Dealing with the unexpected, TOGETHER, a project delivery perspective

April 8, 2020

My name is Rob Lawrence, Chief Project Officer at Asysco. As part of our knowledge and experience sharing, I want to take you through what we have done over the first two weeks of moving to complete remote work.

When the US announced its first travel restrictions, I was on-site with a number of my colleagues (both UK and NL) in Jackson, Mississippi, for our project with Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance (SFBLI). We typically have some people on-site during the project in a couple of weeks on/off fashion. Since SFBLI is due to switch over production, from the mainframe to the migrated environment, in a couple of months, on-site presence normally increases. Not so much in this case as we knew that, once people would return home, they would not be allowed back in. At that time, UK based travel was still allowed. Obviously, this is now also completely restricted, requiring a major change in our default MO as follows:

  • Working hours are changing to support our customers.  As a global company, we have projects running all over the world.  As said, typically, our projects require a balance of on-site and off-site activities.  The current situation has forced many hands to adopt a remote working model.  Extending the overlap between the time zones by starting earlier or working later enables an increased window for communication and collaboration.  This concept is being adopted by our customers and at Asysco.
  • Frequency and timings of meetings need to change.  People’s routines have changed.  School closures have forced people to review their daily schedules.  Meetings have been moved to accommodate availability.  Additional meetings have also been scheduled to keep a closer eye on the daily activities and ensure everyone has what they need to function effectively.
  • Communication & Collaboration tools.  Many organizations have some form of communication tools (email, telephone etc.).  The adoption of new company-wide tools is all about making communication as effective and efficient as possible.  We have seen an increase in MS Teams, Slack, Cisco WEBEX, as many organizations, especially those who are predominantly office-based have relied on face to face meetings.  The tool adoption is slow to start with, but it increases quickly.  At Asysco, we have to adopt a range of different tools to meet with our customers’ needs as we cannot mandate ours.  Our advantage is that we are well versed in the leading communication and collaboration tools, and so far, this is working out quite well. In my next blog, I will aim to provide some tips and tricks on some of the available tools
  • Flexibility is key.  Everyone’s ‘normal’ has been disrupted in one way or another.  It’s vital that people continue to be flexible.  People are working from home that have never done this before.  Then you add the distractions of a family home to the equation, and it’s obvious that despite people’s best intentions, there is an increased requirement to be flexible.
  • At Asysco, we recognize that we have somewhat of a head start with many of the measures that organizations are putting in place. Our projects are distributed Globally, have a mixture of on, and off-site support with remote development from our HQ in the Netherlands. Even in normal times, it isn’t unusual for team members that work together daily to only meet a handful of times a year. Distributed and remote working is part of our culture; however, we all have a past where that wasn’t the case and remember that there is a period of adjustment.
  • This adjustment applies equally to managers or supervisors and how you interact with your reports. The immediacy of a response or action that you’re used to in the office may not be as appropriate when working remotely. It is often the case in the early days of working remotely that individuals feel pressure to be instantly available to any question or request, particularly from their superiors, in order to prove they are ‘working’. In most cases, this isn’t an efficient or effective way to work. Set your expectations with your team beforehand and adapt on both sides for an arrangement that works.
  • As much as we have a head start working as a global company, this is not always the case with our customers. Most of them are now forced to adopt a remote model in an expedited way. Imagine a company with 1000’s of employees used to working in an office all of a sudden having to equip their staff with laptops and secure connections from home. This most likely will have an impact on our joint project timeline, which is something we will have to work with and see if any mitigation can be applied.
  • One of the often-overlooked benefits of working in an office is the ‘watercooler moments’ where your teams meet and chat about whatever they feel like. This is a big driver of creating bonds and friendships that ultimately support the wellbeing of the people and make them more effective team members. Something we’ve seen used to great effect is to have a ‘virtual watercooler’, a short meeting scheduled for around 15 minutes a few times a week. Everyone is invited (depending on the size of the team), attendance is optional and work talk is banned.

In summary, so far, we seem to be dealing with everything collaboratively with our customers. We jointly find creative ways to achieve results and accept where these lead to challenges we jointly need to resolve. For now, the impact seems to be pretty workable, and the risks can be well managed.

I am interested to hear your feedback and experiences. Let me know if you have any questions. Happy to answer them.

Stay safe!

Rob