Making the switch from meeting together, lunch collaboration, team brainstorming, and working closely to an isolated environment working at home is a rough transition. The rules of engagement have changed, the communication is different, the collaboration is stifled, and anxiety, fear, and loneliness set in. The disruption people face in their daily lives was not planned, and companies are scrambling to change the way they do business. Maintaining the same level of productivity when everything else in the world changes may be asking too much. However, there are a few things you can do, as a project manager, to boost productivity and encourage your team to continue to work together.
1. Develop and communicate expectations.
You can’t simply assume that everything will continue business as usual. You must acknowledge the changes affecting everyone and create new expectations. This includes how roles, responsibilities, tasks, schedules, and deadlines will operate in this new space.
Balance formal with informal: like those conversations that would happen while grabbing a cup of coffee or at the water cooler. These informal meetings provide the occasion for candid conversations while maintaining the motivation and bonds, built during the coffee or lunch break.
2. Choose the Right Technology.
You’re going to need a video conference platform and likely a project management dashboard. Choose your technology and choose it wisely. Conference calls and emails are not enough. You need the ability to screen share, record, chat, raise your hand or receive visual cues from participants as a group. This is crucial to effective teamwork. You also need a project management dashboard where everyone can see what is going on, where their responsibility lies, and how it contributes to the big picture. If you don’t already use a project management software program, this is the time to get on board.
In addition to using technology to get the job don’t consider using video chat for things like happy hour, work engagement, game rooms, or lunch breaks. Encourage use of the chat feature within your dashboard program rather than endless emails that can often be lost or forgotten. Find, use, and embrace the technology that is best suited to your team.
3. Start the Day off Right
Think of how you begin your regular day. Maybe you have a morning meeting with your team, stop by someone’s office to say hello, or check in with your employees as you arrive. This type of casual communication is often what is lost when everyone is working from home. When you can’t walk over and chat, or notice when someone is frustrated, the communication dynamic changes drastically.
Consider starting the day with a casual video conference. This can be especially effective for a larger team. This allows you to check-in with everyone first thing in the morning as they arrive at their desk. You can quickly go over any concerns, new ideas, communicate priorities and keep
projects on schedule. This method of starting the day off right can encourage everyone to maintain some type of consistency with their work environment at home.
4. Use an Agenda
Leading a productive meeting can be a challenge even when everyone is in the office. When you’re doing every meeting via video conference, the challenges are insurmountable. Be sure to have an agenda and a clear purpose for each meeting. Stick to the plan and keep things moving along. A meandering conversation is only made worse by spotty technology or a bad connection. Using a schedule and an agenda can keep the headaches at bay.
5. Hold Virtual Office Hours
In the office, it’s easy to see if the manager is available or if they are busy. When working remotely, it’s very difficult to tell if people are online/available/eating lunch/etc. Virtual office hours can help you and your team create some routine for the day. Create an open office hour online or communicate when good times are to call. It lets your team when you are engaged and available.
6. Be Empathetic
The pandemic is thrusting people into situations they never imagined. Professionals are working from the dinner table. Children are home from school, spouses have been furloughed. It is a time of significant transition and adjustment. As a manager, try to understand this and be empathetic. Talk to your teams and see how they are doing and anticipate potential problems. Creative solutions are always available to find new ways to get the job done and tackle both individual and teamwide problems.
7. Include Upper Management
As a project manager, you often sit in between your teams and upper management or executive leadership. In the office, perhaps you only approach your boss when there’s an issue – but times have changed. Keep your supervisors or senior manager aware of your overall situation, how things are working and what is being completed. If you report only when something goes wrong, you may inadvertently turn small problems into more critical issues. Plus, it’s important to show your manager that you are taking initiative and creating solutions in an unprecedented situation.
It is estimated that up to half of U.S. workers are now telecommuting and that this trend will likely continue even after the pandemic. Spontaneous collaboration, team building, project alignment, and other tasks may be easier when the team is together, but that doesn’t mean productivity during a pandemic is impossible. While remote work may have some challenges, it also offers many benefits including increased flexibility and the ability to attract and retain top talent from all over the world. If you can successfully collaborate with a team that is working from home, your options are limitless for who you can bring into your organization.
Company productivity is always in the hands of project managers. It is the project manager who is tasked with managing their time, budget, and resources to make sure are met and goals are accomplished. Every project manager deals with it differently, but ALL of them can be successful, even in a pandemic.