The last twelve months have seen IT managers face a host of unprecedented challenges, thanks to the Covid pandemic and its consequences. With 2021 kicking off with fresh lockdown restrictions, the difficulties faced by IT leadership teams show no sign of abating. The ongoing remote working scenarios present a range of difficulties for successful management, and as such, a new approach is making waves. Adopting a focus on soft skills for IT management is now seen as crucial for this new era.
The Essential Toolkit For All Managers
The idea of managers developing soft skills is hardly a new one. Indeed, even the ancient military strategist Sun Tzu described the need for leaders to embody five key qualities of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage and discipline. In the modern business world, the importance of showing such qualities as empathy, demonstrating great communication and team working capabilities has long been accepted as the standard, particularly for departments such as Human Resources. Now, it is IT leaders who are being instructed to place a greater emphasis on the vital soft skills if they want to best support their organisation as a whole.
The Core Soft Skills
There are many so-called soft skills that can be deployed constructively by managers of any department. The many available guides to management list varying combinations of these, but for today’s working environment, the following six qualities should be seen as particularly relevant to IT leaders.
- Communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Team working skills
- Leadership skills
- Empathy (interpersonal skills)
Of course, many of these skills will have always formed a core component of an IT manager’s remit, but in these current challenging times, these must be re-examined in order to ensure that the best approach is being taken to motivate and assess staff.
How Covid Has Changed IT Management
The sudden switch to remote working, coupled with the need to swiftly adopt new software and technology to facilitate this, meant that the workload for IT management changed almost overnight. The regular trouble-shooting of employee’s tech-related problems increased due to unfamiliarity with new systems or use of incompatible personal devices, and was exacerbated by the challenges of fixing these problems remotely.
The new software adopted by many organisations was in many cases cloud-based, requiring speedy configuration and ongoing attention that further stretched IT staff. The situation has placed great importance on effective communication from IT leadership, which, with non-verbal communication cues now largely made impossible, places an emphasis on messages, emails, and calls.
The Health Of Employees Matters
The need to prioritise proactive communication with staff has been identified as a good starting point for supporting employees who are feeling the strain of the new working practices. Sometimes referred to as the “shadow pandemic”, there has been a significant rise in employees experiencing symptoms of poor mental health.
Feelings of isolation, anxiety, and fatigue, along with loss of motivation, have been widely reported by employees who are working from home for the first time. The economic downturn caused by the pandemic has only made these issues more prevalent, and, with remote working and lockdown restrictions both set to continue for the foreseeable future, smart IT managers need to look at ways to better support their teams.
Whilst nobody would (or should) expect managers to be mental health experts, there are certainly steps that can be taken which can make a real difference. Fostering an open, trusting culture is important, alongside leaders sharing their own struggles. Openness and empathy can go a long way in making employees feel valued and heard, whilst encouraging staff to take their holiday allowances is a good way to help avoid high burn out rates.
By developing a framework for company-wide mental health support, and by making soft skills such as these a priority, IT leaders can truly help their teams navigate 2021.