Sustain Benefits to Virtual Teams in Post-Covid-19 Offices

Having worked from home for weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be relishing the return to the office and in-person meetings. After all, you may have suffered from Zoom fatigue due to too many online meetings. However, the post-COVID-19 work environment is going to be different. Physical distancing will be the norm. In-person meetings, if held, will be in large rooms with fewer people and lots of space in between.

It is likely that some team members will continue to work from home while others work in the office, perhaps with rotating schedules i.e. not everyone will be in the office at the same time. When everyone was working from home, you adopted de facto best practice for virtual team meetings: everyone on their own computer: one person, one screen, one mic and one speaker.

How do you maintain that for a hybrid situation with some participants In a physically distanced office and other participants working from home? The solution: invest in a headset for each worker. The headset should have a built-in noise cancellation mic. This is to block out background noise such as coworkers talking nearby, loud machines or traffic from outside.

Don’t buy the cheapest headsets because they tend to be uncomfortable for long term use. You want something you don’t mind having over your ears for the entire day. I have been using my headset for more than 5 years now: it’s very comfortable, sounds good and has great noise cancellation capability.

Once you have this for every worker, you no longer need to book a large room and risk physically distanced meetings. The effect of having some people meet in person and others join online is a two-tier meeting. Those in the same room have higher communication bandwidth and those online suffer a lower bandwidth. The worst thing that can happen is the online participants feel left out and proceed to tune out of the meeting.

Years ago, at a PMI conference, a speaker said, “If you have one virtual participant in a meeting, you have a virtual team—and the best thing you can do for a virtual team is to have everyone be virtual i.e. one computer per person.” That levels the playing field, ensures that there is one conversation and everyone feels left in. As in any effective project meeting, I leave you with one decision and follow-up action: to sustain the benefits of online meeting best practice by purchasing a headset for every member of your team who doesn’t have one.

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What is the most important team leadership skill for the project economy?

Projects drive change. What drives projects? Teams do. The success or failure of your project is dependent on the strength of your project team. Traditional teams don’t cut it anymore in the emerging project economy, where operational work is automated and value-added human work happens within the context of projects.

In its thought-leadership publication, The Pulse of the Profession, PMI highlights the DNA of teaming 2.0: agile, change-ready, collaborative, innovative, and led with empathy. What is the most important leadership skill for teaming 2.0? Collaborative leadership. That begs the question: how collaborative is your organizational and project culture?

Here’s how to strengthen collaborative leadership:

1. Recognize and reward leaders who demonstrate this skill.

2. Bring in facilitation training for team leaders.

3. Strike a balance between collaboration and agility. If decisions take too long, teams risk not being agile by over-collaborating.

You can read the full PMI article at:

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How to keep your virtual project team engaged

As the project manager, you are the link to all stakeholders and project team members. If you used to work in the same physical office, with an open office layout and co-located teams, you benefited from high bandwidth communications. Not just you, but the entire team talked to each other, brainstormed and solved problems much more easily. You bump into each other at the coffee machine and over lunch. That’s why consultants fly from coast to coast–to work more closely with other team members and increase the speed of delivery. While remote collaboration tools help, timezone differences and perhaps the textual nature of some of these tools limit the communication bandwidth.

In these scenarios, what can the project manager do to help project team members feel engaged instead of isolated? Remember, they are not just isolated from you, they are also missing the connection with other team members. Also affected — but usually forgotten — are stakeholders who are not actively working on a project but who will be needed in the next phase or will be impacted during roll-out.

Here are a few tips on how to keep all stakeholders engaged:

  1. Send out a daily update on your project progress. This needs to be sent out broadly to all stakeholders, including those not actively working on the project but who will be affected in the next phase or upon rollout. Here’s where you can shine as a PM. Many managers think that other managers don’t want to hear about activities until they are actively involved. That’s not true. They want to know and be appropriately informed and involved right from the start. This is also the foundation of effective change management.
  2. Hold informal “Ask the PM” coffee sessions once a week. This is when you are online, having a sip of your favourite beverage, and anyone can drop in virtually and ask a question to find out what’s happening on the project. You may be surprised who shows up and tells you what is really going on (or not) in a project. Again, you can help isolated individuals connect the dots between various activities, decisions and plans. By helping them see the big picture, you are helping them better appreciate the part they play. This is highly motivating for workers who may feel like cogs-in-a-wheel.
  3. Have a project open house. This is where you invite everyone who is even remotely involved in or impacted by your project to an info sharing session. Get your project team members to present 5 minute lightning sessions. These should be short bursts of information. Again, if you don’t do all the talking but get key change agents to do the presenting, it engages the rank-and-file who may listen more and be better persuaded by a peer who is leading the change.

Doing these will help keep your project on the radar and avoid the situation where a stakeholder complains that they didn’t know or was not kept informed about the progress and what needs to happen next.

To learn more, join the webinar on May 26, 2020 @12pm Pacific: How to Engage Your Virtual Teams

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Project Doctor is brought to you by Wan How Consulting Inc.