong communication skills are key

After 28 years at Duke, Tedryl Bumpass transitioned to a fully remote supervisory role last year and knew solid communication would be central to working well with 11 team members. To enhance her skills, she took a class on email etiquette and will enroll in an effective communication course on LinkedIn Learning.

“I tell this to everybody: if there’s a breakdown, the breakdown is usually with communication,” said Bumpass, Duke Clinical Research Institute trials manager.Tedryl Bumpass, a trials manager for Duke Clinical Research Institute. Photo courtesy of Tedryl Bumpass.

Soft skills — such as leadership, interpersonal communication, and problem solving — are essential, sought-after abilities, especially on teams with hybrid staff. A Harris Poll last year found that 73 percent of companies value soft skills more than ever before, and that nearly one in five believe they are more valuable than hard skills gained through training or education.

“The only thing that will actually keep you in your job are your people skills,” said Joy Birmingham, assistant director for Duke Learning and Organization Development (L&OD), a unit in Duke Human Resources. “IQ gets you in the door, but people skills get you to stay in the business.”

In addition to interpersonal communication, here are two other soft skills for any work arrangement.

Leadership

Natalie Spring, senior director of Prospect Research Management and Analytics. Photo courtesy of Natalie Spring. During COVID-19, Natalie Spring needed to hire three researchers and a data analyst on her Alumni Engagement and Development team.

As part of the hiring process, Spring, senior director of Prospect Research Management and Analytics, included her colleagues, asking each to suggest strengths and responsibilities for new team members.

“Because I extend that trust to them, they extend that trust back to me,” Spring said. “As a leader, it means I have a stronger team.”

Spring learned about including others as a Duke Leadership Academy scholar in 2016. Building and maintaining mutual respect and trust are crucial because she and her colleagues collaborate to compile, evaluate, and interpret data to engage donors.

“My role is to grow people,” she said. “It’s not just to hire somebody and make sure they show up.”

Problem solving

Director of Communications for the Department of Surgery, Scott Behm. Photo courtesy of Scott Behm. As director of communications for the Department of Surgery, Scott Behm manages all official content, including publishing a bi-annual Duke Surgery magazine sent to 4,000 recipients.

Before the pandemic, he met with team members in a conference room, where they discussed design, sketched ideas and wrote notes on a dry erase board. When COVID-19 hit, that was no longer possible.

Behm found new ways to collaborate in a virtual setting, which became crucial as Duke Surgery moved the print magazine to an online format for the first time. To stay on track, he replicated meetings over Zoom.

“When you’re faced with a problem, and you don’t have any way forward but to solve it, that’s what you have to do,” Behm said.

Birmingham said that soft skills, which are part of a person’s character or learned through experience, can carry a career to the next level.

“We were always asking for an agile workforce,” said Birmingham, “but I think today, that agility is going to help us survive things like a pandemic or dramatic changes.”

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