As we begin to transition back to a more normal professional life, it isn’t work as we know it. COVID-19 continues to shape how we carry out our jobs, with the concept of ‘hybrid’ working emerging as the new norm for many organisations.
While recent announcements from the likes of EY, Aviva and Apple show there’s no single answer for balancing office and remote working, variations of the 2-3-2 model (two days from home, three at the office, and two for the weekend) are starting to emerge as a common theme. These announcements focus on organisations as a whole, but the project world faces a further level of complexity. When you bring together matrix resources, contractors and offshore teams, landing a blanket hybrid delivery model is an almost impossible task.
Despite each project team needing their own hybrid playbook, most will face the same set of challenges. While the below is by no means a complete list, if you’re a project professional preparing teams for a hybrid world, here are a few challenges to consider.
1. Personal choice v project needs
If you ask 50 people how they’d like to build their hybrid world, you’ll get 50 different answers. The pandemic has opened people’s eyes not only to a new way of working, but also a new way of living. Although no one bemoaned swapping their morning commute for an extra hour in bed, losing the camaraderie of office life has left a hole in the working day.
But despite each individual’s wishes, it’s important that the blend of office and home working ensures the work is delivered correctly. As a project professional, you’ll need to balance keeping team members happy and also facilitating a way of working that delivers results.
Expect to see ‘hybrid work agreements’ entering more project discovery meetings as the concept of ‘how we work’ changes on a project-by-project basis.
2. Collaboration at all times
Even though the transition to remote working was difficult, for many projects, having the entire team working remotely meant the experience was shared and made project workshops, meetings, and stand-ups consistent – a more level playing field.
One of the critical obstacles to hybrid working is maintaining that consistency with only some people co-located. How do you avoid side conversations between those in the office? How do you stop those at home feeling left out?
Many see the answer lying in collaborative technology, but the ethos and values of the project team must adapt too. Project managers have to be on top of creating an inclusive environment, with decision-making forums that are accessible to all, without slowing down the overall process.
3. The hybrid skills gap
Successful project teams are built on bringing together people with the right skills at the right time. But what new skills will team members need to navigate a hybrid world effectively?
The answer right now is that nobody knows. Much like when the pandemic first hit, project teams will be thrown into the deep end and will truly need to embrace a test and learn mindset.
The way individuals will need to communicate, collaborate and organise their time will inevitably change. At the same time, they will be asked to master a whole new set of processes, technologies and governance.
Ultimately, those who are technically competent will fare the best, but managers of project professionals will need to quickly identify those who may struggle and provide the necessary support and guidance.
4. Flexible methodologies, frameworks and governance
Project teams can only work within the confines of their methodologies, so PMO teams also need to consider what hybrid working means for governance. While structure and best practice have to be maintained, the world of rigid stage gates and detailed artefacts cannot endure post-pandemic.
This isn’t another ‘agile fixes all’ lecture. But if organisations haven’t already adopted an agile-first mindset, their lack of flexibility may be their downfall in a hybrid world.
Delaying specific project tasks to allow for in-person collaboration may bring more value, or key decision-making forums may need to adapt their agendas to cater for a blend of remote and on-site participants.
Whatever it is, remember that hybrid working extends past the project teams and up into the fundamental ways in which organisations run projects.
Organisations across the globe are scrambling to make sense of the hybrid world. Exploiting the best of both worlds won’t be a walk in the park for project teams, with the risk of slipping timelines or poor-quality deliverables very real for those who get it wrong.
The way the world makes sense of hybrid working won’t just be different from business to business, but from project to project. To achieve success, project teams need to be empowered to find a hybrid way of operating that works for them.
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