Are Your Teams Set up For Remote Work?
Who would have guessed that 2020 became the year that many organizations turned to virtual working? For some teams, there was no other option and they muddled through with the tools they had at the start.
Now, virtual working looks here to stay, even for those businesses who weren’t set up for that kind of flexibility before it became difficult to get into the office due to the pandemic.
That means it’s time to review the emergency protocols your organization might have put in place and see if they are fit for purpose longer term. If you are transitioning your project workforce to more long-term remote work, we’ve got some suggestions for how to make that shift as easy as possible.
Change expectations about work from home
In the past, many companies talked about the options for flexible working, but there was still the expectation that you’d come into the office unless there was something important keeping you away. Flexible working for one project manager we know meant popping into school for a harvest festival celebration and then dashing out before the assembly was over to catch a train into the city and get to work for a lunchtime meeting. A true flexible solution would have been to join the meeting remotely and not spend work time during the day commuting.
Shift the focus in the team from working from home in case of emergency – like staying in for a plumber – to being the default. It’s OK to work virtually, even if you have no ‘reason’ for being based in your home office that day.
The more people get used to the idea that it’s OK to work from home, the less guilt there will be in the team and the more productivity you’ll be rewarded with.
Make sure people have the right tools
You can’t work productively from home if you don’t have the systems in place to do it. Make sure your installation of project management tools lets people log in remotely, across a secure network connection if you chose not to use cloud-based solutions.
You’ve probably already got the tools. You just need to make sure that the right people have access to them so they can still collaborate and connect with the team and the rest of the company from wherever they happen to be based.
The ‘right’ tools extends to having equipment and space to work. It’s hard to be effective if you’ve got your laptop balanced on the kitchen table while your children do their homework next to you. Consider investing in desks, printers, docking stations or whatever else each team member would benefit from so they have a convenient and functional working area that meets health and safety standards.
Provide systems training
If you’re in the office, you can easily turn to the person next to you or walk over to the system administrator in the PMO and ask them for help when you don’t know how to use a feature. With remote work and being based at home, it’s harder to get that kind of informal support. Sure, you have instant messaging or your Slack channel, and you can always go old school and call someone up. But – from experience – it feels harder to get the support you need.
Therefore, it’s important to make sure the project team know how to use the tools they’ve got. This can be part of your PMO offering: provide refresher training for the whole team and then offer follow up sessions for those who need it. You can record the training and make the videos available for people who either can’t make it or who want to watch it again.
Lots of the features in a project management tool are the kinds of things you’ll only use once a month when you want to run a report or pull some figures for a meeting. It’s too easy to forget how to do things so having informal support available through crib sheets and how to videos is important.
Have a contingency plan for internet outages
Finally, consider what your work environment might look like if your internet goes down. When you’re in the office, you’ve got high speed, protected internet. But when your project team is reliant on the internet going into their houses, you’ve suddenly got a lot more potential failure points.
Put this on your PMO risk register and think about strategies to address it. For example, critical employees could have a company-installed extra line. You can make sure everyone has a list of phone numbers so you can still stay in touch in case your collaboration tools go down. Consider installing SIM (3G) cards in laptops so colleagues can use the mobile phone network if they can’t get on to wifi.
Write up and publish your contingency plans so that people know what to do if they lose internet connectivity while working remotely.
Many of us already miss the face-to-face interactions and camaraderie that come with working in a shared office building, but the world is adapting, and it seems likely that some businesses won’t go back to hiring office space if their teams can work remotely. With remote work, the trick is to make it work for you. Whether that’s a full shift to remote work, or having a shared office location for those who want to meet in person from time to time, you need to find a solution that fits the needs of your business and teams. When you find that solution, you’ll be ready to face whatever the world throws at you next.