Project managers need to adjust to keep work-from-home projects running smoothly.
While working from home has allowed many people to continue to work through the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements, remote work comes with its own unique set of challenges.
Where once team members could pop by each other's desks to easily collaborate or get a bit of quick feedback, now they may need to schedule a time to chat in advance and use a messaging or video chat app that may not lend itself well to the usual brainstorming and collaboration techniques.
On top of this, reading non-verbal cues in order to gauge group sentiment, which can be key to navigating complex political or cultural landscapes, can be tricky via webcam and impossible via messaging apps.
Working from home can also make for an environment where team members are easily distracted.
School of Continuing Studies Project Management instructor Sunita Guyadeen says these work-from-home challenges may be compounded during a crisis like COVID-19. "The uncertainty of COVID-19 is a distraction and stress all on its own," she explains. "Team members may be dealing with sick family members or may have a partner that works in healthcare. Not knowing when or if anything will go back to the way it was pre-COVID I find preoccupies the thoughts of most team members. This makes it difficult to stay focused."
In addition, Guyadeen says the financial impact of COVID-19 on many organizations has forced projects to slow down or stop altogether which can be both unsettling and demoralizing. "The abruptness of the self-isolation, social distancing and restrictions gave no time for preparation so many project team members may not be well-equipped to work from home for example," she says.
"Project team members are now not only dealing with their projects but they have to carve out time to deal with child care, educating their children etc. So this can also be a distraction and a stress that indirectly impedes progress on projects."
Fortunately, Guyadeen says, there are things project managers can do to keep projects running smoothly while team members work from home. Here are her top five tips for remote project management:
1. Set and agree on expectations around availability, response time and communication mediums team members should use when working remotely. This will prevent surprises and function as rules of engagement.
2. Try to maintain a personal touch or contact with team members so the informal people relationships can be maintained
3. Keep to a structure i.e if you did stand-ups every day at 9:00am when in the office - maintain that remotely.
4. Get in the habit of recapping meeting discussions in rough notes to ensure nothing gets forgotten or lost in translation when the meeting is over.
5. Trust your team members. Relinquish your inner task master and rely on the team to take accountability for their tasks and deliver.
Sunita Guyadeen has several years of experience as a program manager, project manager, business analyst and business process practitioner in both the private and public sectors. She has spent the last several years functioning in a senior management capacity leading combined business and technical teams through large transformation and business process re-engineering initiatives in the telecommunications and financial services industries. She teaches Agile Essentials in Project Management, Agile Project Management Basics: Methods and Solutions, and Agile Leadership and Transformation.