How to Find Remote Engineers with the “Soft” Skills

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced engineering teams into all remote work, there were calls to reclassify so-called “soft” skills in the tech world. Some have called for leadership, communication, collaboration, listening, and empathy to renamed “core” skills. “Labeling skills as soft undervalues them,” IT workforce guru Dan Roberts said. “To prioritize skills such as communication, IT leaders must call them what they are in the digital era: Core.”

“For the longest time in technical-focused careers — like those of developers — coding was viewed as the baseline to display your knowledge and set yourself up as a desirable job candidate,” Digital Ocean’s Al Sene said. “Abilities such as communicating effectively, reading the room, and inspiring confidence and empathy in co-workers are quickly becoming just as, if not more, valuable.”

The shift to all-remote work caused by the pandemic has made the need for these “core” skills more crucial than ever. 

“Out of sight, out of mind” might be a natural response when working from home, but it is a recipe for disaster for all-remote teams. Researchers at training thinking tank Vital Smarts found that “virtual teammates are 2.5 times more likely to perceive mistrust, incompetence, broken commitments, and bad decision making with distant colleagues than those who are co-located.” Moreover, “this does not account for working in the midst of a global health crisis” when everyone is remote. 

If everyone perceives mistrust, we’re in trouble.

Engineering teams are renowned for their assessment of tech skills. Coding challenges, hackathons, and other competency evaluations are common in the hiring process. Developers are slotted into roles based on a combination of years of experience and the results of technical assessments. But software development is increasingly a team sport and requires creative problem-solving, teamwork, and collaboration to implement novel solutions. 

Empathy is not part of many engineering organizations’ skills assessments. Have you ever seen an ad for a boot camp on inspiring confidence? 

“As workforces become increasingly remote, there is a more evident need to support employees’ development of soft skills, so they can collaborate effectively from different locations,” Sene said.

If so-called soft skills are really core skills for remote teams, where do you find engineers that have these skills? At Andela, all engineers are evaluated and ranked based on a combination of technical and what we call Professional Skills and Universal Competencies. Professional Skills include values-based capabilities like adherence to rules of conduct, engagement, and responsibility. Universal Competencies are tech-agnostic skills such as time management, effective communication, and teamwork.

Andela’s engineering managers have learned from experience that remote teammates need to take the initiative to include themselves in conversations. They also need to have the confidence to speak of up--when they need help, when they see something that doesn’t look right, and when they think someone else might need help. Leadership, empathy, and communication have become core skills based on lessons learned from placing thousands of remote developers with hundreds of companies.

Many have said that remote work is the future and that the future is here, especially as businesses see the benefits of distributed engineering teams. It is becoming clear that successful organizations require developers with skills beyond coding. “Success in the digital future isn’t just about technical proficiency,” Roberts said. Building teams with core skills will enable “your organization will be more productive, innovative, and adaptive – able to shift in any environment.” 

To learn more about Andela’s model of staff augmentation, download the e-book, “Engineering Staff Augmentation: Flexible Hiring Without Sacrificing Quality.”

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