What Are the Essential Soft Skills for Project Managers in Hybrid or Remote Environments?

Much has changed about the way we work in recent times, with many of us leaving the office behind for good. Nowadays, roughly 25% to 35% of employees work from home, taking advantage of the benefits of remote work, such as skipping the commute. The flexibility of working remotely is attractive to many people, particularly those with childcare or pet care needs.

Others prefer to have a foot in each camp, working remotely for part of the week, and at the office for the remainder. Today, almost one in two ‘remote-capable’ workers say they currently work in such a hybrid arrangement, and more than half anticipate moving in that direction in the future. There is still a certain amount of flux in this area, as both employers and employees seek to find the right balance in terms of time off- and on-site. 

Studies have shown that while some 83% of workers say a hybrid model is optimal, it does place a new responsibility on leaders to give employees resources and support tailored to their needs. In the world of project management, this can mean adapting the way we work to ensure collaboration, cohesion, and productivity across the board. Focusing on soft skills for project managers is one of the main ways companies can keep teams connected, wherever they are in the world.

How to project manage in an evolving environment

Project management is challenging at the best of times. Research indicates that despite a lot of hard work, only a quarter of all projects are delivered successfully. There are many factors that affect this, from unexpected delays to budget changes. Working remotely or in a hybrid model adds an extra layer of complication that project managers need to overcome. 

Many of the challenges will be familiar to us all these days: keeping teams connected and collaborating can be a struggle when some members are in the office and others are at home. Maintaining a strong company culture is tricky too, as employees experience disparate working experiences and develop varying priorities. Talent retention is also a hot topic at the moment – a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2022 – which means that keeping staff motivated and engaged is another major priority. 

So how should leaders in remote or hybrid project management tackle these problems? One solution is a shift in management styles. For decades, our skills have been honed to best serve face-to-face situations, in an office or on-site. Now, we need to adapt to better suit our new way of working. That means, in part, developing soft skills for project managers.

What are soft skills – and why do they matter?

Hard and soft project management skills are terms you’ve probably heard many times, at leadership meetings or during the process of recruitment. In a nutshell, a hard skill is your ability to carry out a specific task, while a soft skill refers to the way you work in order to perform that task. 

Soft skills are sometimes referred to as interpersonal behavior skills, because they mostly relate to how you interact with your colleagues. Most people gain them through experience rather than education: there is potential for learning in every interaction we have with each other. This makes soft skills transferable, which means you can take them with you and apply them in different situations, jobs, or even industries. Many people will put soft skills like dependability, teamwork, and problem-solving on their resumé to help catch a recruiter’s eye. 

In project management, hard skills like organization, planning, and delegating are necessary tools of the trade. Included under this umbrella would be technical skills in a specific industry, whether it be construction, marketing, logistics, or any other sector you find yourself in. While vital to effective delivery, hard skills are only one part of a project manager’s toolbox. 

Five top soft skills for remote or hybrid project managers

Project manager soft skills are often more important in practice, as they dictate how a leader communicates and collaborates with their team. These are the human-to-human attributes that will help to support, encourage, and inspire success among colleagues. They’re essential at all times, but now more than ever, as we manage rapid change in the way we work. Here are five key soft skills that will help you deliver successful projects in remote or hybrid project management:

1. Robust adaptability

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is among the highest priorities for leaders in every sector this year. A study by EY shows that adaptability in the workplace — the ability to learn and unlearn — is critical to navigating new and novel situations, like managing a hybrid or remote workforce. It’s natural to feel discomfort with change, but tackling an evolving situation with a positive attitude and proactive approach makes for a valuable project manager in today’s climate. Embracing the opportunities that come with shifts in the status quo can lead to previously unimaginable advances or discoveries in the field of project management.

2. Heart-led leadership

A project manager’s role is to bring together many different contributors and marshall their individual efforts towards one united goal. Strong leadership is even more important when team members are separated by time, distance, and circumstances. However, the days of tough love are over: nowadays, companies are looking for ‘heart-led leaders’ who show vulnerability, humility, transparency, and empathy in order to effectively support and engage their team. It’s about forging a real connection, not just issuing instructions or delegating tasks.

3. Advanced communication

It goes without saying that communication is key in project management: without it, deadlines would be missed, budgets would be exceeded, and delivery would be jeopardized. With team members working in the office, remotely, or a hybrid of the two, communication as a skill has never been more useful. Collaborating, sharing resources, and increasing productivity are made easier with tools like the Wrike Remote Work Template, but often, it’s the individual communication style of the project manager that dictates the success of the message. Ensuring clarity, maintaining empathy, and keeping channels open are key. 

4. Artful agility

Roadblocks are a fact of life for project managers, and most are very familiar with working around them. Problems with a project can come from any direction, including stakeholders, colleagues, and external actors. Remote and hybrid work can add extra complications, so the ability to side-step issues, rethink plans, and course-correct quickly is a valuable one. So too is solution-based thinking, which will help the team move smoothly through a project’s life cycle, reaching its goal faster. This all makes agility a soft skill that’s very much in demand right now.

5. Emotional intelligence

There was once a time when ‘feelings’ were considered irrelevant or even harmful to a business environment. Thankfully, that has changed, as we’ve come to understand that emotions can be used to energize, motivate, connect, and influence. Recognizing and harnessing this power makes emotional intelligence one of the most valuable soft skills for project managers in the modern workplace. This is particularly true of teams in multiple locations, when managers will need to look beyond metrics to see what is truly motivating an employee to do their best work, whether they’re pushing open the office door or logging in from home. 

Soft Skills for Project Managers Working Remotely | Wrike

Use Wrike to stay on top of remote or hybrid project management 

These soft skills for project managers are key to making a hybrid or remote workplace work for you. They work best, though, in a collaborative, efficient environment – the kind made possible by Wrike, the most powerful work management platform available to project managers. Built for teams and organizations in an office, hybrid, or remote environment, Wrike helps you plan, prioritize, and execute projects flawlessly, no matter where you are in the world.

Real-time commenting, instant @mentions, and online collaboration software help everyone stay on the same page, communicating fluidly and progressing seamlessly. Customized workflows, adjustable Kanban boards, and powerful reporting keep stakeholders informed of each stage of your process – making your hard work visible to those who matter. Try Wrike for free today, and let our industry-leading platform show you the future of project management. 

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