During any transitionary period, project teams look to their leaders to guide them through the challenges. It’s up to PMs to ensure activities remain aligned with the master plan—even as that plan changes—and help team members navigate shifts in direction, timing, and scope.
Providing strong leadership when some or all of the project group is remote presents additional obstacles. Because an increasing portion of team members are now working from home due to orders from local governments and health agencies, the need for guidance is greater than ever. By incorporating some fundamental strategies, PMs can continue to offer the kind of direction and coaching their teams need most when project operations are in flux.
First and foremost, flexibility is key any time there’s a change in how the team works together. Organizations’ responses to the current pandemic situation will evolve over a period of time. What worked for your team last week might need some tweaking as things continue to develop. Be willing to adjust how daily activities are accomplished while maintaining awareness of your project’s timeline and task list. Everything from administrative role assignments to the way team members contact each other may be highly dynamic for a while.
Implementing a remote work structure in the age of COVID-19 could also involve changes to accommodate home-life issues that don’t normally impact in-office activities. Some of your team members probably have children who are now at home during the day. These individuals may benefit from some adjustments to their working hours so they can get their day started before everyone wakes up or put in a few hours in the evening to take advantage of youngsters’ early bedtimes. You’ll get better engagement and productivity from employees when you empower them to juggle their responsibilities in a way that best suits them.
Take advantage of the knowledge within your team. During the early days of a transition to remote work, consider setting aside a few minutes in each weekly team meeting for employees to help each other adjust to the change. Ask if anyone in the group needs assistance with connectivity issues, whether they’re having difficulty getting the technology to work, if process changes are creating unexpected impacts on the rest of their workflows, or if they’ve encountered problems connecting with other stakeholders. It’s likely there are others with similar questions. Then solicit any tips, tricks, or suggestions team members may have that they can share with the group. If the group isn’t able to answer all the questions posed, PMs can then step in to request further assistance from IT or other internal collaborators.
Don’t overlook recognition and rewards during this stressful time. If your team is accustomed to working together in an office, your opportunities to witness people going the extra mile won’t necessarily be diminished but they will be different. You need to be mindful to watch for team members who are stepping up to put in additional work. Has someone been particularly tenacious about tracking down a delayed shipment of materials for your project? Did a team member take the initiative to identify an alternate vendor for one of the project’s key activities? Is an individual working extra hard to help others in the group with remote access issues? Maintaining good morale is important during any transition and PMs should make time to recognize those people who are going beyond the call of duty to help the team achieve success. A personal note thanking these workers is always appreciated and a public kudos during the next weekly meeting will build on everyone’s sense of team.