Managing Projects Remotely in a Pandemic
Last year, Waddell Group CEO Tom Waddell interviewed Dr. Michael O’Connor, Director of Strategy and Project Development at Medtronic about tips on managing projects in a pandemic. Dr. O’Connor shared some wisdom about quickly adapting and executing projects during lockdown and afterwards. At the onset of their conversation, Dr. O’Connor stated that Medtronic saw the pandemic ahead of time through their global presence, but what they saw still didn’t prepare them for the scale and impact COVID-19 would have on project management practices and the economy as a whole. The result was a necessity for Medtronic’s teams to quickly adapt and dive in headfirst to tackle the challenges of managing projects remotely.
Waddell and Dr. O’Connor discussed topics such as adapting to an increased reliance on technology platforms, the importance of social connection and empathy, and why a steady cadence, consistency, and preparation are key to team success. As we approach 2022, we’re looking back to Waddell and Dr. O’Connor’s conversation to extract the insights that are still applicable for project managers in the year ahead of us.
Project Management Tips for a Successful Remote Project
1. Adopt Technology Platforms Early to Build Proficiency
At the start of the pandemic, Dr. O’Connor’s team quickly adopted technology platforms that would accommodate their needs while minimizing onboarding friction. For their business communication platform, they chose Microsoft Teams. They supplemented Microsoft Teams with WebX, which they chose as their primary method of audio and video communication. Finally, they incorporated Zoom into their suite of communication tools to encompass every possible use case that could arise.
Learning how to efficiently integrate three new tools into their process was a steep learning curve, and it took O’Connor’s team over a month to acclimate themselves to the technology. O’Connor recommends finding the tools that work best for your team and sticking with them. Don’t worry if there are roadblocks and adoption is slower than expected, even if there’s been an extra year to grow accustomed to remote work since Waddell and O’Connor’s conversation. Patience is key and will pay dividends in the long run.
2. Develop a Regular Cadence for Check-ins
Before the transition to remote work, there was sufficient time for one-on-one meetings and check-ins with coworkers in the office. O’Connor stresses the importance of these “water cooler discussions” where project managers can connect with their team, calibrate, and adjust accordingly based on feedback. Although project managers can’t ask about a task in passing anymore, they can schedule biweekly, weekly, or monthly meetings as a replacement. During these meetings, O’Connor deliberately spent the first half showing his team that he has their well-being in mind. O’Connor asked questions like “Are you and your family staying healthy?”, or “How is that hobby you’re working on?” to open up the conversation and demonstrate to his team that he cares about more than just their work output.
3. Focus on Interpersonal Connection
At the beginning of the pandemic, O’Connor focused on keeping it simple. He acknowledged how challenging and different remote work can be, and brought out the personality of his team during meetings by encouraging them to post pictures of their dog, give a tour of their home workspace, or introduce their kids. He encouraged discussion between team members about the difficulty of remote work to foster transparency and connectedness through empathy. Some team members felt down and out while working from home. Seeing that their coworkers were going through similar thoughts and feelings raised the comfort level and effectiveness of the entire team. Remote work could lead to team members feeling isolated and cause burnout at a faster rate than before, so add a personal element to team meetings and discussions.
4. Aim for Redundancy and Consistency
While working outside your comfort zone and in unfamiliar surroundings, O’Connor emphasizes the importance of consistency. When he started working remotely, he made sure that his home office resembled his traditional office as closely as possible, including his mouse pad, mouse, chair, and pictures on the wall. Building a space that resembled his workplace helped his productivity and put thoughts of working from home on the back burner.
Additionally, O’Connor ensured that his audio, video, and voice technology were working properly and stayed consistent. Jumping between meetings without worrying about setting up technology improved productivity significantly. Finally, focus on maintaining consistent office hours. Get up, move around, and log off when you’re supposed to. A regiment will prevent burnout and ensure you get everything done.
5. Use Video When Possible
O’Connor emphasized the importance of video during his conversation with Waddell and recommended always leaving your video on during meetings unless there’s a reason to have it off. If other members of your meeting have video turned off, then it’s acceptable to have yours off too. However, O’Connor stated that he always approaches meetings with his camera on, even if he’s the only one. Usually, when people see someone with video on during a meeting, they will follow suit and turn theirs on as well. Video gives more context to body language and adds a human element to the meeting, two valuable aspects of office work that remote work struggles to match.
Build a Productive Team Remotely
Waddell and O’Connor’s conversation uncovered valuable insights from O’Connor’s personal experience with adapting his team during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Giving his team time to learn new technology early saw increased productivity after the team was acclimated to the tools. O’Connor also added a personal touch to his meetings and encouraged his team to do the same by giving tours of their home offices, introducing their kids and pets, and leaving their video on when possible. By focusing on consistency and interpersonal connection, O’Connor was able to maintain high levels of productivity throughout the period of remote work in 2020, and these techniques still apply today. If you’re interested in adapting and aligning your team to face remote work head-on, reach out to us today and tell us about your team. Our expert project managers have experience building effective teams remotely and have consistently delivered successful projects since the beginning of the pandemic.