Upskilling is always a beneficial move for both employees and employers. Adding more skills to your docket not only makes you a more valuable worker, but it is also a healthy way to break up the work day, said Jeffrey Hammond, vice president, principal analyst serving CIO professionals at Forrester.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, CEOs rated skills gaps as the top business challenge, according to a recent Gartner report. With COVID-19 turning the enterprise upside down, forcing many companies to endure layoffs and furloughs, top talent is more important than ever.
The good news, however, is that employees hopefully have more time now to consider upskilling, said Lily Mok, research vice president on leadership, culture and people dynamics team within the Gartner CIO research group.
“Previously, you had operational objectives that wouldn’t allow you to spare any time to do the learning,” Mok said. “Now that businesses kind of have an activity slow down… this is a great opportunity to use the downtime.”
With many businesses moving to a remote workstyle, commute times are eliminated and schedules are more flexible, creating more opportunities for reskilling.
However, with the enterprise undergoing so many changes, the types of skills employers need are also shifting. Encouraging employees to learn and develop is not only beneficial for employees, but critical for businesses. To keep up with competition, organizations must inspire employees to evolve their skills with the changing work landscape, Mok said.
“It’s even more important [in this economy] that you grow and build talent to support your needs, because otherwise you won’t be able to recover and scale based on where the business trajectory might be,” Mok said.
Top skills for IT pros
Looking ahead, the enterprise is considering what the new normal will look like when we return to the office. However, Hammond noted that most businesses won’t be going back to the office for a while, if ever.
“I have to wonder how many people will actually return to the office in the technology space,” Hammond said. “At least for the rest of the year, we still have six-foot distancing requirements.”
This shift in workstyle completely alters the skills companies need, especially if telecommuting is becoming the new normal.
One of the major skills involves time management, since working remotely is such an independent experience. Employees not only need to adjust to this way of work, but they need to embrace it and work successfully in that space, Hammond said.
“The first skill that is the discipline of being able to get themselves ‘in and out of the zone’ more quickly. When I say ‘the zone,’ I mean the zone of productivity,” Hammond said. “Some developers will say, ‘I really need to be in an office so I can get into a quiet zone and get focused.’
“The reality is going forward, that’s probably not going to happen nearly as much. You never know when the kids are going to come banging or the dogs are going to be barking or any of that sort of thing,” Hammond said. “The training required to get into and out of the zone very quickly, is one of those things that folks need to focus on.”
Another aspect of time management involves knowing when to take breaks. IT professionals can often get lost in their work, Hammond said. To prevent burnout, employees need to be able to take healthy breaks, work on other projects, get the creative juices flowing, and then return to work.
This practice does take willpower; employees need to be able to not let short breaks turn into hour-long naps. Mastering the ability to manage time is critical whether in or out of an office, but especially when working remotely for a long period of time, Hammond noted.
A tech skill employees should have has to do with collaboration tools, since they are the main form of communication in our new remote workforce. Even if employees can return to the office, social distancing measures will still be in place, which means professionals must still communicate via web chat or video conference.
The same is particularly true for IT professionals. Developers will have to continue writing code and working on projects at a distance, Hammond said.
“Whether that’s making sure that you really got your GitHub skills down or your GitLab skills, because you’re now remote with your repository; or whether it’s taking a look at something like code spaces in GitHub, which is now a remote code environment that allows you to very quickly set up and look at a defect or a particular project or something like that,” Hammond said.
“Or making sure that you’ve got your time spent with Slack to make sure that you’ve got all your alerts [on] and that sort of thing,” he added.
Security knowledge is consistently a great skill to have, since security is always a concern, Mok said. However, the need for security skills is amplified in remote work, since working outside of the office security measures can leave employees vulnerable to attack.
“Security certainly is a top priority—making sure remote working is safe and isn’t jeopardizing any information that the organization needs to do business more digitally,” Mok said.
Employees who can display security skills and show that they know how to responsibly protect data are critical for business. People can easily gain these skills through nanodegrees or certifications on sites like Udemy, Udacity, and Pluralsight, Mok said.
Whether it’s the more technical skills or soft skills, employees must recognize that success in a post-pandemic enterprise is dependent on the talent they have.
“Soft skills for working in productivity are just as important as the technologies that you know. But we tend to not focus on these things; we tend to not practice them. And practice is what results in improvement,” Hammond said.
“If you don’t practice-short cycle creativity, if you don’t practice the ability to communicate remotely with technology tools and understand what users want, you’re not going to get any better,” Hammond said. “You have to think of this as a set of skills that you need to practice and further develop to unlock the opportunities that we’re going to see in a post-COVID world.”