Many 9-to-5-ers believe working from home is a fantastic experience—but I don’t think anyone envisioned it would ever become our only option.
Since the early 2000s, there has been a staggering increase in the amount of remote working opportunities, with remote work rising by 173% between 2005 and 2018. Well before COVID ever came to our country, a large portion of our workforce was already accustomed to the art of at-home working. Still, for the majority of America’s offices, the overnight shift from cubicle to couch was one they were less than prepared for.
As we’ve seen this past year, companies forced to work completely remote are now experiencing the unique challenges that come from losing their physical workspace. From the project management prospective, the focus turns to the profitability of the company, and that often means keeping tabs on team member productivity. While a CoSo Cloud study found that 77% of people working remotely are actually more productive, that doesn’t account for the sudden switch into remote work that most employees had to make—or the roadblocks that came with it.
Yes, our current situation surrounding COVID has allowed many of us the freedom to work from the comfort of home. But as a project manager looking at the bigger picture, I have to note that this road hasn’t exactly been smooth for companies like ours, where remote work is completely new territory.
If you’re a project manager finding your company in the midst of work-from-home worries, you can’t let that stop you from pushing through. Here are some of the biggest challenges newly remote project managers are facing, and more importantly, how the BatesMeron team overcame them.
This one is huge. When working remotely, there is a feeling of disconnect that inherently leads to a lack of motivation. This in turn impacts productivity, meaning a loss of input and revenue.
To combat this feeling of disconnection, the BatesMeron team makes a pointed effort to recognize individual team member contributions by acknowledging their outstanding work during all-team meetings. Telling someone that they are doing well publicly can be a great way to boost self-esteem, and a happy team member is a motivated team member.
In addition, we look for ways to keep our work interesting with new and exciting projects that instill fresh creativity into the team. For example, an infographic explaining the complexities of investments and taxes doesn’t sound all that intriguing—that is, until we helped the Investment Answers team turn their educational content into an informative comic book series. It was meant to be a more fun learning experience for clients, but ended up being a blast for our team as well.
Monitoring an employee’s efficiency when working from home is another challenge for project managers. The ability to track performance helps ensure a timely execution and delivery of tasks. When working in an office, it’s easy to check in on employees and gauge how much time someone is spending on any one project. Now, we’re often left in the dark. Thus, BatesMeron cracked down on our use of Harvest, a time tracking software, to ensure everyone is on the same page at all times. It allows us to see where people are getting stuck on projects or if their plate is simply too full.
Time-tracking is also what helped us move efficiently on the DX Learning Solutions website. Pre-COVID, we rebranded DX with an all-new logo, messaging, collateral and even a brand brochure. Just as we began our work on a new website for the brand, COVID turned DX’s budget and goals completely upside down.
For a project manager, being told your original budget has been cut in half isn’t anything new. But on top of that, we now needed to rally the troops, determine a new course of action and execute on it immediately, all while working remotely for the first time. Working within DX’s limited budget and short timeframe, we didn’t have the means to conduct a full website makeover. Instead, we found a solution to fit their urgent needs: a cost-effective landing page that gave potential DX clients an overview of the brand and tons of downloadable content to chew on.
It was the right move, but one that required tons of check-ins, status updates and time tracking in order to stay efficient and meet the client’s initial timeline expectations. The end result speaks for itself, but know it did not come to fruition without its challenges.
Especially these days, working from home poses much more opportunity for your mind to slip away from the task at hand to a child who wants attention or a pet that needs to be walked. Whatever it may be, these distractions affect your productivity. Researchers found that working from home can be more stressful than working at the office, with approximately 29% of remote workers expressing that they have a hard time maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
If your “home office” is less a private office and more a home-and-school-and-office due to multiple quarantined household members, productivity can always be interrupted by the chaos of kids, partners, roommates or parents. However, proper planning ahead can help. We worked with Porter Pipe to provide their team members with helpful distractions for kids of all ages to combat this exact problem. As a result, the Porter Pipe Print & Play Activity Book was as fun for us to create as it was for Porter Pipe team member and customer families to complete.
Some additional ways to stay productive are to break down your tasks into “chunks” with set timers or simply expressing to your teammates when you need a hand on a task. Remember: Every one of us is in this together, which means we all have to step up when necessary to keep the work moving.
While these challenges aren’t new to project managers, the switch to remote work has certainly made them more apparent and harder to address. These tips can help you thrive while remotely working until this “new normal” ends—and if they sparked any ideas we can bring to life for your team, we’re all ears.