USC Annenberg School For Communication and Journalism

Soft Skills to Navigate Remote Work During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted everyday routines, postponed plans and upended normal ways of doing business. Moreover, as we practice social distancing to safeguard our communities, new challenges arise for those of us transitioning to remote work. 

With this in mind, The Center for Third Space Thinking suggests that remote employees leverage their interpersonal, communications and leadership skills to ensure that virtual workplaces best support organizational and employee well-being.

The following guide illustrates how The Center for Third Space Thinking’s five attribute framework (i.e. Adaptability, Cultural Competency, Empathy, Intellectual Curiosity and 360-Degree Thinking) can serve those working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 



Adaptability is critical during times of change and, in light of the pandemic, arguably more important than ever. Leadership should exercise adaptability by reviewing deadlines, with consideration to employees adjusting to a virtual work environment, and accordingly reevaluating organizational expectations. Additionally, the organization as a whole should practice adaptability by adopting user-friendly digital tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and WebEx to maintain open communication in the (virtual) workplace. 


Cultural Competency 

Cultural competency is the ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence and cross-functional thinking. While today’s major disruptions in business inevitably force organizations to restructure, employees may be shuffled into different teams with foreign techniques, processes and expectations. Subsequently, individuals that find themselves in this situation should first observe the group’s different work styles and respond by suggesting approaches that encourage inclusivity and collaboration. 



Empathy is at the core of trusted working relationships. Practicing empathy entails understanding and respecting others’ feelings, priorities and perspectives. During this period of uncertainty, it is essential that everyone extends support and understanding to coworkers who may not be performing at their optimal level, due to external stress. Therefore, to resolve issues related to workplace performance, leadership should make appropriate accommodations that support employee needs as well as overall organizational goals. 


Intellectual Curiosity 

Intellectual curiosity may not be at the forefront of organizational strategy during times of crisis. However, current circumstances have shifted the way organizations operate indefinitely, making way for innovative solutions. Subsequently, while the business world undergoes unprecedented change, organizations should take the opportunity to explore novel approaches that have the potential to advance organizational and employee well-being. 


360-Degree Thinking 

360-degree thinking takes a holistic, multi-dimensional, analytical approach to problem-solving. Leaders that apply this strategy are better able to manage complex systems by understanding how to “connect the dots.” Today, while organizations contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces should encourage 360-degree thinking by leveraging employees’ diverse perspectives to investigate and resolve emerging dilemmas. 

Finally, as we all work through this period of uncertainty, know that it may take a while until we find a new “business as usual.” In the meantime, thank you for staying home and doing your part to keep yourself and others safe.