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The End is Near—And That’s a Good Thing!

As we begin to imagine the end of the pandemic, we dare to think about what it may bring. We will be able to visit friends, family, and colleagues we have not seen for a year. We will be able to engage the world in ways that have not been open to many of us—travel, live events, dining. We will finally be able to experience a profound sense of relief that leaving the house is not putting our lives at risk.

 

As we contemplate the end, however, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, “What kind of a world are we returning to?”

 

As project managers, we will see a wide range of factors that impact our profession. Most obviously, and at the deepest level, how we engage stakeholders and teams will be changed utterly. Many of us will not return to our previous situations of being co-located with the bulk of our team and stakeholders. Organizations such as Twitter and Microsoft are embracing remote only or remote first strategies. There is growing talk of hybrid work situations, with people attending work in the office several days per week and working at home the rest.

 

When we are expected to lead times and engage stakeholders who are connected primarily by zoom calls, chat, and email, who see each other only occasionally face-to-face, and who rarely have the chance for ad-hoc, impromptu conversations, our ability to develop high-performing teams that deliver value to our stakeholders faces significant challenges. At a minimum, our communication and facilitation skills will have to become even more critical to our work as project managers.

 

While it is exhilarating and heroic in the short run to shift suddenly to remote work strategies, what do team and organizational culture look like in the future? How do we sustain or change the culture if our relationships exist digitally? How do we preserve and improve practices that supported us over the last year but were rooted in different circumstances?

 

Long-term WFH solutions may leave many people feeling socially isolated and bring a range of debilitating emotional challenges. Women have faced significant challenges when working from home when also asked to provide care for their families. People who cannot afford home offices and zoom rooms face additional burdens when trying to be productive employees.  We risk placing other barriers in front of employees who were already struggling to thrive in our economy. How will we, as project managers, address these issues?

 

Another concern I have is the potential for lost creativity and innovation when people begin to talk outside of our official communication channels. While many of us, including myself, treasure the quiet time that WFH days can bring, if we are only interacting with people during meetings and through chat, we miss out on those spontaneous sparks that often ignite new ideas. If we rarely leave home, what new impressions will provoke new ways of seeing the world? 

 

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, and a newsletter article isn’t the place to solve these problems either.  But as we gratefully and joyfully go forth to rebuild what we have lost, I hope we all take some time to contemplate the challenge before us.

 

I look forward to the chance to discuss these and many other topics related to our profession, face-to-face, very soon. I firmly believe that our long-term ability to lead, innovate, and thrive depends significantly on the relationships we build. I know that the PMI is an ideal place to nourish them. So three cheers for the end, because we can begin again soon.

 

 

Tim Bombosch

Director-at-Large, PMI-SFBAC

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