This paper focuses on how project managers are affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and what they need to do to become more effective when working remotely. As we already know, project managers face challenges and adapt to new changes almost every day. With the outburst of the coronavirus, project managers are going to need to learn how to become more effective and efficient while working remotely. There are five best practices that project managers should follow during this disruptive time to initiate clear communication and cooperation, identify leadership roles and responsibilities, spend more quality time in the preparation phase, adjust the project schedule, and establish a risk response process. Following these practices can help monitor and control the project while requiring less supervision and audit checks. The purpose of this paper is to help project managers become more valuable in their position and be able to easily adapt to unexpected outbreaks and world changes.
Imagine living during a time where all work-related projects were accomplished from the comfort of home. Some may find this more favorable, but from a project manager’s perspective, this can lead to all sorts of additional challenges and obstacles. With the COVID-19 pandemic, employees everywhere have been forced to work remotely, including project managers. As we already know, project managers withstand enough issues with the complex projects that they need to deliver in a timely matter. What we don’t know is how project managers adapt to working remotely and still ensuring a successful project. For project managers to become more effective while working remotely, we found five best practices that project managers should follow, which are to determine clear communication and cooperation expectations, establish leadership responsibilities, spend additional time in the initiation and preparation phases, adjust project deadlines, and create a thorough risk response process. This paper focuses on how project managers can become more efficient in a remote position while enduring obstacles that they cannot control, such as the outbreak of COVID-19.
One of the primary challenges that project managers and employees face while working from a remote position is the low bandwidth of communication. Although communication can be streamed through emails, phone calls, and digital conferences, it still does not have the benefits of meeting face to face with one another. Meeting face-to-face allows others to get a better sense of facial expressions and body language. With face-to-face communication, it enables the power of “the human moment”, which is an authentic psychological encounter that only can occur when at least two individuals share the same physical space (Pitagorsky, 2020). Face-to-face communication creates emotional and social connections that not only improve project efficiency but also create a more positive and cooperative environment. In regards to digital communication, there are also higher possibilities of the Internet losing connection or emails being lost and responded too late. Communication is essential for projects and needs assistance and clear guidance from the project manager. Project managers need to set expectations for when teams are supposed to communicate, meet, and have objectives completed. Establishing a well-developed communication plan and expectations will give your project a stronger foundation and a better chance of succeeding.
The second process that can help project managers become more effective while working remotely is creating leadership roles and responsibilities within project teams. By putting accountable team members in charge of a specific area, it allows the project to run smoother and reduces the amount of micromanaging that will occur if there is only one leader in charge. Especially in the implementation phase, where conflict can arise and advocacy lessen, having other team leads that are accountable and reliable should help the project keep on its way. Leadership is a relatively subjective concept that many project managers and team leaders need to change in order to interact and cooperate with their remote teams. Characteristics of the team members, organization, and environment all can have an impact on the style or approach to leadership (Wu, 2020). When choosing project leader roles, it is essential that you choose leaders who are able to give credit, nurture creativity, and support team members in taking calculative risks to deliver project success (Chittoor, 2012). This will help the overall competence of the project and make the project manager’s tasks much more accessible and manageable. This also gives team members the ability to prove their value to the company while creating more of a fulfilling and satisfying environment surrounded by success.
The next best practice that project managers should ensure while working remotely is devoting more time to the initiation and preparation phases. In these early stages of a project, especially while working remotely, project managers and teams should spend additional time to make sure that the project is feasible and not too costly. There should be an established project objective, well-developed process, scope management plan, identification of stakeholders, and risk elimination response concluded in these first few phases. Without clear awareness of the project’s objectives and potential challenges, including problems such as the “fuzzy front end”, the project has a much better chance of starting off poorly, endangering the overall project success (Wu, 2020). Therefore, devoting more time in the initiation and preparation phases, it will provide more time to clearly explain the project objectives to everyone within the organization, making them aware of the project deliverables, and allows more time to be spent on calculating the potential risk and preparing for possible challenges that can occur. This also gives more time to engage with stakeholders, to win their support early on, and manage their expectations of the project. It will ensure more time to gather, analyze, and clarify requirements before the life cycle of the project is even set to start (Windsor, 2020). This additional time will ensure the project is satisfying every need and living up to its potential.
