Managing Projects during the Coronavirus outbreak

We are now in unprecedented times for the modern era. The recent pandemic of the Coronavirus has done more to shake up the way that we work than anything that I can remember in the recent past.

Personally, it has meant Self isolation, cancelled travel and an increased reliance on the internet/ remote working with my teams and projects. During this blog, I wanted to take some time to write down my observations of what I’ve seen and how I think this could help us as Project Managers manage our teams and projects more effectively.

Remote working becomes the norm

Within my company (as well as many others), there is a demand to work solely from home/remotely. Previously, remote working was considered an exception to the norm but now I have friends who are working remotely for the first time ever and struggling with the concentration/ loneliness that can come from working from home.

What issues have been faced?

In some parts of Europe, many employees are working from home with their children in the vicinity as the schools have been shut. This can cause issues with being able to focus on work when children are demanding attention rather than playing by themselves. An amusing example of this was during a BBC News interview, several years ago when a young child came into a live interview. In the past two weeks, I have met more of my colleagues children and pets than I had since I’ve been working at the company!

When teams are not used to being on camera or being remote, the amusing picture below is quite accurate:

Internet Connection:

In Europe, this is not too much of an issue but issues with connectivity is a big issue for working remotely. Last week, I had a team member leave their home and go to a public WiFi spot to be able to attend a call as their connection kept dropping.

Struggling infrastructure

I’ve seen a few companies doing tests of their VPNs to make sure that the networks can maintain and sustain a large majority of remote workers. This has had a knock on effect that some companies are now doing shift work to minimise contact but maintain visibility

Shift patterns

Especially where there are factories on the same site, I’ve got friends and colleagues currently working in shift patterns and being split into different teams for the foreseeable future. This has been quite interesting to see how office based teams are working in relative isolation but on a reduced capacity.

Focus!

For those that are not used to working from home, the gem of being home can bring a host of issues with being able to concentrate and focus. 5 minutes in the kitchen? Let’s empty the dishwasher… and whilst you’re at it… the washing needs to put in the dryer… ooh, the bins are looking full… whilst i’m at it… I could just quickly hoover whilst my coffee cools. Does this sound slightly familiar?

I have been asked how to focus and as well as pointing them to my previous blog articles on this topic, I give them the following advice:

  • Try to work in a quiet room with no disturbance (ideally with a door that you can close!)
  • Look at working in 30 minute segments and try not to get distracted by the housework/children/chores
  • Take a lunch break and don’t aim to work through your day without any breaks
  • Have a routine. I’ve seen colleagues “go to work” by having a shower, getting dressed in work clothes and going for a walk around the block to put them in the work mindset
  • Communicate! Make sure that your family understand what it means for you to be working from home.

The BBC has put together some more tips for working from home that might also be of interest to you on this topic.

Loneliness:

This is a lot more common than you may think. From the postings I’m seeing on social media, colleagues have been open in their struggle for working remotely. One said: “The biggest issue for me working remotely is the people contact. The isolation of my home really impacts my mental health”. It can help to make sure that you’re connecting with your colleagues and I use video conferencing to connect with my team to keep up the human interaction. If you are allowed out of the house, consider taking a walk at lunch to get some fresh air or go into your garden.

Managing Projects when you’re all remote

When you’re working remotely, you need to really focus and apply a different set of skills than you may be normally used to. These include:

  • Communicate! Virtual and remote projects require a lot more communication than you may expect because you miss out on the vital communication that you would otherwise do at the coffee machine/lunch table. You can do this by having daily checkpoints or looking at
  • Video conferencing: For those not used to video conferencing, it can be a little daunting! Video conferencing is a great way to talk to your team and touch base with them on the project. Some companies have disabled the video cameras but I’ve seen colleagues use their phones for these calls with some success
  • Set up your rules: Make sure everyone is aware of the rules for working remotely/contact so that there are no miscommunications about availability etc.

Some great advice is already out there!

Here are a few links to blogs/articles which I send to my team for working remotely:

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