Creating a great IT Project “workplace” has never been more important – or harder for that matter!
Post pandemic, the way we work and where we work has changed, it may never go back to how it used to be.
Meanwhile, IT Projects are being delivered under unprecedented pressures – cheaper – faster – greater returns!!
Whereas, in the past, you could call your team into a meeting room to motivate and inspire your people, it can be a little more difficult if your team are spread here, there and everywhere on Zoom or Teams, and, possibly, out of webcam view, still in their pyjama bottoms (we’ve all done that, right?!)
A PM told me recently that, working exclusively from home, he had just gone a whole week without seeing another “human work-face in the flesh”. He also told me it was the most productive and satisfying week ever!
Another admitted to loneliness and despair and, as a people person, an urge to seek out a different position.
If it hasn’t already for you, retention of IT Project talent is going to become an increasingly hot topic. Talent shortages are shifting the axis of control, and it’s harder to differentiate yourself from your competitor if the talent’s workspace will be the same whoever they work for – i.e. their home study.
A great workplace was never just about the office perks though. Retention wasn’t ever just about the fußball table, Friday afternoon beers and Monday morning doughnuts! It’s probably not even the “competitive salary” you offer (because, breaking news, every firm claims to offer those!)
If you have a history of holding on to great people, the chances are it’s because your team is engaged in their jobs, that there is mutual respect between colleagues and each other and teams and their manager, and that they feel like they are treated fairly! Have you transferred these winning strategies into our new normal?
SIX TIPS TO CREATE A GREAT IT PROJECT “WORKPLACE” ANYWHERE!
1 – MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS THEIR PURPOSE (AND VALUE)
Talking with project professionals who either work exclusively from home, and even those who have adopted a hybrid of remote and office working, there is a growing feeling of disconnection from the business mission. I get it, if you are remotely making titanium sheet metal plates for a rocket, but never get to actually see the rocket, it would be easy to forget that you’re part of a wider team building a rocket!
It’s really important that everyone working on every aspect of an IT Project is aware of their purpose and how what they are doing fits the overall business plan.
I chatted with one PM recently who loathed a daily Teams meeting she had to attend and saw it is a total waste of her time – you only had to open the Gantt chart to see how her work was progressing! If anything this meeting slowed her progress. The Team leader saw the meetings as a valuable check-in point, “a chance to see the whites of each other’s eyes” and share any news or challenges. It’s an indication of how distance can erode a shared sense of purpose.
Make sure that everyone on YOUR team can articulate their purpose and value to the project and wider programme and business.
2 – GREAT EXPECTATIONS
A PM friend often talks about a perceived watering down of expectation from “the business” since his project team adopted a hybrid approach. He felt that an understanding had evolved that, as team members were working from home half the time, they were being cut more slack in terms of deadlines, etc.
“It’s bonkers,” he’d say, making the point that he was sat at the same laptop screen he would be in the office, if anything on better WiFi, and with infinitely better coffee – why expect less in terms of output.
This had led to some team members coasting towards completion of tasks. Previously, when they were all office based, a chance to complete a task early would have been identified and collaboratively worked towards, then the whole project team would have high-fived each other and moved onto the next phase in celebratory spirits. Now, if something was scheduled to complete on Friday, it would get completed Friday – no one was taking a helicopter view and identifying that a task could be delivered by Wednesday and the whole project expediated.
Some projects are suffering from “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” syndrome.
How ever and wherever we are working, we must expect to not only achieve our goals but push ourselves to exceed them – for our own self-esteem and mental health as well as any added business value this will bring!
3 – CHECK IN DON’T CHECK UP ON
Following on from each of the last two points, it’s important to check in on your wfh or hybrid working talent, perhaps on a more frequent basis but it’s also crucial that you aren’t or don’t appear to be micromanaging them.
Checking in (the virtual equivalent of popping your head around the door and asking if your colleague needs anything) and checking up (stop what you’re doing to justify to me what you’re doing) can be a fine line – but it’s a really valuable balance to get right. That “waste of time” Teams meeting in the first point, and the feeling that the reins had been loosened in the second are both symptoms of leaders not achieving the right balance.
When you frame the conversation as “checking to make sure you have everything that you need or need support somewhere” you open a space for colleagues to honestly share any capability gaps or potential issues, roadblocks or challenges that could lie ahead.
4 – HAVE A VIRTUAL OPEN DOOR
This kind of communication is a two-way street.
Working remotely, it’s easy to feel project leadership is less accessible. One PM told me recently that she missed the ability to just look up and gauge whether their boss was free. Before, they were right there in a glass walled office – you could literally see if they were on the phone or in a meeting or whether their door was open or closed. Now, if they have an issue they have to call, email, or ping a Whatsapp and can be trapped in a “job-stopped” hold until they get a response. This PM told me that often an hour can pass before they get a reply, usually with an apology that the boss has just seen the missed call or Whatsapp.
The “open door” style of project leadership has been the oil that greased the wheels of many a project for many a year.
Make sure that your talent can reach you – that they know your virtual door is always open!
5 – BE RESOURCE-FUL
Finally, all of the above plays into this finale!
As Project Leaders, when talent is working remotely or hybrid you are absolved of certain resource responsibilities. You no longer have to provide tea and coffee for them, for instance, and as we’ve already established, many PMs are enjoying a better brew as a result.
Project-related resources are still on your watch-list though! Capability and competency gaps and plain, old fashioned necessary head-count provision are still part of your remit! As your resources become more stretched geographically, it is even more important to ensure that they don’t become over stretched operationally.
Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) is a true end to end service that provides you with access to project professionals, resources and tools at a flexible and predictable cost, from IT Technical Advisory, Business Analysis Services and PMO Services through to Programme & Project Delivery.
We are experts in Remote Project Delivery and have been since before it became a necessity during the pandemic, which means that we are very well placed to help you identify and fill any project gaps.
6 – MAKE IT FUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!
One project team have a regular remote staff barbecue – the business actually sends a hamper of food: burger; bun; beer and a mystery relish! The team cook together (on Teams) and then sit and eat together! Another Project leader sends birthday cards with a sheet of news stories (with photos) of things that have happened on their colleague’s birthday through the years.
The thing that most of us miss working remotely is the fun, the banter, the laugh-out-loud moments that get brought in leaving and even retirement speeches!
Just because we’re no longer always sharing the same water cooler, this shouldn’t preclude us from sharing the moments that make setting the alarm for work worthwhile.
It doesn’t have to be led by the business either – forced corporate fun is often the worst kind of fun!!! The barbecue idea, for instance, was driven by team members who just started doing it during a lockdown to stay in touch and stay sane – the business saw the morale value and started picking up the tab.
Remind your talent that it’s still OK to have a laugh.
A CIO friend says that it’s important to remember your staff working from home are extending a huge privilege to the business by allowing it into their private space, and like a miserable guest turning up at a house party and replacing your party tunes with his Leonard Cohen album – you quickly can outstay your welcome by dictating the mood too much!! (Leonard Cohen is amazing, by the way, it’s just I would struggle to bust my moves to “You Want It Darker”).
And on that bombshell, thanks for reading!
IT Project Management is the most rewarding career.
The difference that you and I make is disruptive, exciting and pioneering.
It’s important that whatever our “workplace” looks like, it is worthy of the work that we do in it!