We keep hearing those phrases, “it’s the new normal” and “this will change the way we work in the future” as we try to continue to work in “these unprecedented/uncertain/challenging times”. COVID-19 has certainly brought digital transformation to the top of the exec’s operational strategy pile as we try to get to get to grips with working virtually.
For project practitioners we should be au fait with change yet no-one is immune from the elements of the change cycle – shock, denial, anger, resistance – when the consequences of not changing are so far-reaching. This is not just about our daily work as project practitioners, this is personal too.
As leaders of change we do well to remember that we’re all human and dealing with change at different paces. As we manage our teams virtually on a day-to-day basis, there is one stand out action that will take up most of our time and energy – communication.
Communication has always been the make or break of a project now it gets harder when those casual watercooler / drop in for a quick chat situations are gone. It takes time to organise one-to-one check-ins, both formal and informal.
The same with team meetings and getting to grips with ground rules and etiquette that makes sure no-one is left behind. Then there are the more formal meetings that require collaboration and a new set of technologies that enable whiteboards; post-it notes and polling.
We’re more mindful of others home situations and we’re also keen try and replicate those informal situations, lunch-and-learns in the virtual café are a great idea and require twice the effort and energy to create a space where people can connect and share.
Never underestimate how much more effort is needed to communicate effectively when you’re doing it from behind the laptop. It becomes exhausting quickly.
One aspect of team management has come to the fore in recent weeks – the mental health of team members. It’s always been a project leader’s role to take care of the team and now, more than ever, the team looks to the leader for reassurance and understanding. The virtual door always needs to be open; silences checked; support on hand – just a sympathetic ear or a more practical solution to a problem.
And this applies to you too. It’s OK to ask for help, we’re working in times where the feeling of all being in it together means we all want to help where we can. Someone on your team or in the wider organisation is just waiting for you to reach out and let them pitch in.
As leaders we are also conscious of our team’s self-development, an opportunity for them to practice a little self-care by not focusing on project work the entirety of their working day. The same for you too – we’ve all been guilty of neglecting this because of time constraints. In times of economic uncertainty, we should all make sure we have the skills to face what might be coming next.
With Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and working from home, we can learn from doing, from others or from formal education. Now could be the time to complete a certification virtually and there are certainly lots of online learning opportunities. We can be learning from others, using the technology available to us to attend virtual conference; make connections; utilise social media; join tribes; sign up for webinars.
We need to learn how to carve out time for ourselves and start forming new habits, the same for our teams too – it really is OK to take time out of the 9 to 5 to do something which actively engages your brain – the saying, “change is a good as a rest” has never been as true as now. And don’t forget the fun parts.
There are so many different ways to pep up a team meeting right now, a mini-quiz; scavenger hunt; silliest hat or cutest pet contest – who said the Project Manager can’t be part entertainer? Add it to the list of doing whatever it takes to get the team motivated and the job done.
Underneath it all though there are worries and concerns about our jobs – what will the future bring once this is over? We worry about not being able to control what the fallout might be and how it might affect our jobs, our homes and families. We experienced something similar post-2018 and there were two lessons we can take from that.
The first is that much of this we can’t control – the economic markets will do what they do and our organisation’s strength and confidence in the marketplace will be what it is. We must focus on what we can control, for the sake of our longer-term health. The second lesson is you have to take steps now to be prepared for a volatile labour market.
Some project managers will lose their jobs as some markets contract, whilst others naturally expand. Competition becomes rife both in the employment market and within our organisations. What new skills are needed? What experiences do you have which will be in demand? Am I keeping in touch with my network? And am I ready to switch industries if I need to?
Change is coming and if there was ever any profession more equipped to deal with it, we’re ready for come what may.