The past two years have created challenges beyond our wildest expectations.
Our lives have been flipped upside down, forcing us to take on things we would never have anticipated or even wanted.
And for many businesses, companies, or organisations, it has been a time of uncertainty, caution, and forced slowdown or even complete work stoppages.
What has COVID meant for business?
In Australia, and specifically in Victoria and New South Wales, we have spent the past 18 months in some level of lockdown.
This has meant businesses have had to scramble to enable their staff to work remotely. Almost overnight, they have had to supply staff with the physical resources that would allow their people to work from home.
What businesses didn’t have the time or realisation to do at the time, was provide their people with the mental support they needed to adjust to this change.
The way businesses deliver projects is changing
More and more, projects are being impacted by emotional and cultural factors caused by the changes to how people are working.
While some of my clients are dedicated project teams delivering a specific product or service, most of my clients deliver varying business improvement projects to satisfy the company strategy or solve a business problem or need.
Regardless of the types of projects they deliver, they are all facing the same challenges.
Projects are centred around supporting a remote workforce.
The biggest trend I am witnessing is an increasing number of projects being rolled out to deal with the changing ways people are needing to work individually and as a team.
These projects are centred around the changes needed within a business to support a workforce made up of a combination staff who exclusively work from home, partly work from home, or are fully office based.
These are some of the problems I am seeing, hearing, and reading. Can you relate?
A workforce who is working from home
When staff are working remotely and out of sight, leaders may question staff’s worktime productivity or causes for obstacles.
Having a solid communication structure will help to answer any doubts and improve confidence. But, when a working-from-home culture is new for your business or team, the structure to support the communication required to make things work, might not exist yet. And this can create challenges.
A scenario I’ve seen repeatedly over the past year, is leaders questioning the cause of project delays. There has been a lack of confidence in being sure if the cause was a genuine and unavoidable work obstacle, or a personal distraction compromising the staff’s workability, or whether it was a case of the staff just ‘slacking off’.
And the follow-up question to this situation is, “which of these problems do we have the power to stop or prevent?”
A workforce who is working from home
People across the board, are burnt out and suffering major stress because they are working longer hours than normal.
The problem with not physically needing to leave your area of work is the temptation of working extra, and often, too many hours. Once you start to blur the lines between work and personal time the well-being balance is hugely compromised.
When the team are in different locations during the work day, you face the challenge of building a strong team relationship, collaboration, and trust.
It’s much easier to develop strong relationships with the team and stakeholders when they are physically spending time together. Team building online takes more time to develop and nurture. It can also take a back seat when the screen is off – as they say, “out of sight, out of mind”. And as we know, trust only forms once a dependable relationship is generated.
Being physically together when solving problems within a team helps to create the feeling that we are not alone. So when the team aren’t physically present, it can be hard to find the drive or motivation to overcome issues and this results in increased stress and anxiety, while potentially causing us to lose our passion for what we do. These feelings will have an impact on our creativity to problem solve and to be innovative.
While stakeholder availability is still a major factor in project delays, I’m seeing projects experience delays that aren’t the usual suspects.
For example, I’ve seen several projects be impacted by delays in receiving physical products. Products arriving much later than forecasted, or not arriving at all, has forced project teams to find alternative solutions, or re-estimate their commitments with stakeholders.
A surge of illness and illness prevention measures due to COVID has caused both teams and stakeholders to take more leave than planned, or even have to take more leave than is available. Naturally this has caused delays to project timelines.
Businesses have also had to shift their priority to address the ongoing impacts of COVID on a domestic and global scale. Because of this, other projects have been paused without a date to resume, or even cancelled all together. These sorts of business decisions, while necessary, have major impacts on costs, timelines, moral, and headcount.
Working from home distractions
A reduction in people’s availability during school hours
Noise distractions impacting meetings, engagement and participation when needed.
Having several more people take up your workspace, sharing your time with children or other adults working from home, and being distracted by doing house things (given you’re home and they’re staring you down), have played a major part in people’s ability to focus. When you can’t focus, you compromise your quality of work, which in turn creates risk to the results you’re trying to achieve.
What projects will lead the year ahead?
All businesses are heading into 2022 with an expectation that a variety of working arrangements will not only be an accepted way of working, but will be required in order to maintain a quality workforce.
Now that businesses have had most of 2021 to discover the human impacts of these changes, I see several projects launching in 2022 to deal with minimising these impacts and improve the overall success of projects.
Project Prediction #1
Cultural improvement projects
I’ve already seen several organisations planning projects to support the emotional needs of the hybrid model of working, where some of the team work-from-home and some work from the office.
The types of projects I anticipate being rolled out to support people with this hybrid working model will include:
Project Prediction #2
Multi-skilling permanent staff
Due to the ongoing uncertainties of the COVID-19 landscape, more businesses are preferring a leaner workforce so they can be agile to respond to changing needs.
But having less staff doesn’t mean there is less to do. I see more businesses creating development opportunities that encourage staff to take on new tasks and roles.
An example of this is the need for more business experts to take on pseudo project manager roles as a way for staff to upskill while still being able to deliver business critical projects.
Project Prediction #3
Particularly in the case of businesses who have reduced their workforce, organisations will be looking for ways to achieve the outcomes they need using a more streamlined and automated process.
Project Prediction #4
Introduction of online offerings
For businesses whose products and services could not support online alternatives throughout COVID, we can expect to see a focus on new offerings that will reduce any future impacts of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and crowd limits for community congregations.
I anticipate seeing an influx of projects that deliver trials for one or more online products or services that support the business’ current offering.
Delivering powerful projects into the future, will require businesses and project teams to embrace and adapt to the hybrid workplace.
To do this successfully, businesses will need to enhance the way they use technology, pivot their delivery of products and services, and streamline the management of internal processes, in addition to implementing the cultural change that will allow the hybrid workplace to thrive.
Encountering these challenges now and not sure where to start?
Book a 30 minute call with me if you want to discuss the ideal next steps and how I can support you on your journey to more powerful projects.
Subscribe for insights, tips and strategies to help you deliver powerful projects.