The Covid Pandemic of 2020 and 2021 have been disruptive and challenging in all aspects of our lives, personal and professional. However, life, and work, go on. Although it may not be business as usual, in many cases we are all expected to continue as if it is, well, business as usual!
There are three key things that are needed for projects to not only continue, but to succeed: Communication, Communication and Communication. Almost all project teams are working remote, which for some is normal, but for most, it is far from normal. We are used to our walks to someone’s office for a 5 minute chat, face to face meetings, and more often than not, post-meeting breakouts on a variety of topics that further the interests of the project.
While we are still communicating during the pandemic, there are some ways to maximize the impact of these communications. All of these tools are already in use, but how we use them now must change.
Here are three communication keys for the pandemic:
During the pandemic, we need to focus on the communication tools that can help us communicate more effectively and efficiently. Here are some considerations for these tools.
- The use of email should continue as status quo. Sending working documents with instructions, distributing plans, and communications with large audiences are where email comes in useful. Things that can be reviewed “later” and don’t need an immediate response are also appropriate for email.
- Instant messaging is a great tool for the one-off questions or the immediate request – this replaces the “walk down the hall to ask a quick question”. I’ll caution that you should only use this for quick question and answer items. If your conversation exceeds 4 or 5 messages back and forth, then it is time to make a telephone call. Sometimes a client or colleague may not be on the same instant messaging tool; in this case, a text on your phone can be appropriate. Once again, if you need more than a message or two, then it’s time to actually call.
- With the communication tools available to us all, people tend to gravitate to everything BUT the telephone. This may be because we don’t know other people’s schedules and don’t want to be disruptive, but here is a major takeaway – talking real time to another person is the MOST EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT method available.
Meetings and Meeting Management
During the pandemic, the use of web-enabled meeting tools has skyrocketed. Not only for business, but also for remote school and virtual social gatherings. When it comes to meetings and meeting management, there are a few things to remember.
- “Right Size” your meetings and perform only when necessary. You need to think about who should be in each meeting versus who could be updated at a later time. Only include those that need to be there. Also, if it is really a quick call between 3 people, do you really need to set up a “formal” meeting or can you just knock it out with a quick call directly to the two other parties?
- Setting an agenda is more important than ever. Since people are not interacting as much as they normally would, meetings tend to wander and get “hijacked” more than before. Set your agenda and stick to it.
- Clearly define action items coming from the meeting, set the target dates and who is responsible. Some additional follow up may be necessary since meetings may not be as frequent.
- Also, at the end of the meeting, take the time to identify additional meetings or breakout sessions and schedule them promptly. At this stage, if time allows, feel free to go off on a tangent!
Touchpoints and Social Interaction
The pandemic has forced many of us to work remotely. Some people prefer this type of atmosphere while others do not and can struggle with the lack of personal contact and in some cases, time management. Some of your project team may be single and living in an apartment that seems huge and empty to the point they need some type of interaction to keep them stimulated and focused on the task at hand. Others may live in what feels like a smaller and smaller house with ALL of their extended family at home and they may be distracted by the noise and activity. Keeping all team members focused on team goals during this time is more challenging than ever. Here are some suggestions for keeping in touch with your team and to keep your project moving forward.
- Touch base with your team members at least once every day. This is a great opportunity to cover:
- The big picture – Make sure they know their role in the success of the project
- Key milestones or deliverables coming up – Ensure they are making the progress they should and have access to the people and tools that can help them
- A personal touch – Casual “small talk” is something missing in most people’s lives these days. This can give them a quick social outlet so they can then focus back on work
- Schedule something fun for the team. A virtual happy hour, with camera’s on, can go a long way to creating and keeping a team atmosphere. I’ve hosted virtual happy hours where participants have to respond to questions in advance and you can then play “Who said……” games or report the results of a fun poll regarding vacations or sports.
Project management can be tough in the best environment. Throw in remote workers, concerns of health and worries about the overall economy and it can be a huge challenge. With some extra effort in facilitating and encouraging communication, you can better manage your projects and, at a minimum, identify issues early.