As businesses around the world begin to recover from the effects of COVID-19, the topic on everyone’s mind is what a post-pandemic workplace looks like. The Return-to-Office (or RTO) mass movement has already begun, as many countries begin to feel the positive impact of vaccinations and dropping infection rates. COVID-19 has truly changed the way businesses and employees interact, bringing the concept of hybrid work to the fore, showing us why remote work is the future, and tapping into new opportunities in technology, collaboration, and work management across industries. 

But while many of us have gotten used to the WFH life, research shows that traditional offices won’t be dying out any time soon. Randstad’s 2020 Workmonitor survey found that workers overwhelmingly want time back in the office, both for social interaction and a distraction-free workspace, with just 1 in 5 saying they would like to work from home full-time. While many businesses may opt for a reduced workforce in-office, that still means that investing in renewing your workspace for the future of work is a priority.

When thinking about updating your workplace for RTO, it’s important not just to think in terms of ticking boxes or stocking up on PPE. Employee’s well-being, both physical and mental, should be at the forefront of managers’ minds. As a leader in the office, how can you maximize your team’s happiness and productivity for a safe and happy RTO?

Structuring your return-to-work program 

The topic of employees’ mental health and wellness has increased in visibility over the last several years, and 2020 truly shone a light on where work needs to be done. Many newly remote workers, or those who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, shared stories of realizing how high their burnout levels had been pre-COVID and had begun to reevaluate their work mindset. Founder and CEO of Firstbase Chris Herd shared his findings from the last 12 months on a recent Twitter thread about where worker’s priorities would lie coming out of the pandemic — including "life-work balance," asynchronous work, and a hobby renaissance. 

MarketWatch, who surveyed U.S. workers during the first lockdown in April 2020, found that “nearly 70% of workers claimed that this is the most stressful time of their entire professional careers, even when compared to major events like the September 11 terror attacks, the 2008 Great Recession, and others.”

What’s more, MarketWatch also found that 93% of workers believe that the companies that will survive COVID-19 will be those that support employee mental health, which shows the importance of investing in this area as we make the return to the office. But ensuring your employees feel safe and happy in the workplace takes more than a few simple adjustments. As a manager, showing leadership and commitment through your portfolio of soft skills will take your relationship with your team to the next level. 

The importance of soft skills in the workplace

While every worker has various skills they need to do their job every day, what sets great workers and managers apart is their leadership soft skills. You can often recognize outstanding managers by how they relate to their team members, how they manage a project to completion, or simply how they motivate others to do their best.

And while the world continues to delve deeper into technological innovation, the human element of management will become more important. In 2018, Doug Harward and Ken Taylor of Training Industry, Inc. wrote, “While technology is helping lead innovation, developing our soft skills is necessary to stay relevant, communicate value and supplement those important technical skills.”

A 2017 joint study between Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan found that soft skills training, including communication and problem-solving, boosts productivity and retention by 12% and delivers a 250% return on investment, based on higher productivity and retention.

What’s more, a study by Deloitte Access Economics predicts that two-thirds of all jobs in Australia will rely on soft skills by the year 2030. 

10 key soft skills for managers returning to work after COVID

Now that we know just how essential soft skills will be in returning to the workplace, you may be wondering how to improve soft skills. What are the most important ones you should utilize? We’ve gathered 10 key soft skills for managers to invest in for their post-COVID teams.

