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Business lessons from 2020 – Part 4 – The right skills

COVID-19 was yet another reminder of how quickly the business environment can change. Age-old business models can fail quickly. New markets can open-up equally fast. This part of the series takes a look at the newest trends in workplace skills.

Language skills

Business communication is a big part of workplace effectiveness. Most of us now work from home. Face-to-face communication has sharply declined. Gestures, verbal tones, and paralanguage are meaningless in text messages and emails. Language proficiency has assumed unprecedented importance. Forbes says that developing language skills can really help employees. Peer-to-peer communication is a major component of business communication. Skilled communicators are held in high regard in organizations. highlights another facet of language skill. In an era when team members work across geographies, learning a second language can be very helpful. Proficiency in a foreign language opens new opportunities. Employees of multinational firms should consider learning another language. This could be the native language of their employer’s most important target geography. Millions of migrant professionals live and work in the US. They regularly send money online as remittances to their home countries. Most of these expats are inherently bilingual. Others can turn to online courses. Learning a new language can be free and fun. Duolingo, Memrise, and Rosetta Stone are some popular language learning platforms.

Digital skills

The ability to use computers and the internet for work is not optional. In a 2020 report Capgemini put digital literacy at par with basic literacy. Employees who invest in sharpening their digital skills can grow faster. Technology has been a great disruptor. Instead of resisting technological change, embrace it. Organizations prefer employees who help make the business ‘digitally resilient’. Taking the time to learn relevant digital tools is an investment that pays back exponentially in the long run.

One subset of digital skills has seen a surge in demand since 2020. According to Harvard Business Review ‘data skills’ have become essential for almost every role in an organization. Employees who can interpret data and gain insights are more valuable. Data Science and Machine Learning courses from edX, Udemy, Pluralsight, and Coursera can help learn these skills.

Interpersonal skills

People management is still important. Regardless of where employees work from, there must be coordination. Interpersonal or ‘soft’ skills are among the most important in organizations. The Wall Street Journal calls interpersonal skills “the greatest indicators of performance.” These skills are the defining characteristic of all high achievers in the business world. Developing interpersonal skills requires tremendous effort. It encompasses a range of sub skills including active listening, empathy, motivation, constructive criticism, and compassion.

Communication skills

Communication is not uniform across channels. For example written and verbal business communication can be very different. McKinsey Global places high importance on acquiring excellent communication skills. Employees must be equally comfortable communicating in-person and online. Communication is about effective self-expression. Employers value workers who are articulate in their opinions and who do not shy away from discussions.

Misinterpretation is a constant hazard over digital communication channels. Effective communicators leave no room for ambiguities. EY calls ‘clear, prompt, and transparent communication’ a skill that every employee must develop. It comes in handy when dealing with customers, suppliers, investors, and regulators. Good communication skills let employees handle difficult and unexpected situations smoothly. Needless to say, communication skills contribute to career growth.


The only way employees can keep from becoming obsolete is by adapting. A World Economic Forum report from 2020 indicates that 35% of skills deemed essential today will change in the next 5 years. Employees will have to keep learning new skills to remain relevant. The ‘Future Work Skills 2020’ research paper by the University of Phoenix reached a similar conclusion. ‘Novel and adaptive thinking’ will be a crucial skill in the next 5 years.

Employees who commit to lifelong learning can stay employable for longer. Learning new skills is easy and convenient, even fun. Courses on e-learning platforms such as Coursera, edX, Udemy, and FutureLearn offer a range of choices. Forbes has identified some courses that will be prominently in demand during the next 2 years. These pertain to emotional intelligence, data science, data literacy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Keeping up with changing times by learning skills is the way to make ourselves ‘future proof’.

About the author:

Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.

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