Managing projects remotely – our top three lockdown lessons

Project management

As we approach a year of working almost exclusively from home, it feels like a good time to reflect on how we’ve adapted to managing projects for clients in a remote environment. What have we learned and how can we keep things moving when we’re all juggling so much?

Let’s start with the positive aspects:

  • arranging for multiple parties to attend meetings is far easier when there are no travel considerations and the room booking is virtual (although we do miss the Sackers cookies!)
  • increased use of digital platforms for communications and contracts increases efficiency and reduces delay, often caused by exchanging hard copies
  • for many people, working remotely means less distractions (home-schooling excepted!), and that can result in a greater focus to progress and complete tasks.

For all the logistical advantages, however, there are significant challenges. Here are our top three tips for effective remote project management:

1. Prioritise and adapt – increasing pressure on everyone’s time and budgets means that some aspects of a project, and in some cases the project in its entirety, need to be scaled back or even cut.

Where concerns over a project’s viability arise, we find it helps to step back and review the scope – are the objectives and deliverables still valid, or are some aspects no longer required? What are the critical tasks or phases of the project and what are the ‘nice to haves’? It’s a good idea to build in reviews at key stages of the project and where these don’t already exist, it’s never too late to bring them in.

If tasks are being dropped or pushed back, it’s important to also look at the impact that will have on any related tasks, as well as the project plan as a whole, to ensure that any changes are carried through. The knock-on effect can be wider than expected, so we always seek client authorisation before implementing any substantial changes to scope.

2. Share safely – having moved everything online, it’s vital to ensure that project information is shared and maintained securely. We’ve all seen that cyber security is an increasingly important part of our working lives and it can be a big project risk, particularly where company or scheme data is involved.

While email remains most people’s preferred method of sending written information, we need to be careful to make sure sensitive information is protected – passwords on file attachments are a minimum.

There are however a number of other more secure ways to share information throughout a project, such as a ‘collab space’ through secure cloud-based case management software (we use NetDocuments), or a private Teams group. Another advantage of using secure shared spaces is that it makes version control on documents and plans far easier to manage. We’ve found this particularly helpful where multiple parties are commenting on draft contracts for instance.

3. Unmute – while for many of us the novelty of being on camera in each other’s homes wore off many months ago, we should ensure that we keep up verbal communication on projects. We certainly don’t need every update or meeting to be a video or phone call, but there is far less chance of instructions or comments being misinterpreted if they’re discussed or clarified directly, as well as confirmed in writing.

Overall, in these challenging times, it’s important for us to keep the human element of projects in mind. A project update conversation isn’t always just about progress; it’s also an opportunity for us to check in with the people who are actually doing the work.

If you have any questions on project management at Sackers, please contact me, Elizabeth Nolan, or your usual Sackers contact.

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