Another best practice that project managers could enforce is extending schedule deadlines and adding buffer space among each phase of the project. Even working in the office, time management is a major problem for project managers as a project management environment is extremely turbulent and composed of numerous tasks, meetings, report writing, conflict resolution, continuous planning, communications with the stakeholders, and crisis management (Kerzner, 2001). Project managers need to keep in mind that while working remotely, a lot of the processes and communication channels take much longer than they typically would in comparison to working altogether in the same office. Many projects may encounter areas that need additional steps to successfully complete a task, which can be timely. By prolonging schedule deadlines and adding buffer space where it is needed, it will ultimately reduce stress and create a more comfortable atmosphere. However, it is not quite that simple. Assigning deadlines are essential to projects mainly because they create a sense of pressure and urgency. If a project manager is to schedule a task for two hours that can easily be done in one hour, it will probably take the whole two hours to complete the task (How to, 2018). Therefore, extending the project schedule will do no justice, but stall productivity. When project managers want to prolong the project schedule, they need to take into consideration how it will affect the output, its employees, the quality, and whether if it is just an issue mainly from working remotely.
Lastly, project managers should apply a risk response process whether the project is done in-office or remotely. Risk response planning is the process of creating choices and influencing risk responses that reduce threats and help increase opportunity from within the project’s objectives and deliverables (Ahmadi-Javid et al., 2020). While working from a remote location, there are certainly more revealing uncertainties that occur due to less efficient communication and more processes being completed on the Internet. However, with a strong risk response plan, there is a better chance of creating an opportunity out of an obstacle. This process can help increase other key factors, such as costs, budgets, resources, and other risk-event probabilities that can occur. With the outbreak of the pandemic, project managers are being tested in even more ways by having to work remotely. By developing a risk response process, project managers are giving themselves and team members a better chance of successfully launching a project. Therefore applying this process is necessary for all projects, not only when projects are large and relatively difficult.
Project managers are affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic just like every other employee who has to work remotely. There may be potentially more challenges and obstacles that project managers have to face, testing their strengthens and capabilities. However, by addressing and enforcing these five best practices: initiating well-defined communication, forming leadership roles, devoting more quality time in the preparation phase, adjusting the project schedule, and creating a risk response process, project managers can become more effective and sustainable from a remote position. Given that many companies are now starting to work remotely permanently, this may be a significant change for project managers and their futures. This time now gives project managers the chance to get ahead and become more creative and effective with an approach that can be the next normalcy.
About the Author:
Kevin Simek is a Montclair State University graduate who is very passionate about his writing and interests. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a Concentration in Management and has won numerous academic awards in the athletic program. He strives to pursue a career in project management in the near future. Click here to learn more about the author: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-simek
Ahmadi-Javid, A., Fateminia, S. H., & Gemunden, H. G. (2020). A Method for Risk Response Planning in Project Portfolio Management. Project Management Journal, 51(1), 77–95. doi: https://DOI: 10.1177/8756972819866577. Retrieved August 14, 2020
Chittoor, R. (2012). Importance of Leadership for Project Success. Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://project-management.com/importance-of-leadership-for-project-success/
How to get work done faster. (2018). Administrative Professional Today, 44(9), 6. Retrieved August 15, 2020
Kerzner, H. (2001). Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling: Vol. 7th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved August 15, 2020
Pitagorsky, G. (2020). Balancing Face-to-Face and Virtual Meetings. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/balancing-face-to-face-and-virtual-meetings.html
Windsor, G. (2020, January 7). A Guide to Project Initiation. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.brightwork.com/blog/5-phases-of-a-project-initiating
Wu, T. (2020). Optimizing project management. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved August 15, 2020.