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Experts reflect on personal impact of change at APM event

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In a first of its kind event, Association for Project Management (APM) came together with the Change Management Institute to review the last 12 months of lockdown and the experiences, challenges and lessons learned by its expert panel.

Here is what we discovered…

Watercooler moments matter

Whether it’s popping your head into a senior leader’s door, leaning across the desk, or tapping someone on the shoulder, those little moments are seemingly more important than we thought.

According to consultant Lyam Crosdale, the amount of time we spend with people and how we manage relationships with them is important, but this was seemingly undervalued until lockdown.

“Those personal touchpoints weren’t there. So, understanding if changes had landed particularly well was a challenge. Through those discussions, you start to understand the barriers. Those watercooler moments are important,” he explains. So how do we get those informal chats?

“Use the technology you’ve got to better effect and give people space and opportunities they need for those moments of dialogue claims Ket Patel, co-lead, ChgMI.

APM Fellow and project manager Ian Cribbes advocated booking out weekly coffee and cake hours as opportunities to come together.

Technology: use a calendar, set expectations, and remember you are human 

Concerns of a reduction in productivity during remote working have all but been swept aside as the moments of calm we once had such as commuting, building up to a meeting before we walked through the door or visiting other sites have seemingly become fair-game for another Teams meeting.

“Not having that commute or physical change in the environment. How can we manage that without the physical separations? No physical boundaries or time to think. Very soon we became distracted/overwhelmed,” commented Ket.

“Technology isn’t to blame,” he continues. ”"Instead we need to be clear how we use it and hold the boundaries of how we use it.

“Do we use Outlook to our fullest? Do we put everything in, so we know who is free and when especially with personal/home/work life being so complex?”

Civil servant, Rob Blakemore advocated his organisation’s value statement – no meetings 12.30-1.30 – make clear where attendance is needed or not. Understand that people work differently and don’t expect a response immediately.

Use Outlook as a tool to show when you are and aren’t available. Block out time. If you need that time – then just ask.

“As a user, you should create boundaries,” suggests Lyam, to avoid ‘Teams fatigues’. “Be clear on what those boundaries are to you.’

As leaders, we need to reflect on our new environment

“Working from home has meant working at managing people differently” claims Rob Blakemore. “The approach to line managing is very different. The bumping into people at the watercooler is very different. There is a need to reflect on the situation we are in. There is a need to be kinder/ empathetic.”

“People respond very differently to change, especially the switch to remote working.

“Some people have needed a bit more direction and it’s been helpful to programme in the social aspect that brings people together and keep people ticking over”.

We are already noticing the change in our own leaders too.

Our leaders have become a lot more accessible. There is a calmness seeing them at home which presents an altogether more of a personal element. It is more relaxed than in the office and you can build personal relationships.

“Seeing into people’s homes instead of a sterile office, the armour has been taken off and the mask has come down, we see the kids we see the dogs and the cat,” comments Ian.

It was widely agreed we’d like the more personal touch carried over into the new norm.

Of course, without those face-to-face moments, we/our leaders must be clear on expectations or values and it isn’t easy to verbalise the culture of an organisation. It’s about honest two-way conversations. 

So, making time to explain how a paper will land or how to approach issues is critical. Not forgetting to block out time for your home needs – to help people plan meetings around you.

After all, we are all in this together.

Recognise the opportunities to thrive and make them stick

What can we learn to continue to thrive? Are there more opportunities than we think? Or is it the case of the cage is open but the bird not believing it can fly out?

As we move back to the next new normal, we must recognise the benefits of today’s challenging environment.

For Ian Cribbes that was the benefit of being able to resource someone in Scotland.

“We recently recruited a project analyst to understand what was needed, the current situation allowed us to recruit someone from Scotland, that was useful as she was the most suitable person for the job. If it had been office based – she wouldn’t have got an interview,” he explained.

For Rob, it was the ability to get problems solved and progress faster. 

“Get everyone at the table, get to the right people, solve the problem quicker. Just that use of Teams for problem-solving. Increased firepower; bring in specialist folks. Pushing forward problems has been quicker and easier and increased productivity.”

On the panel was:

Lyam Crosdale, UK co lead, Change Management Institute

Ket Patel, UK co lead, Change Management Institute

Ian Cribbes, FAPM, project manager

Robert Blakemore, FAPM, ChPP, technical deployment lead

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