By Cyndee Miller
I’m headed back to my office for the first time in six months—taking the train and maybe even collaborating with my team IRL. I’m not going to lie. It feels really, really strange. Like most companies, mine is opting for hybrid: three days in, two days working from home.
It’s looking like the next norm—and it’s not hard to see why. A study from HR consulting firm Mercer found 94 percent of U.S. employers reported productivity was the same as or even higher than it was before the pandemic. And employees—now accustomed to the flexibility—are less likely to compromise. A March Boston Consulting Group survey found that 89 percent of workers from across 190 countries said they’d prefer a job that allows them to work from home at least occasionally. Yet that same study found that only 1 in 4 workers would switch to a completely remote model if they could.
“A lot of companies underestimate the power of workplace,” said Kahn Yoon, director of international projects at global workplace design firm M Moser Associates in Singapore.
“Whilst I’ve enjoyed working from home to a degree, once I started coming back, I also realized how much I missed having collaboration with colleagues and having those innovation moments,” he told Projectified®.
Okay, so clearly Yoon isn’t alone. Most people want to spend at least some time in the office. But what does that actual physical space look like?
As we wrote about in PM Network, at first the focus was on “pandemic resistant” offices. Salon Alper Derinbogaz, for example, revealed plans for a single-story office building connected by open-air and semi-covered walkways and terraces—perfect for outdoor meetings.
Guallart Architects took pandemic-proofing to the next level with its proposed Self-Sufficient City in Beijing. The project aims to eliminate any disruption to daily life in the case of future lockdowns by designing and building a mixed-use community with supercharged amenities, like a communal greenhouse for food production, solar-paneled roofs to produce energy, an on-site co-working office and 3D printers and rapid prototyping machines to produce everyday goods.
They’re super interesting concepts, but what about the good old offices many people are heading back to right now? To safely transition from the home-office back to the office-office, leaders will have to reboot their thinking about how to work—but also the purpose, role and design of the workspace. And that requires lots of pilot projects, lots of iteration—and probably saying good riddance to the once ubiquitous open office plan. (As someone who did serious time in one of those arrangements, I will not mourn its loss.)
“It’s really time to rethink the open plan,” said Todd Heiser, principal and co-managing director of Gensler’s Chicago office. “For as long as I’ve been doing this, individual workstations have become more open with ever-increasing density, and I think as we return, these spaces really need to flip. Meetings need to happen more in the open, and focused work probably needs to be reconsidered,” he said on Projectified®.
Even Google is rethinking its famously open offices. The New York Times dubbed one of the concepts as “Ikea meets Lego,” creating team “pods” with chairs, desks, whiteboards and storage units on casters that can be arranged—and rearranged—however the group sees fit. The company is also trying out a new meeting room called Campfire that intersperses in-person attendees with very large displays of virtual participants in a circle. It sounds weirder than it looks and could actually help remote team members feel like they’re part of the action.
For its Working from Home, Working from Work project, architecture firm Woods Bagot proposed keeping employees remote for “solo activities” and saved the office for team activities. That makes sense to me. Because let’s face it, brainstorming on a Zoom call is … rough. For Kahn, that means “more meeting spaces, more open collaboration spaces—because you always rely on serendipitous discussions that spark a bit of that innovation.”
But he also acknowledged that offices are going to have to compete with work from home. So along with boosting collaboration by tricking out the office with the right technology, companies would be wise to invest in biophilia so you “don’t feel like you’re in a big sort of a factory of desks.” Uh, yeah, that just doesn’t seem like an effective way to foster that kind of innovation we all keep saying we need more of.
Will hybrid teams working in hybrid offices be business as usual in the future? How are you help reimagine your office as an incubator for new ideas?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA
In my last post, I wrote about the benefits of . Now it’s time to talk about how you’ll document and maintain that information. And this is where project leaders should turn to their teams for ideas.
A few years ago, I belonged to a very efficient and collaborative project team. We were all responsible for a service deployed across different manufacturers’ models, hence the importance of having up-to-date information. We maintained a spreadsheet file shared on a cloud service and we updated it regularly, as agreed on by the team. Then a new manager decided to implement a different system. The team was told to send all information to two administrators who would handle updates.
You can imagine what happened.
Almost no one sent the information and the system was decommissioned after two years. As a result, all the knowledge our team had built over the years was lost. What was deemed a more professional or advanced tool ended up crippling the knowledge base.
As a project leader, we need to trust our teams and let them define the best ways to share and store information. We’re not talking here about an encyclopedia of knowledge. It’s really just enough documentation to help handover and onboarding.
