With the outbreak of the pandemic and the partial or universal lockdowns, remote working is becoming widely accepted, with a growing number of companies adopting it as a compensatory measure. As a recent survey conducted by Gartner Inc. shows, 88% of organisations all over the world made it mandatory or encouraged their employees to work from home, as the spread of the coronavirus accelerated.
While working from home is quite feasible for many professions, concerns arise as to whether Project Management can be effective without direct contact between the Project Manager, the team members and the rest of the stakeholders.
Communication is widely known as one of the main success factors of a project. Working remotely surely makes more difficult to monitor the progress, as well as maintaining the team’s engagement. Especially in project environments, it is common to have the most constructive dialogues outside the meeting room during a break or in a corridor, where a thought or phrase can be the stimulus for further discussion, which can lead to identification of risks and even to the prevention of an error or failure. The lack of direct contact not only complicates the PM-team relationship but can potentially affect the trust between the PM and the customer, as the PM is the first point of contact.
In addition to communication, an equally important component of Project Management is leadership. Although these two concepts are not identical, a successful PM must be a great and responsible leader. Yet another, non-negligible concern arising from the new reality, is the possible undermining of PM's ability to lead, take initiatives, promote new skills and effectively distribute roles and responsibilities. Lacking to have the full picture of the capabilities of each member of the team, the PM may resort to tested solutions that will work in one hand, but will not be the optimum solution on the other. Also, by working remotely, the PM may have difficulty in adequately perceiving the vulnerabilities of the team, making it challenging to undertake appropriate action in order to prevent an impending crisis.
Although technology has undoubtedly helped to improve communication problems with the variety of applications that are now available, teleconferencing and “instant messages” are not a panacea. In matters of effective communication and leadership style, the experience of the PM, the interpersonal skills she/he has and their continuous development, as well as the “Leading by example” principle will play a vital role. In order to ensure that the team maintains its pace and momentum, the existence of powerful communication channels is a necessity for now and for the future. The PM should be the first to use the smart tools and technologies, should be “visible” and available, communicate proactively with the team and participate actively and timely in conversations, demonstrating that way constant commitment. The PM should show trust in the team members, so that they act more autonomously but at the same time following the policies and procedures and their defined roles. At the same time, she/he should allow proper and accurate monitoring of the result, and adjustment of tactics where needed.
Although the unprecedented facts of our time have greatly impacted the delivery of projects around the world, at the same time they provide an opportunity for both businesses and individuals to innovate and revise their future strategy. Thus, technology does make Remote Project Management feasible, but on an individual level, Project Managers will have to keep up and invest in upskilling, adopt “hybrid approaches” based on each situation and put more effort in maintaining team’s motivation and engagement, so that not only to survive the crisis but also to thrive.