5 essential skills to boost your career in 2021 and beyond
The future of work was always coming. As Dr Sandeep Atre wrote in his recent blog post, we're currently in the fourth industrial revolution — the transition from devices to digitalisation.
As we undergo these changes, the skills that people need to thrive in the workplace are changing. Ten years ago, the Institute for the Future shared its predictions into which skills are essential to thriving in this decade. As the report predicted, "Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work." Now, the future is here — and these challenges have presented themselves in new and unpredictable ways.

Hard skills (like coding or project management) are still essential. However, we're seeing an increasing reliance on leaders and high-achievers to possess "soft skills" in order to thrive.

"Too many people look down on soft skills, but they're not just icing on the cake," says Dr Sandeep Atre. "They are the cake."

As the pandemic has pushed our transition into the future of work into overdrive, we want to share some of the top skills workers will need to survive and thrive in the workplace now and tomorrow.
1. Social intelligence
We're called social animals for a reason. No matter how good your processes and systems are, at the end of the day, a human will be sitting at either end of them. That's why social intelligence is a key skill for the future of work.

In our Adaptive Global Leaders & Super Teams program , Dr Sandeep Atre coaches leaders and high-performers to improve their social intelligence (and foster better connection and fulfilment at work) through a three-part model:

  1. Awareness of what is going on inside themselves, where there is fulfilment and where there is room for improvement.

  2. Attunement to their team, the needs of those around them and areas where social cohesion may be lacking.

  3. Adaptive thinking — the skillset required to utilise the first two skills, be responsive and make appropriate decisions to improve social cohesion.

"When we buy a washing machine it comes with a manual," says Sandeep. "But our most-used machine — our brain — doesn't come with a manual. We have to learn how it works and how best to use it."

2. Novel and adaptive thinking
According to our novel and adaptive skills coach, CJ Mills, "Novel and adaptive thinking was included by the IFTF because we need situational adaptability, mental flexibility, and the ability to create in order to differentiate ourselves from machines and cope with a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And that is what the future looks like."

The good news is that this is a skill that can actually be built. There are models you can use to build a more adaptive mindset.

"First, shake self-doubt and the fear of failure," says CJ. "Make sure you infuse dissent and seek alternative viewpoints, and finally leave your ego at the door.
3. Cross-cultural competency
With rapidly changing work environments caused by COVID-19, ongoing global trade wars and the increasing standards consumers are holding companies to, the need for cross-cultural competency has never been higher.

Organisations that upskill their people in cultural intelligence will be better able to negotiate smart deals with global partners, work with a broader range of clients, and lead company strategy in volatile times.

No matter how well-read you are on another country's culture, you need to be able to identify subtle cues that may influence your business decisions. These subtle cultural competencies affect our values, beliefs and cultural norms.

"Culture is like an iceberg. What you see above the sea level is just 10%. The rest is below the surface," says cultural intelligence expert Sunaina Vij. "Culture is not just rituals — it's so much more."

If you work across global borders, you'll already be aware of the need for cross-cultural competency. But what most people don't realise, is that this is a key skill no matter how small your organisation is. Whether it's our age, our gender or where we grew up, we all come with cultural baggage. Building cross-cultural competency allows us to manage diverse teams and work with all kinds of people.

"When we don't know things about our culture, it's very hard to work together," says Sunaina. "If I'm a leader and I don't know how to work with people, it's very difficult. I first need to understand what my culture is and what clashes can happen. Why is my ex-team able to produce these results and my new team isn't? If I don't know where my cultural quotient lies how can I help others?"
4. Design mindset
How often do you spend solving problems, without taking the time to think about whether you're solving the right problems? Or, better still, finding the right solutions?

When we solve problems, we're looking to make them go away. But when we look at problems from a design mindset, we're able to look for the best solutions: human-centred solution. A design mindset puts the human at the centre of everything. It's not problem-focused, it's solution-focused and action-oriented.

Design thinking is already a big word amongst organisations. However, a design mindset was chosen as the key future skill because it's more than just a series of processes or tools. It's a skill you can actually build to bring a new framework of thinking into everything you do.
5. Virtual collaboration
Virtual collaboration was already on the rise — the pandemic just made the pivot happen a whole lot faster. As we move to hybrid working styles, we're seeing organisations struggle to get the most from their teams and adapt to new management styles.

Our community at work coach, Venessa Paech, has a few tips for working in dispersed ways. "First — think about how you would describe the structure of your virtual office. If someone new were to arrive tomorrow, how do they interpret you? Are there zones you can carve out for places that aren't just busywork? Zones for building knowledge, thinking slowly and even socialising. Draw out or map your virtual architecture — do it properly. And secondly, start to have a conversation with your people and people leaders around needs and people. what do they feel? what are they missing?"

The transition to these skills was always going to happen. However, since the pandemic happened last year, the need for these skills has grown rapidly. We've seen sudden shifts to remote work and organisations are struggling to rapidly find new ways to operate — and making a lot of mistakes along the way.

There's comfort, however, in the fact that all of these skills are uniquely human skills. The future of work is human. The sooner we start acknowledging and building the human skills we need, the better.

Ready to build skills for the future of work? Join our Adaptive Global Leaders & Super Teams program. Register now to start building future work skills directly with our experts.