  1. Adaptability and resilience
    While 2020 has been immeasurably difficult for many workers, it has driven home the importance of resilience and adaptability. Workplace processes are changing rapidly, and as a manager, it’s important to set an example of flexibility and willingness to readjust. A study published in ScienceDirect showed that highly resilient employees are much more likely to stay at their organizations — so if you want to retain your team members, demonstrating resilience is one of the most important soft skills for managers to master.
  2. Effective communication
    Research by U.S. company Gartner shows that 70% of business mistakes are due to poor communication. With more ways than ever to stay connected with your team members, there’s no excuse for bad communication. Practice active listening, whether your team members are in the room or thousands of miles away. Really hear their concerns, and make sure they are aware of your attentiveness. In turn, make sure that your communication style is as clear and personable as possible. Your employees should not doubt what you need from them and how you can best work together. 
  3. Conflict resolution
    Conflict between employees is inevitable, especially with so much uncertainty right now. As a manager, understand that every team member has a different set of personal goals and needs. Your job is to mediate discussions and find a compromise that satisfies everyone so that productivity can continue. 
  4. Collaboration
    You may have assembled the most experienced, productive team around, but it means nothing unless you can collaborate effectively with one another. Ensure your team is equipped with a collaboration-focused work management system, where projects can be edited and managed in real-time, with input from everyone involved.
  5. Motivation for growth
    Every employee has ambition, but it can easily be stifled when they feel their managers aren’t interested in helping them to achieve their goals. When leading your team, make sure you regularly check in with each person on their career goals. How can you help them reach further? How is their work helping/hindering them in their journey? Even if their goals can’t be met in your organization, having a manager that authentically cares about their development is something that will always stay with them. 
  6. Strategic planning
    No business can succeed without a clear plan for success, and this goes for its teams too. As a manager, routinely meet with your team to assess workloads and big-picture details of your project’s progress. Always ask yourself and your team if what you’re doing directly relates to your team’s overall goal and mission. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to go back and reassess how to move forward. These are critical soft skills for managers to keep in mind.
  7. Emotional intelligence and empathy
    Even before the pandemic, Gartner research revealed that 45% of well-being budget increases were being allocated to mental and emotional well-being programs. The importance of paying attention to your team member’s mental well-being can't be understated — and all you need to do to get started is listen. Pay attention to how your team members deal with their everyday work and be mindful of how you engage with them. Make checking in on your team members’ moods a daily habit, and encourage them to come to you when they are feeling overwhelmed or need a break to recharge. Keep working from home psychology in mind, and make sure your team members aren't burnt out, or feeling lonely from their remote locations. An employee that is rested, clear-headed, and supported is far more likely to do their best work than one who is burnt out and alone in their problems. 
  8. Time management
    Time management is one of those holy grail soft skills for managers that so many struggle to get right. The truth is, there is no one secret to effective time management — you have to find a method that works for you. Whether you go with a time-tracking app like RescueTime, a stopwatch, or the Pomodoro technique, it’s all about finding a structure to your day that works and encouraging your team members to follow suit with their own perfect method. 
  9. Innovation and creativity
    During the pandemic, teams around the world have had to get creative with what they can do with reduced resources and have achieved amazing results. Now that we’re returning to the office, it’s important not to let that innovative spirit fade. Encourage your team to share their ideas, no matter how half-formed or far-fetched they may seem. Brainstorm together, and create an environment where active feedback and spitballing new ideas are encouraged. You never know where your next great idea will come from.
  10. Active learning
    As a team leader in the 21st century, it’s vital that you are constantly honing your craft and learning more about your work. No great business ever got that way by believing that they knew everything. Encourage your team to schedule learning sessions into their week and regularly check in on their progress. Speak to your HR department about funding for educational programs or guest speakers, and see how high your team can fly.

How Wrike can help to ease the transition of returning to work after COVID

Investing in a collaboration-focused work management system will make your team’s transition back to the office much easier and more comfortable. With Wrike, teams can update each other and provide edits and feedback in real-time. Email and chat integrations mean that all your teams’ conversations can be found in one place, which leaves no room for poor communication or missed ideas. 

Use Wrike to plan your entire RTO program, with plenty of resource management tools at your fingertips to manage everything from PPE to employee scheduling. With customizable workflows, each team can tweak their workspace to suit them, which gives everyone more breathing room to get creative. 

Learn more about how Wrike can help your team thrive as they return to the office with a free two-week trial.