Author: Nik Dragovic

Remote working has become somewhat of a project management buzzword in 2020, as it has across many professions.

Many project managers have been hesitant to make the switch to remote work, believing that it has the potential to create a disconnect between them and their teams. So today I want to take a closer look at remote working – the benefits, the challenges, and how new ways of working have enabled project managers to realise their potential.

The benefits of remote work for project management

Where remote working may have been considered an employee perk in the past, today it has almost become the professional norm.  Although remote working was accelerated due to COVID, we shouldn’t overlook the benefits it brings. For team members it can greatly reduce stress, while businesses can enjoy reduced staff turnover, lower office costs and access to top talent in any location.

The benefits for project managers extend even further. Increased productivity is a major one – between corridor discussions, walk-ups, coffees and lunch, the office environment is full of distractions. Remote work minimises these interruptions, while tools like Microsoft Teams ensure that project managers and team members can still reach each other when needed.

What’s more, team members tend to work flexible hours as they don’t need to travel to the office. They can also more easily manage personal agendas around work commitments.

Remote work risks and challenges

While the benefits are substantial, remote work also brings its challenges.

Without the day-to-day personal interaction offered by an office, it’s easy for remote team members to feel disconnected and lose motivation. Project managers need to ensure their teams have sufficient work, are suitably connected through technology, and receive plenty of feedback and encouragement.

There is a real danger of miscommunication within remote teams, resulting in unrealistic outcomes, scope creep and conflict.

Finally, working from home can be more distracting for some, particularly those with kids or who lack a suitable home office.

How COVID-19 has helped project managers realise their potential

Because of the risks and challenges, historically many project managers have pushed back against requests to work from home. Some needed to see their staff to feel in control. Others may not have trusted their team to work without supervision – or perhaps more accurately, they didn't trust themselves to effectively measure a remote team’s output.

In being forced to work remotely during COVID-19, the best project managers are showing themselves to be skilled and adaptable leaders.

This has been true for decades in fact, as digital project managers are constantly changing the way they work to adapt to new circumstances and technologies.

On a personal note, looking back on my career it’s clear that I’ve changed the way I manage projects as the field has digitally transformed.

I remember a time before businesses had the internet (yes, those days did exist.) Email was becoming popular with large organisations, but it was checked maybe two or three times a day.

Compare then to now, and the difference could hardly be greater. We have a vast array of tools that help us work efficiently, collaborate with multiple people and access information instantly. Most notably, we are no longer chained to our office desks.

Today, project managers need to be a step ahead of most professionals in harnessing technology and using digital transformation to their advantage. Tools such as Microsoft Teams have allowed project managers to have the best of everything; you can now have (virtual) face-to-face conversations with teams and clients, while enjoying the benefits of working remotely.

How is CGI embracing digital transformation?

I’m lucky to be part of an organisation that prides itself as an early adopter of technology.

At CGI it all starts at the top, where senior managers set the tone for the business. They provide the direction, the tools and support necessary for digital transformation to be done right.

When changes are made they are done on a global scale. When CGI introduced Microsoft Teams, for example, it was rolled out globally to no fewer than 78,000 employees at once. Despite the size of the operation, it was done seamlessly and has transformed the way we work.

Having spent decades working as a project manager, I’ve seen COVID-19 as the latest in a series of challenges served up by an ever-changing industry. No matter what the next hurdle might be – from digital transformation to global pandemic – a project manager needs to take a flexible, adaptable and pragmatic approach if they are to succeed.

Some people will thrive in this ever-changing environment, and those are the people that make great project managers.