It is common in projects for delivery teams to be geographically dispersed. As a project manager and consultant, leading teams you have never met before (and sometimes will never meet!) is something that takes getting used to. Now due to the Coronavirus pandemic, companies and their people are being forced into virtual and remote working.
Some of the following tips and knowledge are not only applicable to managing projects but may also be useful for wider business functions and team management.
1. Make software accessible
Video conferencing technology goes a long way in bridging the gap in office interaction and face-to-face engagement. You have got lots of options available to you, including apps such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack which all provide great ways to have these quick conversations and structured sessions.
However, this can only be successful if everyone has access to all the relevant software they need to get on with their roles. You have to make sure your team understands the process and have easy access to help if they have any IT challenges. Video conferencing is one thing, but it doesn’t go very far in bringing people together if there are any access or reliability challenges.
2. Stay connected with communications and flexible touchpoints
At this time, communication is the number one priority of a project manager to ensure their team is clear on the changes in working practices. Spend some time going through your diary and moving meetings to video conferences or phone calls to avoid confusion and set expectations of this new way of working. You might want to do this individually depending on your team members and how comfortable they are in embracing this change in working behaviour. The quicker you do this, the more likely you are to stay on top of deliverables and deadlines.
Be flexible in how you communicate with each other. Don’t forget that some team members might not be so comfortable with video conferencing, so offer chat options as well. Alongside this, introduce a regular stand up to keep your team communicating with each other and replicating those office conversations as far as possible. You might find it useful to introduce more than one per day, though this needs to be balanced with your project teams feeling too closely managed. A good way around this is to make some touchpoints compulsory and others not.
These small changes to the working day will strengthen team cohesion and collaboration. This is new to many of us, so be available for your team and demonstrate that you are on hand for further guidance and advice. If key themes are coming across from your team, then this could be something you pass up your organisation and become a wider communication.
3. Have flexible working hours
Be adaptable and expect working hours to differ. With factors like childcare, pets and family, this can be an overwhelming time for many of us. People will be trying to develop new working and homelife patterns, while at the same time continuing to work on their projects and deliverables. Be mindful of this, reach out to your team regularly and adapt to their needs. This might mean moving regular sessions that are currently in the diary, or bringing people up to speed at different times of the day.
4. Client and sponsor management
Staying close with your clients and sponsors is even more vital when projects are managed remotely. You lose a bit of visibility by not sharing an office with them, so think about how you will now set expectations and promote confidence. How you communicate changes to your plan or budget, bring visibility to project progress or highlight any risks and issues are key to giving your sponsor confidence that their delivery remains in good hands.
Each sponsor will be different, so be proactive in reaching out to them and understanding what their expectations might be as we move to virtual working.
5. Check your team’s wellbeing
Finally, don’t forget about the human impact of all of this. Working from home over a long period can make people feel disconnected from their teams and organisation. Make the time to check in with all team members making sure everyone is happy and staying healthy.
Not having the usual office chit chat or face-to-face connection can make it more difficult in understanding how someone is doing or when support is needed. It’s not easy to replicate quick conversations, but there are lots of tech solutions to help combat this (along with picking up the phone!).
A company’s journey on transitioning to agile and remote working is unique, and depends on their culture, adaptability and ways of working. Keep aside some time per week to review how your team are finding these new ways of working. Remember that the tech will only take you so far, it’s your leadership and your understanding of your team that will have the biggest impact.
Author: Hasib Dewan