Lessons CxO’s, Team Leads And Project Managers Should Learn From Remote Work During COVID-19

Lessons Learned from COVID-Enforced Digital Transformation
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I recently had a talk with one of our prospects. That person was looking for a foolproof way to digitalize his business, which obviously isn’t big news given at least 70% of companies have a digital transformation strategy. It’s his answer to my question regarding the factors driving the shift that got me thinking.

So, as I was going through my usual routine trying to figure out project goals and business needs, I asked the “why” question and to my surprise, the answer was COVID.

In full disclosure, the person I was speaking to made a joke and their company obviously had better reasons driving digital transformation forward. Still, perhaps there is some truth to what was said?

Can Remote Work Drive Digital Transformation?

I’d hate to bring up COVID-19 once again, but the virus has shown that remote operations do indeed drive digital transformation. Yes, the lion’s share of companies had digitalization strategies in place prior to the outbreak, but the global lockdown has put much more pressure on thew while offering little to no time for implementation.

According to the recent survey by Vanson Bourne, as little as 18% of companies had an efficient strategy in place.

“The very survival of office-based organization has hinged on their ability to adapt and go
remote as quickly as possible,”
David McLeman, the CEO at Ancoris adds.

In simpler words, the need to work remotely caused by the pandemic has brought upon the digitalize or die mentality, which, in turn, forced digital transformation further.

The lag

If you are looking to successfully run a remote team, please consider that there are much larger factors in play than infrastructure: efficient business processes and effective management.

When it comes to digital transformation in general and successful remote work in particular, technology is but a tool. The real journey your company will undertake is a shift in mentality. I say this from the perspectives of both a man who has managed to build a team from the ground up and a CEO of a software development vendor offering a plethora of services to clients from overseas.

I can see how those businesses that have been thrown into the devastating sea of the unknown - remote operations - experience a drop in productivity, the lack of effective management (or excessive and ineffective management), or the absence of a fitting pool of shared knowledge.

Here’s the thing: when your options are essentially narrowed to drowning or staying afloat I can only suggest it’s time we all learn how to swim.

So what are the most important lessons business owners, project, and product managers should learn to the COVID-caused shift to remote?

Lesson 1 - trust

A manager, be it business, product, project, or otherwise, carries the weight of personal responsibility and accountability. That’s just part of the job description and it goes alongside every other responsibility. A regular employee, on the other hand, is free of this burden. At least from said manager’s point of view.

This train of thought is clearly illustrated by a recent study by Harvard Business Reviews. For starters, at least 40% of supervisors express low confidence in their ability to manage remote workers. 38% believe that remote workers underperform if compared to office-based operations.

If we were to dive a bit deeper, we’d see the roots of the problem (spoiler alert: employees themselves are not the culprit). 41% of supervisors are skeptical as to whether their team can stay motivated while working from home in the long run.

The sad part is that the manager’s view of their employees does affect their productivity. The lack of trust forces micromanagement, continuous calls, unnecessary meetings, and meaningless status updates.

These factors, in turn, compromise a worker’s ability to focus. They add unnecessary distractions, ruin the work-home balance, and are the cause of stress as well as burnout.

In simpler words, your team experiences a strong sense that their colleagues and supervisors do not trust their ability to do work.

In even simpler words, micromanagement adds a lack of confidence in one’s working skills into the boiling pot composed of stress caused by the surrounding world and a strong fear for one’s livelihood.

What we can learn?

The challenge of trust (or lack thereof) isn’t something most managers can learn on their own. You can’t expect that telling your supervisors to have trust in their team will do magic. Things simply don’t work that way. Unless your company’s top management supports these words with actionable solutions.

  • Lead by example: One can not expect managers to lead autonomously when top managers show fear and uncertainty. The more pressure you put on the tip, the harder it will be for the foundation to support it.
  • Educate supervisors: Remote work is neither better nor worse than working from an office. Successful management mechanisms and predefined business processes will come on top regardless of the surrounding situation. Deliver this message to your supervisors and offer additional training on managing remote teams to enforce their self-confidence.
  • Explain the difference between checking and stalking: Don’t get this wrong, a manager can and should check if their team has everything they need (equipment, access to development environments, effective communication channels, etc.). That being said, there’s absolutely no need to stalk them with questions regarding status updates and work logs.

Instead, you should introduce the concepts of ROWE, AKA Results Only Work Environment, and personal accountability. * Support KPIs: Identify the key metrics that measure the success of a given project and manage by results, productivity, and met KPIs, instead of 247 availability online.

Lesson 2 - communication

Effective communication channels are not a simple means of contacting one another. Slack, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets, and Hangouts are but one of many tools effective managers use to keep tabs on their team’s performance.

Here’s a quick example that illustrates this point perfectly: imagine a daily stand up where the team lead shares some files and briefs developers on their upcoming tasks.

  • Does everyone have access to shared files?
  • Do they have remote access to project management software (Jira, Trello, etc.)?
  • Can they access their development environments from home?

Answers to these and other questions are as integral to an effective business process as the app you chose to host the meeting.

What we can learn?

The best way to make sure everyone is up to date and busy, a project manager should create a list of resources each member of a team will need during the project.

  • Hardware (laptop)
  • Software (CRM / ERP / Cloud Environments / Production environments / Project Management Software)
  • The correct level of access every person is to have

Lesson 3 - expectations

Lastly, you will need to set the right expectations. Your company may or may not be entering a crisis, but your employees will not know about it unless you set up a meeting and share the insights you have right now. Otherwise, they will be second-guessing and making assumptions that you might not be too fond of in the long run.

Schedule a weekly call, update everyone on the current status of things, and set clear expectations. Enforce their understanding of the fact that business continuity is under control so they are free to focus on solving the client’s challenges instead.

Or you can rely on a vendor with proven experience in remote team management and successful project delivery for guidance and consulting.

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