Remote team working

Nelly Twumasi-Mensah
During these strict government measures to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus we look at how the way we work is adapting to accommodate these changes.

This period is commonly being referred to as a ‘lockdown’, as the restrictions prevent people leaving the house, save for a limited set of exceptions. Despite these limits, projects are still live and there is a continued imperative to make progress on our clients’ projects, even though the current circumstances were probably not considered in initial plans! Many of us in the construction industry might be finding it difficult to adjust to remote team working. It is vital to understand how we can quickly establish new priorities and new ways of working that will enable a project team to continue to deliver in a greatly changed environment.

What no longer works?

Start by identifying what will no longer work. There are some important questions to ask:

  • Are there processes or procedures that required, or at least used to involve, face-to-face contact?
  • Who deputises for key decision-makers?
  • Can you digitise tasks? E.g. wet signatures changed to e-signatures
  • Where face-to-face meetings were once required, can you use video call?

Where there are things that need to change as a result of the review, work collaboratively with the project team to explore workarounds. Use new or existing technology and implement amendments to processes to remove blockers.

Give collaboration tools their day in the sun

There has never been a better time to maximise the use of existing collaboration tools wherever possible. Many companies have invested in Microsoft Teams or Slack, or similar multi-modal communication platforms. These can often securely accommodate third parties and provide a central hub around which the project team can arrange itself. Consider running training sessions on any existing systems to ensure everyone is up-to-speed, especially if you have a project management or project collaboration tool in place already. This will make collaboration simpler going forward and help anyone who was perhaps struggling to engage previously.

Make virtual meetings the new normal

Continuing to deliver for clients during this period will almost certainly mean that meetings will be conducted virtually. When planning meetings make sure they can be short and concise. If they must be longer than one hour, then schedule in breaks. If you are hosting a meeting with new people, circulate the agenda with beforehand and include pictures of the attendees to help participants to become familiar with each other quicker.

Practise good change management

It is important that teams are included in and buy into any changes. Good change management practices will actively engage your team as part of the process. If you ensure you clearly communicate the new processes and how they supplant the old, your team will be quicker to understand them. Seek active confirmation from your team that they have understood the changes and give them an opportunity to feedback and ask questions. This will lead to buy in and acceptance of the changes that you seek to implement. 

Use this six-step review to help you with your remote team working

  1. Review processes and procedures
    1. Identify the blockers now that you’re not able to meet face-to-face and develop solutions and work-arounds to remove the blockers wherever possible
    2. Identify and implement new processes or procedures that need to be in place now that you and your team are not co-located
  2. Get team buy in to new processes
    1. Ensure all team members understand what is changing and what is not
    2. Give everyone an opportunity to comment and actively confirm understanding and buy-in to the new processes
  3. Agree communication channels
    1. Be clear about which channels or mediums will be used for communication about projects and which will be used for communication about social matters
    2. Working remotely will require a deliberate focus on maintaining social aspects of the team as well as the professional productive aspects.
  4. Maximise existing collaboration tools available
    1. Run virtual refresher training courses if needed to encourage use of collaboration tools
    2. If possible, fast track functionality that will improve collaboration that is on the roadmap that hasn’t been enabled yet
  5. Plan meetings like you would normally but with the virtual world in mind
    1. If a meeting has be longer than one hour, schedule in regular breaks
    2. Communicate the agenda at the start of the meeting
    3. Include pictures in the agenda so people can put faces to names
    4. Check that all team members are familiar with the tool the meeting will be run with
  6. Maintain the norm wherever you can
    1. Not everything will or should change
    2. Keeping some things consistent helps teams adjust

Embracing change

Whilst we all adjust to the changes in our workplaces, we have an opportunity to do things in a different, perhaps more streamlined way. It’s also an opportunity to be innovative and collaborate in a greater way with clients and project teams. It’s worth noting that, not everything will change, nor should it. Teams continuing to pull in the same direction, towards the same goals will be a vital and should remain unchanged. There will still be many things that will remain familiar, albeit they will be being done virtually.

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