In the last few months, countless business professionals, including a large segment of project managers, have worked at establishing themselves and working remotely. This has been different, I know, I was a remote worker for years. Somehow this large wave of remote work feels pushed, but it also makes someone wonder why we did not think of it sooner. Most have been able to do their job quite well and even at times more efficiently than in the past. So, we have gone remote, now what is the next step for a lot of organizations?
Early in February 2020, I remember discussing with some students my situation and how it has taken me time to grow to love working remotely. Then March happened, and all kinds of folks had to figure it out. Office furniture stores literally ran out of chairs and desks. People have been scrambling to get a new sense of stability in their work domain. There is a period of familiarization that is necessary, and while a lot of people have come up on the right side of this, some are still struggling to find a balance and system that works for them.
Unfortunately, it does not seem that we will be returning to our corporate digs for some time, but what does that mean in terms of remote work arrangements. We have achieved, for most, a victory, but others will contend that we could work on improvements. In this article, I will propose a few points to ponder, and I will leave it to you and your teams or organizations to figure out if you can investigate further modifying your remote perspective.
- Starting with evaluating your equipment and workspace: A proper delineation of your work area and your living area is key to success. You need to be able to shut the door or to close the cabinet. This can often be difficult as most of us did not originally buy a house or lease an apartment, thinking that we needed a space to work. When looking at this, you need to ensure that you create yourself a “space” that is conducive to online calls, meetings and let us face it, at times clutter. Do compromise on a desk, some storage, and a good chair. You would be surprised at the number of people who do not like working from home because their chair is not that fancy ergonomic one from the office. Companies need to contribute to this area, if possible. Some organizations have been good, but others not so much.
- Attention to time: As we delineate our physical space, we also must delineate our time. Starting a remote arrangement will often begin with a clear understanding of when a person will be working. Set a schedule when you will be available or not available. Do not leave it to people to set this for you, or you will be on-line 24-7. As an organization, it is key to review some practices that eat away at people’s time, which can possibly be modified to ensure that we do not overwhelm folks with having to work with online tools. Spending 3 hours on a Zoom call or Teams meeting is not acceptable as it should not have taken that long in a face to face meeting. It is not because people are at home that we need to make it draining on folks.
- Real engagement: Working on a crucial deliverable with a critical deadline? Make sure that people are aware that you might need to block off some time to deal with that deadline. This might impact your set schedule, which we discussed in the point before. Not unlike you having to book time at client sites, you might need to block time for more engaged or intense work. Engagement online can be hard, participate as much as you can while ensuring that you meet your commitments. That is the only way to show that you can work well remotely. Missing deadlines, getting caught in too many online chats, and procrastinating, you need to be the master of them.
- Feeling “connected”: I am sorry to say, but those Zoom or Teams sessions do provide a means of coming together to discuss things, but it does not really provide a great setting for feeling connected. You will need to work on this one. Call a co-worker and do some work outside of using online tools. Managers and leaders, here is where you need to step in. Have a quick call or chat with someone to find out how they are doing. Get the team together to share about themselves or how they are doing. In the long run, it should not all be about the work and only the work. I know of a company that has created a water cooler chat room where employees can jump in if they need advice or just to bounce things off someone in their group.
- Feedback, reward systems, and motivation: Some organizations mistakenly believe that it is a privilege to be working from home and that there is no need for feedback, rewards, or motivation. Being able to be at home is enough. Well, no, no, and triple no. Providing timely feedback to an individual has never been so important. Have a touchpoint with your team and with everyone individually on a regular basis. Achieved a milestone? Ensure that people are recognized and rewarded. One organization leader that I know who does this very well started early in March, sending notes through regular mail to his people. He also gets the whole team together over lunch, having sent the lunch to them via Uber Eats. There are many ways to do this. It is just part of the upkeep of our team.
As you can see, the movement of individuals to a remote working environment still requires thought and planning. Not everything will work out fine but try some new ways, have some discussions with your people to see if they can come up with ideas to try. Most of all, let us recognize that there is no one solution that fits all and that it will be by trial and error that we will find the proper balance.
Sylvie Edwards, PMP, MCPM, STDC, CMP, FPMAC has 25 years of project management experience spanning various industries and is the owner of SRE Solutions, catering to clients in need of project management course development, education, project risk management, PMO setup/evaluation or recovery services. She has worked with one of the top five consulting firm, where she led projects in the information technology, banking, government, and securities sectors as well as being a manager in the risk management practice. Sylvie writes about risk management, communication, and PMO.