In the coming weeks and possibly months, we will all need to implement various changes in the way we live and work. When it comes to running our projects, one of the biggest changes is probably going to be the proximity of our workforce and employees.

Whether this is erring on the side of caution and asking employees and colleagues to work from home when they can or managing the risks of a lock-down situation, there will be practical things to consider when running a newly virtual team. The good news is… You are probably further along than you think.

In today’s geographically diverse business landscape, the majority of organisations have employees that already work from home for part of the week. And it does have its benefits…Running costs can be greatly reduced and employees may well have a more quiet and focused environment to work in.

SPOCE Project Management has been running virtual courses and virtual teams for some time so we have compiled some food-for-thought for project managers embarking on this for the first time or at a much greater scale than before.

Tips and tools for running your project remotely

1. Planning is more essential now than ever: when the standard meeting room, morning huddle or chat at the water cooler is removed from communication then it is much easier for tasks and outcomes to be open to interpretation. Make sure everyone is aware of exactly what the expected outcome of the project is and what the role is that they have to play.

In PRINCE2, this would appear in the Project Initiation Document as part of the communication approach. As the project manager you will need to plan your project stages and pinpoint the milestones. It is good practice to have a tool where you can share this with your virtual team. This is where Project Management software can come into its own. Tools like MS Project not only allows the project manager to plan and schedule but it also prioritises tasks, allocates resource and gives project visibility to the entire project team. The entire team can share calendars, view tasks, find project status on the timeline.

2. Set up roles and responsibilities: Everyone on the project team may have a rough idea about what they are expected to achieve on the project, but it is more essential now than ever that there are accountabilities. You may want to consider a tracking tool such as MS Project, Trello or a virtual Kanban board so everyone can see what is expected of them on the team and can exemplify where they are with these tasks.

3. Define or update your communication plan: You need to set the boundaries early. When are we going to meet virtually as a team? How often will we do this and what software are we going to use to conduct meetings? It is more important now to ‘communicate regularly’ so things are not left to assumption. Continual communication and a plan for when this will happen is essential to project success so people do not replace fact with assumption.

Equally, getting timely answers to any raised points or questions, reduces assumption-making. Some good tools for conducting these virtual catch ups are Skype, Zoom, Goto meeting, Webex and Adobe Connect. All of these tools allow attendee visual and audio contact with some level of screen sharing.

Tips are to trial them before you buy (many have free trials) and if possible allow your team to trial them.

4. Keep your documentation in the same place: Move your documentation to the cloud and make sure everyone uses it. This allows people to update and share in real time. Make sure people don’t start using ‘local’ copies of files as this will lead to errors and configuration issues.

Back-up your files regularly – just because you have all of your files in the cloud, does not mean that they are immune to factors causing data-loss. Use a structured back-up plan to ensure these files are correctly stored – consider a Content Management System. Build and share a product roadmap, document your expected product outcomes and your processes and share these with the team.

The team will need remote access to all documentation and there will need to be a culture of sharing. Google Docs, Onedrive or MS Project can all provide this sort of functionality. With an entire team working virtually, it is no longer productive or safe for documents to be locally updated and shared at a later date or when you are ‘back in the office.’

5. Avoid BYOD! Some organisations have a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ culture when their employees work from home. Personal tablets and laptops are used and files later sent to work and stored in, hopefully, the right place. Now that working from home is about to be a more common practice, BYOD needs to be avoided for two reasons.

Firstly, with our entire team working from remote locations it will be impossible to log things in real time if people are using their own devices and documents are not kept on the cloud. Secondly, there is also the question of security - Home computers may be more susceptible to hacking as generally they do not have the same level of virus protection as your IT Department has implemented.

Tips for the Project Manager

1. Keep communication regular and positive. Don’t assume everyone is feeling motivated or feels like they know what they are doing.

2. Keep a lessons log at each stage or sprint so that you can tweak your communication approach as you go.

3. Set goals and expectations and ensure you get status updates.

4. Find novel ways of staying in touch in a positive way. Where time allows, there could be breakout sessions or huddles where conversation is kept light.

5. Introduce a reward policy to keep people motivated and don’t assume they are ok and know what they are doing. Check in with them every once in a while - Virtually of course.

6. Allow flexibility in the working conditions. Remember, connections are not infallible, users local Internet may be down, children may be off school and there may be other more productive times in the day for your team to work here and there.

Tips for the project team that works from home

1. Stick to schedules (even if these need to change) so that you are geared up to work in your new environment.

2. Try not to work in your ‘happy place’. If there is a spare room or current office that you can work in this will lead to less distractions and help you focus on work. Keeping your work and relaxation spaces ‘exclusive’ allows you switch on and off at the right times. Whilst the dress-code can be more relaxed, some still prefer to get into office attire, it’s a mental attitude thing.

3. Set goals each day / week just as you would in the office.

4. Never forget the importance of a conversation! Don’t let instant messaging replace complex or sensitive conversations. If the situation would have called for a visit to somebody’s desk at work then the chances are you should have a virtual meeting or at least call them to discuss it.


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