Soft skills, such as communication and teamwork, are crucial for employees in a retail setting working face-to-face with customers. Those same skills are also important when interacting with customers digitally, whether that’s managing a social media channel, taking online orders, responding to online inquiries or any other digital work activities.
Hardware Retailing spoke to Chrystal Taylor, head geek at SolarWinds, which offers information technology (IT) monitoring and management tools. She writes and creates content in various forms discussing different aspects of IT, and has been a remote worker for over 10 years, serving as a team lead of 20 engineers for several years. She shares her insights on some of the most important soft skills when working and interacting in a digital world.
In a digital environment, written communication may be even more important than in-person because you can’t read facial expressions or hear voice inflections. When communicating via text message, email or any other digital message, fact-based communication works best to avoid misinterpretation and misunderstanding. When opinions are warranted or necessary, Taylor suggests expressing your reasoning to help others understand your opinion.
“I also recommend when your emotions are heightened by a topic or individual, take a few minutes to breathe after writing a response but before submitting that response,” Taylor says. “Reread it, and make sure it says what you want to say and how you want it to be expressed.”
Ask a trusted colleague or friend to review your response to provide feedback and help you determine if you’re actually saying what you intend to say.
“Sometimes, an outside perspective can help you understand the way things may be perceived by the reader, and it may not match what you intended to express,” Taylor says.
Empathy is another soft skill that is important in a retail setting but can be difficult to express and feel when interacting digitally. Text-based communication excludes facial expressions, body language and vocal tones used to pick up on empathy and emotion, so communication needs to be straightforward.
“Outwardly convey empathy by using phrases like, ‘I’m sorry to hear that’ or ‘How can I help you with that issue?’ to express an empathetic response that doesn’t require body language or facial expression,” Taylor says. “Empathy is especially important in customer interactions, as it can be a large part of quality customer service.”
Working together as a team is another important soft skill in both the physical and digital world, and skills like collaboration and leadership go right along with teamwork. During the pandemic, many teams were forced to work remotely and figure out what collaboration looked like through a screen. Fortunately, numerous tools exist to facilitate collaboration digitally, Taylor says.
“Teamwork can be helped along by creating an environment that has elements of fun and the everyday along with spaces for work only and feedback for improvement,” she says.
Taylor says her team used non-work chat channels to share personal aspects. They also set up brainstorming chats with cameras on and hosted virtual happy hours.
“There was no leaning over the cube to ask questions; we all prodded each other through our chat client,” Taylor says. “The non-work chat gave us space to talk about hobbies, family, friends, food, whatever—which builds camaraderie, a key to quality teamwork.”
If you’re in a leadership position, Taylor says it’s important to pay attention to employees who may be isolating themselves or being isolated while working online.
“Check on them, pull them back into the group when you can and call on them for opinions or updates during team calls even though it might make them uncomfortable,” Taylor says. “Do what you can to create and maintain cohesiveness. Leadership is perhaps the most challenging in this environment. It requires creativity and trust.”