One of the best ways to ensure knowledge sharing is to record presentations and conference calls. You can also take detailed notes to share with other project team members.
Another major part of closing the information loop within teams is to solicit and give constructive criticism and feedback. Postmortems, retrospectives or lessons learned are an invaluable opportunity to share knowledge and ultimately document it.
How do you let team preferences shape your approach to sharing knowledge?
By Cyndee Miller
It’s Earth Day and this year’s event comes with an even greater level of urgency—and action. Two-thirds of people say climate change is a “global emergency,” per a survey by United Nations. And some high-profile government and business leaders are stepping up. The United States rejoined the Paris climate agreement, and after unveiling its bold Green Deal in 2019, the European Union announced yesterday it’s increasing the number of companies required to publish environmental and social data. On the business side, General Motors proclaimed it plans an all-electric vehicle future by 2035 and BASF is sharing its map to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. While acknowledging Asian companies have lagged on investing in environment, social and governance efforts, Loh Boon Chye, chief executive of the Singapore Exchange, called 2020 an “inflection point.”
Of course, turning that sort of big thinking into reality requires an exceptional mix of capital, commitment, creativity—and projects.
Consider this your whirlwind tour:
As you might expect, there’s been serious action on the renewable energy front. Some are small-but-smart efforts, like the Spanish city of Seville launching a biogas pilot, turning its abundance of oranges into the power ingredient for clean energy at one of its wastewater treatment plants. And some are larger. Campos del Sol, number 43 on PMI’s Most Influential Projects 2020 list, is a US$320 million solar plant under construction in Chile. At full capacity, the 382-megawatt installation will generate enough energy per year to help slash annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 900,000 metric tons. That’s the same as taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road for a year—and could put the country a whole lot closer to meeting its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Project leaders are also mobilizing to reimagine urban development in more eco-friendly ways. Danish design studio C.F. Møller Architects is working on Storkeengen. What’s especially interesting about this project is that it balances needs on three fronts: urban planning to satisfy the city’s expansion needs, climate-change adaptation to help mitigate the impact of flooding and nature conservation to stabilize the local ecosystem.
Another approach that’s gaining traction is nature-based solutions, which promote climate resilience in urban areas by tapping into nature itself. One example is CityAdapt, a project by the United Nations Environment Programme. In El Salvador, the group reduced surface runoff from a coffee plantation, which can cause erosion and flooding in the ecosystem. Here, too, the project wasn’t just a good move for the local environment, it also improved coffee productivity, meeting local business needs. (For more on that one, check out the Projectified interview with Leyla Zelaya, the national coordinator for the CityAdapt project in San Salvador, El Salvador.)
A core piece of any urban development is mobility, and project leaders are making big, bold moves here as well. One of the biggest changes: bike and pedestrian paths—and lots of them.
Even fashion, not exactly known for its high sustainability cred, is coming around. Ecoluxe designer Stella McCartney is working with Google on a pilot project using data analytics and machine learning to give brands a more comprehensive view of their supply chain, with the goal to better measure the impacts of its raw material sourcing on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity. It’s not just the posh designers, either. Fast-fashion giant H&M launched Looop, billed as the world’s first in-store garment-to-garment recycling system. And footwear giant Nike is embedding sustainability into its product development projects. Look no further than Space Hippie, a line of eco-friendly sneakers made from yarns containing at least 85 percent rPoly made of recycled plastic water bottles, T-shirts and yarn scraps.
We can’t talk about Earth Day without mentioning some of the amazing projects to protect and preserve the plants and animals that we share our planet with. (They also happen to be some of my very favorite projects to follow.)
Case in point: Elephant World Cultural Courtyard, a sanctuary designed to bring the Kui people and their elephants back to their homeland in northeast Thailand. Launched in collaboration between the Surin Provincial Administrative Organization and architecture firm Bangkok Project Studio, the space spans 8,130 square meters (87,510 square feet) and includes a programming space, elephant hospital, temple, graveyard for elephants and museum dedicated to showcasing the Kui culture.
The need for these kinds of projects has only been accelerated by the climate crisis. When wildfires consumed half of Kangaroo Island, they decimated one of the world’s most iconic biodiversity hubs. Tens of thousands of creatures—from kangaroos to cockatoos—were left stranded in a barren wasteland without food, water or shelter. As the smoke cleared, rescue teams raced in to launch the Kangaroo Island Recovery, number 11 on our list of Most Influential Projects of 2020. Now the team is out to minimize the impact of future bushfires by planning buffer zones, fire breaks and small-scale ecological burnoffs. “If we can protect lots of small patches, it gives these threatened species a greater chance to survive a bushfire in the future,” says Pat Hodgens, a fauna ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.
