With more people now telecommuting from home, many employers have stepped up their e-learning offerings to help employees learn, grow and adapt to the new ways of working during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a 2021 trends report from virtual learning platform Udemy for Business, courses that teach soft skills are among the most popular on the site that saw skyrocketing demand in the past year.
Between 2019 and 2020, the number of hours logged for courses that teach anxiety management alone jumped by nearly 4,000%, while interest in learning personal skills like resilience and stress management also saw triple-digit growth.
For more traditional soft skills that apply to the workplace, employees were most eager to improve their communication, leadership and productivity chops. Here's a closer look at the topics under each category that saw the greatest spike in demand in the last year.
- Listening skills: +1,650%
- Business communication: +1,585%
- Business writing: +1,371%
- Business etiquette +1,286%
- Conflict management: +890%
- Interpersonal feedback: +686%
Shelley Osborne, Udemy's vice president of learning, says it makes sense that more people are trying to become better communicators with the dramatic shift to remote work, an arrangement without the physical cues of interacting in person that can easily lead to misunderstandings.
As for the topic of "listening" being the most sought-after communication course topic, Osborne tells CNBC Make It that many of these classes are focused on a concept called conscious listening, or the ability to be intentionally present during communication between yourself and another while also being aware of your own and the other's feelings and needs.
"In a year where we're all searching for ways to relate to each other and feel connected during uncertainty, it's completely understandable why listening would be one of the most sought-after skills," Osborne says.
- Diversity and inclusion: +1,259%
- Decision making: +1,240%
- Strategic thinking: +848%
- Facilitation: +816%
- Teamwork: +812%
- Cultural awareness: +708%
Managers are the employees most likely to spend time in learning and development trainings, so it makes sense that they would be tuned into courses that address diversity and inclusion given the racial justice movements that marked 2020.
Udemy instructor Ulysses Smith says effective diversity, equity and inclusion strategies include trainings that focus on personal awareness of identity and its influences, and should ultimately "move people towards acting in ways that promote inclusion, equity and belonging."
Additionally, employees increasingly sought out leadership classes to improve their decision-making skills, particularly in a year that tested everyone's adaptability to new ways of leading and responding to rapidly changing realities during the pandemic.
Productivity skills and habits
- Time management: +990%
- Motivation: +855%
- Focus mastery: +810%
- Self-discipline: +791%
- Memory: +679%
- Goal achievement: +581%
As the boundaries of work and life blended with working from home, and world news events provided endless sources of distraction, workers sought out time management tips in droves.
Similarly, many completed trainings on motivation, which Udemy instructor Lawrence Miller describes as gaining mastery over personal behavior and self-discipline, as well as maximizing influence with employees and peers.
"Motivation is not a speech or pep talk," Miller says. "It is the skill of creating a worthy purpose, an effective team environment, designing work for intrinsic motivation and using positive reinforcement in an effective way."
Osborne expects the focus on sharpening soft skills to continue as remote work becomes a more common fixture of the work experience overall. She points to a prediction from the freelancing site Upwork that forecasts 73% of business teams will have remote workers by 2028.
"Although we're focusing on communication challenges in connection with the current crisis," Osborne says, "developing remote communication skills and setting up systems now will also help managers and employees in the future, as more teams go remote and more companies increase their global footprint."