Scrabble tiles spell teamwork

Why Relational Skills Are Vital for Digital Leaders

April 15, 2022 Leadership
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Teamwork makes the dream work isn’t just a catchphrase. In the digital workplace, relational skills are crucial to collaboration success.

And for leaders and managers, developing and maintaining good relationships is essential because they directly impact employee engagement and productivity — and the organization’s culture as a whole. But what exactly are these skills and what role do they play in the increasingly digital, sometimes remote and now often hybrid workplace?

What Are Relational Skills?

Relational skills are a mix of direct and indirect tactics and techniques we use when interacting with each other. In a work environment, they refer to the way we communicate and engage with coworkers. Christine Orchard, head of marketing at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Arc, said relational skills are the essential soft skills that sometimes get overlooked in a fast moving workplace.

“These skills include patience, reliability and trustworthiness, and they’re critical to building — and succeeding in — a healthy remote work culture,” she said.

They're also essential well beyond the remote workplace. Managers have always benefitted from maintaining good relationships with their employees. But in today's digital workplace — and even more so in our ever-evolving labor market — employee satisfaction is key to survival.

“The first step to managing relationships is to gain an awareness or understanding of the needs of others,” said Sharon Steiner Hart, executive coach at Oxford, U.K.-based Talking Talent.

Soft skills like curiosity and empathy allow managers to know and understand what workers need out of their employers and work environment. 

Related Article: Why Soft Skills Matter and How to Develop Them

Relational Skills Build Culture and Boost Situational Awareness

Remote work provides employees with an environment where distractions such as a loud coworker or a desk situated in a busy thoroughfare tend to be minimized. This can help them, assuming their home environment is free of its own distractions, get work done and can boost productivity, but it also limits interactions, which can hinder the sharing of ideas and insights.

One of remote leaders and managers' core objectives should therefore be to ensure collaboration and free flow of information aren't lost in a remote or hybrid world. After all, people are an organization's greatest asset and that is precisely why relational skills matter. 

“The workplace is made up of people and good interpersonal relationships between managers and other team members are a prerequisite for business success, achieving employee satisfaction and achieving business goals,” said Andrew Taylor, founder and CEO of Suffolk, U.K.-based Net Lawman.

Having good relational skills enables managers to know how to approach and motivate the different personalities under them. It can also build trust, which is another crucial aspect of remote and hybrid work environments. These skills are needed in the digital workplace to help foster teamwork and productivity and provide an open environment where employees can feel heard. 

“Managers who model good communication, good listening and a high level of empathy help build a culture that employees want to be a part of, and they usually experience less turnover,” said Hart.  

Relational skills also help leaders be more aware of what is happening within their organizations. One key place to deploy relational skills is within meetings.

“Leadership should create a meeting format that is inclusive and allows everyone to respond, not just the individuals that are most comfortable talking,” said Hart. For example, during video meetings using the “raise hand” feature as a usual practice can facilitate a habit of not speaking over one another.

Managers who have strong awareness also ask additional questions to encourage those who might not be as comfortable sharing their thoughts to participate and form better connections with colleagues.

Related Article: Finding the Balance Between Deep Work and Collaboration

4 Key Relational Skills for the Digital Workplace

Managers and leaders who want to improve relationships with team members should focus on building these four relational skills:

1. Approachability

“Successful remote work happens when teammates feel they can actively report both successes and failures, as well as any work-related issues that they’re facing,” Orchard said.

Approachability is a relational skill that helps build a positive culture. If employees feel like they can drop in for office hours at a specific time, they will be more open to discussing their problems and quickly solving any issues. 

2. Empathy

“Empathy is another relational skill that goes along with approachability,” Orchard said. With perspective and a thorough understanding of employee sentiment, leaders and managers can offer the best advice to help them overcome any challenges.

3. Patience 

Leaders understand that it takes patience to help employees through their challenges and grow into their roles. In a remote workplace, new employees may, for instance, require additional training and support because they're away from senior, more experienced team members. Having the patience to guide them and let them make mistakes can be essential for their career growth — and future company success. 

4. Reliability 

Employees should feel like they can rely on their managers. Reliability makes employees feel comfortable turning to their managers with issues or challenges they've encountered. This is the ideal moment for leaders to provide needed coaching and guidance, all while ensuring that errors aren't being made out of fear of asking for help.

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