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Empathy, Diversity Are Keys to Future of Work

Strategically building soft skills are critical to forming the future workplace, federal leaders say.

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COVID-19 has been a moment to reconsider workforce conditions and innovation of the workplace in the future. Amid those considerations, federal officials pitched best practices in mastering soft skills like empathy and diversity to start adopting in preparing for the future of work.

“The future of work, in my opinion, is curious and resourceful, includes a culture of really learning — learning and collaboration — constant learning, but it also really includes diverse voices, perspectives, people, and it empowers people to really contribute to the overall organizational well-being culture of an organization, agency and beyond,” said National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Digital Branch Chief Victoria Wales at a Twilio webinar last week.

In her prior role at the General Services Administration Technology Transformation Services, Wales recalled how investing in curiosity and adopting an approach that’s not afraid of vulnerability and failure has led to innovation and technological modernization.

Amid current ongoing digital transformations in government, strong communication and leadership to keep the culture around change strong and resilient are also key parts of building the future workplace, she added. Part of that communication and leadership of change initiative is being a strong listener and encouraging respect.

“I want to reemphasize listening, but truly listening and demonstrating how that listening turns into an expected action,” Wales said. “I always aim to approach with sincere empathy, respect and availability, which was not always easy with so many different pressures and compounding challenges that we were experiencing. When I found myself burning out, I reassessed my approach and prioritized rest when I could. I don’t think we talk a lot about the power of rest — that is very productive, in my view.”

At the Department of Labor, the role of empathy empowers people with disabilities or underrepresented communities.

“I strongly appreciate that message that you’re honing in on on empowerment and having empathy for folks to meet them where they’re coming from through broad focuses on diversity and inclusion,” said the agency’s Office of Disability Employment Policy Advisor Scott Michael Robertson. “That includes emphasizing empowerment of people with disabilities and folks who have overlapping intersectionality with diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc.”

For building this inclusive and diverse workforce, Robertson highlighted within his office initiatives like its apprenticeship program and the adoption of accessible resources and technologies for employees.

“My three takeaways for building the future work, considering all these focuses, is: one, consider inclusive apprenticeships to support the talent pipeline for the future of work; two, foster accessible tech and universal design in the current emerging and future workplace; and three, support neurodiversity at work and work accommodations to drive productivity and performance in the emerging and future workplace.”

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