By Wanda Curlee
Spikes in cases. The new normal. Limited opening. Social distancing.
These are all new taglines that we’re hearing as we slowly move back to the office. Granted, some of us were already remote workers and in that case, the change will be minimal. But those returning to the office will experience a radically different environment.
What does this have to do with project management? Well, project managers play an integral part in the transition, and it started sometime back.
When the pandemic first hit and lockdown started, project managers were needed. Companies could not just send their employees home with their laptops and hope that work would continue as usual. Project managers had to put in extra work to ensure employees and resources were prepared for the transition. And there was minimal time to prepare.
I am sure that many companies did not expect to be on lockdown for months. For many, it has been devastating. But now it is time for project managers to help transition employees back to the office.
Compared to going remote at the beginning of the pandemic, project managers now have more time to plan and execute the project to transition work back to the brick-and-mortar office. But a project to transition work back to the office is also quite different from transitioning to a totally remote environment. Transitioning back to the company’s physical location requires setting up the office to meet social distancing requirements and other regulations established by the state and the federal government, making sure IT is in place to handle the transitioned workforce, instituting updated processes for the new environment, ensuring contractors are hired to maintain new cleanliness procedures, helping the workforce learn the new cleanliness policy and what to do if an employee is sick, and so forth.
Or will it be a different type of project? Companies’ leadership may have considered how well the remote workforce did. Recently, I read that some companies located in Manhattan may not return to their office spaces at all. The leadership saw that working remotely was much cheaper and resulted in a happier workforce, with more or at least the same amount of work accomplished. Sure, we heard about parents who had to work while also looking after or homeschooling their children. But for many, this is a temporary phenomenon.
If the leadership decides to keep the workforce remote, the tasks will be different. The project manager may have to look at helping all employees move their offices back to their homes, make the IT system more robust, develop procedures to support the workforce with upgrades, create processes to help employees with broken laptops and keep them working while the computer is fixed, develop new processes for hiring and assisting new employees in understanding daily expectations, and assess whether new tools are needed, such as online signatures and secure conference systems, among other tasks.
Project managers will need to think outside of the traditional ideas of a virtual environment or a brick- and-mortar office. These project managers will be establishing the new normal for their companies.
How are you helping your team transition?