I had been planning for months, visualizing how I was going to form a new team, meet and work with a new client and kick-off a large project. I and a few of my team members had our first meeting with the client for some onboarding activities. We were all a little excited, a little nervous, wanted to make a good first impression, and get the project off the ground. It was March 16, 2020. Two hours into the day, the client called us into a conference room and said we were all to go home and work from there until further notice due to COVID-19. That was not part of my plan.
So, what to do next? As this change was not planned for all involved, my team and the client were in the same situation. Given the nature of the project just starting, I felt we had a few days to evaluate the situation (not knowing how long working from home might continue). I reviewed my plans to identify what might need to be changed. There were logistical updates around on-boarding new staff, but in general, we could still do the work that needed to be done remotely via video conferencing.
I had specific deliverables that did not change, and I had a team and a client with expectations for us to continue. I felt it important to establish a routine, or a new normal, for how the team would communicate and interact. This required establishing a video conferencing platform for the team to use, tools to share documents, and norms for working remotely. I initially set up a twice-weekly standing call to have a regular touchpoint on project activities. As the project progressed, additional touchpoints would naturally occur out of the work at hand.
Finally, as this change was new to all of us, I felt it important to talk with the team as a group and individually to gather input on what was working and where improvements could be made in our new normal.
Yes, there were and still are challenges. Some of the top challenges in my experience were:
- The lost opportunities to organically pick up on nuances and activities with other teams on the project.
- Too many hours spent in a chair staring at a screen with the ability to walk over and converse with others gone.
- The ability to establish true relationships with other team members is a constant challenge during the day when you must hop from one call to the next so frequently.
In project management, lessons learned is a concept we utilize to identify the good and the bad from a project to improve future projects. As I look at this unplanned change, I summarize the approach as:
- Take a moment to step back and evaluate the situation, your plans, and your goals.
- Readjust your plans to address the situation so you can still meet your goals.
- Establish a “new normal” routine to allow everyone to have some predictability in the tasks at hand.
- Solicit input from the team and in one-on-one conversations to determine if the “new normal” plan is working. Adjust where needed and keep moving forward.
Overall, even though I had not planned for this change, I had to remind myself and others how fortunate we were to have a job that allowed us to work from home, be safe, and still provide for our families.