A Project Managers Guide to working remotely in the age of COVID-19

Make working from home work for you

Companies globally have been offering remote working arrangements to their employees long before the COVID-19 pandemic captured headlines, even at Switch we have had a work from home policy in place for a number of years.

Not only does working remotely offer the freedom to work from a location of your choice but it also helps employees enjoy work-life balance, these are just some of the benefits of working remotely. On the other hand, employers also reap some benefits, such as more satisfied employees and reduction in overhead costs.

However, working remotely does have a few challenges. When the team is remote, delivering quality projects on time and budget can be difficult. A project manager can easily feel behind when you and your colleagues have only exchanged instant messages or at best had a call. So, how can a project manager manage projects from home?

Exploring the right way of working remotely may take some time, as you learn what works, and what doesn’t, but this guide can help make working from home, work for you.

  1. Building the Right Team

    Building the right team that can work without having daily face-to-face communication is key, and as a project manager you should empower team members to work independently. When making a choice of which team member works on what, here are a few tips:

    Assign based on skillset

    Having the right skillset in the team is very important, and having the right people from the start puts the project on a path to success.

    Empowering the team

    By encouraging the team to work independently and letting them design their own schedule, identifying their project challenges and what their achievable deadlines could be, however key here is to avoid micromanaging how they complete their work from home, rather focus on empowering them to find a way that works for them.

  2. Daily Stand-up

    If you are not doing this already, a stand up is a great tool to make sure the team is not getting blocked, and they can ask for help within the team. Keep it simple, and timeboxed to 15 minutes, and ask the team:

    • What did you do yesterday?
    • What you plan on doing today?
    • Are you blocked, and can anyone in the team help?

    Use video-conferencing applications, and encourage that the team turns on their camera, so they can see each other.

  3. Be Transparent

    It’s important that everyone in the team understands how they fit into the bigger picture. The team should know what is everyone working on and what is high priority. Below are a few tips to stay transparent:

    Make the roadmap visible

    If the team won’t know the destination, how can they get you there? Make sure the roadmap is visible to everyone which will help with buy-in from both team members as well as stakeholders, and the team will know what’s next, and what is vital to the success of the project.

    Communication is key

    Ensure a two-way conversation is going on, with both colleagues and stakeholders, as project ideas and feedback should come from inside and outside the team. Ask open-ended questions to gain valuable insights and actionable feedback that you can use to guide your project decisions.

  4. Managing Priorities

    You may need to make some tough decisions when managing projects remotely. When deciding what to focus on, answer these questions:

    • What is the vision?
    • What do our stakeholders want?
    • What problems are critical?

    There are other ways to manage priorities, while managing a project from home, for instance:

    Define a prioritisation method

    Conflicting stakeholder opinions, and gut reactions can muddle decision making. Build a standardised process for managing priorities

    Adding buffer of time

    Delays are inevitable, so schedule them in.

  5. Everyone has Ownership

    Delivering to deadlines is cornerstone to a project’s success.

    Every task should have a deadline and an owner

    When it comes to accountability it’s important that each team member knows what they have ownership over and when this is due.

    Assign a decision maker

    There should always be a responsible individual for instance a product owner, who has the final say. It is important for remote team members to know who has that accountability on a project.

  6. Retrospect

    When the team finishes a large task or project, it’s important to collect data to see what could be improved for future projects. This is important now than ever that you’re facing a completely new way of working. Ask the team thoughtful questions at the end of every project:

    • What went well during this project?
    • What could have been improved?
    • Do the tools we’re using help you work efficiently?
    • How can we improve communication?
    • Were you able to meet the schedule assigned to you?
    • How did you feel about the tasks and assignments for which you were responsible?
    • How can we make things easier next time?

Working remotely as a project manager can be challenging and turn out to be quite an adjustment, but there is no perfect way to manage projects. It is all about learning and identifying what not only works for you, but also for your team and stakeholders. Embrace the mistakes you made on the previous project and know what areas can be improved for future ones. Have the right strategy and tools at your disposal, you may find that it leads to successful projects

— Ali Danyal Syed

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