Pandemic Memories: Part 1

I put out the call on Twitter to ask for volunteers to answer a few questions about how they are managing under the pandemic and I wanted to take the time in the next few blogs to discuss and share their knowledge with you.

When we look back in years to come at these times, what will we remember? The shows that we managed to binge watch over a weekend? The investment that we took in ourselves to learn and develop? Or simply the enjoyment of spending time with family? I wanted to see what other Project Managers have learned during this pandemic and what they’ll take forward with them in years to come.

I spoke to several Project Managers and will be running a few different blog posts looking at the different ways that Project Management Professionals have adapted to life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first thing that I was interested to find out was: what was their biggest lesson learned during the pandemic. David Brezler who is an Assistant PM at CSA Group of NY Architects and Engineers said: Its been interesting to see the evolution of people’s personalities once they’re safely behind the protection of a screen connected via the internet. Communication has increased in importance with the length of the distance between me and my teams. This is a really interesting observation for me and something that I have noticed outside of the professional environment. I’ve seen friends becoming increasingly sensitive online and struggling to manage with the isolation that lockdown has brought.

The level of isolation has brought additional issues for us on a human level as working from home has isolated many individuals who live alone or have limited social networks. Whilst talking to one Project admin they said: “I’ve never wished to be in the office more in the past few weeks. I live alone and have been isolating so have not met with any friends. Work has been my only outlet and chance to talk to someone other than my cat!”. Within my different friendship groups we have tried to bridge this gap by having weekly calls over a cup of coffee and catching up like we would in person. I’ve also done an informal “drop in coffee” for my teams so that they can connect and see the other members of our team/group. It’s turned into a highlight of my week.

Darya Schwarz-Fradkova highlighted how different working environments have coped with the pandemic and really exposed the vulnerabilities that had existed already. This comment confirmed another observation that I received: “We’re used to working from home, so this pandemic has not changed much for me but I’ve seen how clients who are not used to working from home really struggling with things like approvals/ signing contracts etc.”.

Another difficulty that was raised by several people was how they’ve had to become more agile with their working day, especially when daycare/schools were closed. Lisa said: “I’ve really had to adapt in the last few months whilst also having my children home full time. I’m now effectively working longer but I’m a lot more productive with my overall day as I combine work and home schooling. My husband and I are taking it in turns to sit downstairs with the children whilst they’re doing their schoolwork but it’s definitely an adjustment”.

When I asked, what they’re looking forward to project wise in the coming few months, it’s a hive of activity! David said “All the projects we’ve been working on lining up in the PMO that have been on hold since the pandemic started are expected to get rolling… so it should be getting very busy very soon”. Darya said that she’s looking forward to managing projects in the “new normal” and applying the lessons learned from the pandemic. One Project Manager said they’re looking forward to getting their projects back running after being on hold and seeing their colleagues again “we are expected to return to the office within the next 2 weeks and it’ll be full time onsite in the office”.

I also wanted to see if there were any opportunities that Project Managers could use during this time and it seems that most Project Managers were using the extra time to focus on learning and development as several platforms (Pluralsight, PMI, Tableau) were offering their course content for free. David said: “I’m aiming to complete the Data Scientist learning path [on Tableau] before the trial period runs out”. Another Project Manager said: “I’ve been using this time to learn more about agile / disciplined agile as I know my organization is turning towards Agile in the next year”.

One opportunity that was mentioned several times was that Project Managers were aiming to continue working remotely and not having this seen as a detriment to the final project outcome. “My company has said that they are selling all of their offices and we will be working solely from home / isolated hubs from now on. It’s going to be a shock but it’ll be a lot of fun as we learn to adapt to the new normal”. Lisa said that she was dreading going back to her 3 hour daily commute and what this would mean to her daily routine “My organization has told me that I will need to return to the office and I’m dreading it. I am so much more productive working from home!”.

If the pandemic was to happen again, I wanted to know what other Project Managers would do/ or how they’d react. One of the telling reactions (and perhaps this is typical of Project Managers) but they are looking to make sure that all of the lessons learned from this pandemic are written down and remembered for next time. Simon said: “I’ll be learning from this pandemic and using the lessons learned that we’ve created to quickly adapt for next time”. The ability to quickly adapt was a strong message that almost everyone mentioned when I discussed this with them. David said: “You need to train your mind to be agile and not see this confinement as an impediment, but rather than as an opportunity…. And most importantly UNPLUG. Exercise, stretch, breathe and do something besides staring at a screen”. Another element which was mentioned a lot was the need to become more agile from a family perspective. Darren mentioned that he would not look forward to something like this happening again purely because he does not want to be stuck with his children and wife in their small apartment! “We live in a small apartment on Manhattan island and this pandemic has brought all of us to our knees in different ways. My kids have missed their friends and being able to go outside, my wife misses her friends and exercise and I miss peace and quiet!”.

When looking at this pandemic and what we’ve been able to learn, it is important to reflect on what is feasible to achieve and what is realistic. Whilst working a 14-hour work day may be possible, it may not feasible on a longer term or possible to combine an effective working day and homeschooling.

I’d like to take this time to say thank you to all of the Project Managers who took the time to contribute to this series of blogs.

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