Last year around this time, I wrote about prospects for a green economic recovery: With the right investments in the right projects led by the right people, we can conquer the coronavirus, rebuild our fragile economy and protect our planet—all at once. Now I had no idea we’d still be in that same situation, but I still believe that’s the path forward.
And on Earth Day this year, it’s worth considering how project leaders can step up and take responsibility for delivering a more sustainable future.
By Emily Luijbregts
During my presentation at this year’s PMXPO, I received a lot of questions about the skills needed to adapt to and excel in leading virtual teams. It seems to be something that a lot of project managers are struggling with at the moment, but it’s something that can be easily learned.
It all begins with building a strong foundation. First, make sure you understand each team member’s motivations and ambitions. If you do this, you’ll be able to better predict or know when there’s something wrong. If someone on your team is focused on receiving positive feedback, for example, that person may get demotivated or stressed when they don’t receive praise or are criticized. But if you don’t understand the root cause of this issue, you only see the person struggling.
You might be aware of Bruce Tuckman’s theory on team development in which teams move through five stages: forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning. Do you know where your team members are right now? Where they’re struggling? What are their weaknesses? If you can look at this, you will be able to see the best way of managing them successfully.
Some teams won’t follow a linear pattern: They may regress during times of stress, the duration of the phases will not be identical and there may be times when it feels like they’re going through several phases in one day.
Once you’ve built your foundation, here are four more tips for managing remote or hybrid teams:
You need to define how the team will communicate and establish why it’s important to follow the protocols but also understand any restrictions. Someone might not have access to a webcam or have bandwidth issues due to unstable internet connection, for example. I recommend creating a team charter so everyone buys into the rules being agreed upon.
One of the most important skills right now is being able to build a team even as people are working remotely or in a hybrid environment. How can you do that? Icebreakers allow team members to open up about themselves and share common interests. Or you can try to gamify project activities. If you use agile, for example, ask team members to estimate how many tasks they think they can complete by the end of the sprint.
This is a really difficult skill to master, especially with remote team members as it’s even easier to get distracted. But try to take copious notes, ask follow-up questions and make sure the team has the opportunity to speak. If someone doesn’t have anything to say, try asking a future-looking question like: What are you aiming to complete in the next week? Where do you need support in the next period? In remote settings
What are you communicating? How are you communicating it? Is it the best way? Most importantly, how can these messages be sent with clarity through the remote-work ecosystem? You can monitor how well you’re doing through daily check-ins with your team, stand-ups or individual calls. But be sure to be patient with your team—and yourself—as you navigate virtual communication.
What are your lessons learned for leading remote/hybrid teams?
By Lynda Bourne
I was recently involved in a discussion about why some projects fail and others succeed, even when they’re completed in similar circumstances. The most common determinant of project outcomes—both positive and negative—boiled down to the way the people delivering the project work together. A cooperative and committed team underpins success.
This led me to think about the key requirements for creating a committed and cooperative team. And while the concepts below aren’t new, consistently creating the environment to allow them to flourish can prove challenging.
In my opinion, the three most important factors are:
1) An agreed-upon objective: Defining the project objective in a way people understand is the starting point. For one person, a “great website” may mean a technical marvel with all the bells and whistles. But for someone else, it may mean a simple, easy-to-use presence. It’s up to project leaders to get the team aligned—committing to an objective that’s not going to be delivered creates disenchantment.
2) An efficient team organization. Options can range from self-organizing teams to traditional leader-follower models. What really matters is that the team works in a coordinated and organized way, and this requires good, multidirectional communication to work.
3) Trust between team members. This last element is probably the most important—and least understood. You don’t need to like someone to trust them. In fact, you don’t even need to know someone to trust them. In an emergency, for example, it’s common to see a group of strangers form into a self-organized team and work together—often in quite dangerous situations—so things are stabilized. This is often referred to as “swift trust.” More traditional trust builds on reputation and observed experiences. Either type works, but you need trust. Without that, you’re not going to rely on the other people in the group to do the right thing to help you and the rest of the group achieve your shared objective.
In the modern world, people work on projects in all sorts of ways: virtually, in agile scrums, in traditional hierarchical teams and in myriad groupings. The people may come from one organization or many. Regardless of the group structure, one thing remains true: Project success comes down to effective teamwork.
What are your tips on creating an environment that allows project teams to flourish?