Business management Soft Skills

The Trust Factor: Defining the most valuable soft skills in a remote work future

For quite a long time now, we’ve known that soft skills are becoming more and more important, especially in a world where task automation is on the rise. Conversely, having a degree or being trained in some specific job type is becoming less critical. But what skills will the remote work future demand?

According to Manpower Group’s Skills Revolution 2.0 survey, employers are starting to understand that it isn’t just about finding people with the right training, it’s about finding people with the right soft skills to be effective in the workplace. After all, upskilling, ongoing education and growing access to top quality courses online make it a whole lot easier to ensure your employees are properly trained to do their jobs. Soft skills are, therefore, coming into focus. 

Based on the premise that “robots take tasks, not jobs”, this survey highlights what employers feel are the most important soft skills their staff are going to need as the world becomes more automated. The most sought-after being the ability to communicate, followed by collaboration and problem-solving. All of this makes a whole lot of sense, right?

The Remote Workforce Has Massively Grown

The one thing that surveys like this one don’t take into account, however, is the massive growth of the remote workforce. While the ability to communicate, collaborate and solve problems efficiently is certainly going to be critically important for remote teams, there are two soft skills that will likely become even more important – reliability and trustworthiness.

Now, we’re not going to get into the debate over whether remote workers should have flexible hours, how remote work dramatically improves productivity, or any of that here. Those topics will be well covered in other blogs on this site. Today, we want to look at why we believe trustworthiness and reliability are going to become the most important soft skills for employees to cultivate, and for employers to seek out, as they shift to working remotely.

While the lack of in-person presence may be frustrating to some, we’ve found that strong and frequent communication is even more meaningful than simply physically sitting next to someone. While trust is the foundational element that will allow for this to happen effectively, focusing on clarity of goals, alignment of ownership, and accountability of outcomes will ultimately be much more successful vs. simply an in-person presence…. Having a high say:do ratio in terms of what you’re doing professionally is a more impactful way to build trust versus shooting the breeze about the weather. If you say you’re going to do something, do it and do it within the timeframe that you said you were going to do it.

Toptal Suddenly Remote Playbook

Are Your Employees Actually Working?

When you are dealing with a team that works on-site in your bricks and mortar offices, the chances are pretty good that they work structured hours – even those that have flexible hours still tend to work during certain core times. They are also always visible, and it’s a really simple matter to pop your head around a corner and check that yes, they are actually working. It’s easy to make sure that assigned tasks are getting completed, and while office-based fraud can and does happen, it’s a lot easier to catch when you have access to the worker’s equipment.

A remote team, or employee, or even a remote freelancer, on the other hand, is completely autonomous. They can cut your access to their laptop, sleep until noon, procrastinate work… In fact, that is the greatest stumbling block in the way of many companies switching to a remote model – the fact that they just don’t know if they can trust their people to be reliable and honest. 

The Downfalls of Micromanaging 

Unfortunately, this lack of trust frequently leads to micromanagement. In extreme cases, we see team leaders making staff install software that photographs them every five minutes to make sure they’re working. In less extreme circumstances, there are the constant video calls, interminable emails asking for updates, insisting on regular check-ins and more. It is quite possibly the worst-case scenario for remote workers – not to mention that it is distracting, frustrating and, let’s be honest, pretty insulting to the adults that work for you.

However, if you have a team of people that have proven themselves reliable, you will be able to simply assign the work you need done, give them a deadline, and receive it when it is complete. That right there is the ideal scenario, and it’s ideal for everyone involved.

Getting the Work Done

It’s ideal for you, as the employer, because it means that not only does the work get done, but you don’t have to worry about it getting done. That frees up your time to focus on your own responsibilities. It’s ideal for the remote worker, because they can get their work done – often a lot faster and more efficiently – without interruptions or distractions, and without worrying that they’ll get into trouble for stepping away from their desks. After all, the idea isn’t to make someone sit in a chair for eight hours a day, it’s to get the work done, and done well.

Employers with remote teams need, first and foremost, to know that they can trust their people to do what needs doing; they also need to trust that those employees are not going to breach company security. This can be a little more complex, which is why rock-solid trustworthiness is going to be so important.

Trust Your Employees

There is only so much that your network security can do for you; at some point, you need to trust in the human on the other side of that secure gateway – just like you would want to know that a babysitter coming to look after your children in your home is trustworthy. When you hire that babysitter, sure, it’d be great if they are good at helping with homework, and can speak to your kids on their level, but the most important thing is whether you can entrust your children into their care. If you safeguard your business with anything close to the same level of care you’d give to your children, of course you’re going to want someone you can trust.

We Leave you with this quote from The Talent Economy Podcast, interviewing the CEO of Toptal:

Paul Estes [interviewer]: “… As a leader of a large organization, how do you create that sense of community and trust within the teams?”

Taso Du Val, CEO of Toptal: “Well, a lot of people misconstrue trust for a handshake or an in-person meeting or something more traditional of this nature. And while all those things are good and do build trust to some degree, I don’t think they’re what build trust in the long term. What builds trust in the long term is showing by example that you trust the other person. That means that you trust them with their decision-making capabilities. That you trust them with the outcomes that they will produce. That you trust them in regards to their attention to detail, to their ability to quality control, whatever it may be. That you truly trust them in an every day working environment. And so, when somebody joins Toptal, and I’ll speak to this from an executive level, If an executive joins Toptal and they prove themselves time and time again, they become very autonomous within the organization. And they end up working within an environment where autonomy is key, but autonomy is enabled because we’ve in effect delegated trust to them. And they build that trust. Trust but verify is something that happens of course in the beginning, But then it becomes something that’s much more of a: Ok, we don’t have to verify so much because we’ve trusted you so much. Now we simply trust you and we can verify less. So by doing that, by cultivating that environment, you have a very, very trustful environment.”

Podcast interview with Taso Du Val, co-founder and CEO of Toptal; beginning at 11:37

As the future of remote work opens up and more people join the revolution, how will you make sure you have people you can trust and rely on on your team? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!


Bronwen Bartlett

By Bronwen Bartlett

Bronwen Bartlett is a professional freelance writer and remote work advocate. She mentors people making the transition from salaried to self-employed, and helps them find their niche.

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