The Home Office: Project Management Organized Decentrally
In the coronavirus environment, it was only a matter of time before I was asked about our organization and working methods. "You lucky guys do home office, don't you?" Yes, right from the start. Even before Merlin 1.0 saw the virtual light of day, ProjectWizards was decentralized for a variety of reasons. However, at the beginning in 2004 we were not called "happy" but more like "hobby" or "crazy". Today we have over 15 years of experience and during that time we have built one of the world's best project management apps for Apple operating systems. And I am very proud of that!
But the question came to me from a very special motivation. Now that unfortunately the first deaths of the corona virus have been reported in Germany, one becomes more thoughtful in one's professional life. How important is the joint office for certain professional groups. What can be done from home or any other place. For us, for example, the Internet is the key factor. As long as you have a reasonably wide network, the world is fine for us. Of course, there are many industries where it is different. Often you just have to be "on site".
As one could read in the well known German newspaper Spiegel: "Home office becomes a status symbol, a class question: Sovereign is who can stay at home. It is quite possible that Corona will make this new divide in the working world more visible and deepen" and further: "Twitter has called on its employees to work from home if possible". Welcome to the year 2020!
But what components are needed for a successful dencentral organization? In the following you will find a collection of topics to get you started. Of course, it is incomplete and only briefly touched on in each case.
Voluntariness: A home office cannot be ordered by the employer. It is always a common and above all voluntary decision. In the reversal case, an employee can of course also not demand a home office.
Working hours: Contrary to the usual opinion of many bosses, home office does not mean "always on". The agreed working and break times apply to employees.
Internet: Unfortunately in Germany still not a matter of course and therefore a very important item on the checklist is the broadband Internet.
Communication tools: Do not underestimate the importance of the (virtual) coffee kitchen. The place where people can exchange ideas and talk about nonsense. After a long search and many experiments we have decided to go with Slack. But this decision is reviewed at least once a year.
Special software: Depending on the industry and task, the main software used must of course be able to cope with the decentralized environment. In our case this is of course Merlin Project. This is where the ProjectWizards approach comes in especially handy, because all the experience gained from the decentralized organization flows into Merlin Project. But there are many other disciplines besides project management.
Security: This does not only mean data protection in general, but also access security in particular; because especially when you can no longer turn the key in the office door, security becomes even more important.
Generations: I learned this from my father-in-law, who still claims that when you go home with your notebook, it's always the same as leaving work.
Motivation: Especially if you can't just look through the door as a boss, the motivation of the employees is a very important thing.
Personal meetings: At regular intervals the personal meeting of all employees (of a team) is inevitable. At these meetings the work must not only be in the foreground. Also undertake something different together. According to the motto: Team events serve team building.
Transparency: Especially when everyone does his own thing in his own four walls, the exchange about the results is all the more important. There are many great concepts that are easy to apply.
Reflection: For me the most difficult and hardest of all experiences and a direct result of transparency. In a regular routine we reflect together on what we have achieved.
Continuing education: Yes, continuous education is also important in the home office. It's actually funny that this has to be mentioned overhapt.
Discipline: Not only in the daily work, but also in meetings or in minutes, the general documentation, a very high discipline is required.
There is so much more to consider. I will certainly deal with some topics in a later article. But my most important insight today is this: We made a lot of mistakes in the early years. And we are still learning today!
We gladly share our experience. Check out our lectures, workshops and seminars on the topics of decentralized organization of teams, remote work, managing a company in the home office.
Opportunities in the telework
First and foremost, flexibility is the key here. I could give countless examples of how this flexibility has helped the team at ProjectWizards. From a very convenient work schedule (there isn't one!), to a break schedule (I'll have five hours for lunch in the nice weather today and continue working tonight), to goal-oriented productivity. Because especially as a brain worker you can't always be productive under pressure.
Risks when working remotely
The home office is often seen as a cost saving measure. After all, the employee has a room, a chair and a table at which he or she works. This saves the office rent. In such cases I like to quote from the German regulations "Measures for the design of computer workstations“.
A second risk is often the undercut break time and the overrun working time. To be honest, I personally regularly run into both traps. There is simply no environment where colleagues get up from their desks and wish each other a pleasant end of the day. That is why I have tried to establish a culture in which our communication tool also says goodbye at the end of the day or wishes them a nice weekend on Friday.
Apart from many other risks, the biggest problem for me is whether an employee can really work alone at home. Quite a few have - even after a successful application phase - had to admit to themselves that they cannot work alone. Mind you: alone. Not independently. That is a difference in this context. There are many people who can work independently, but when they are alone in a room, nothing happens. So my efforts at a job interview are always aimed at checking this work situation in particular. But I have also experienced several times that an employee is fooling himself.
There is no general guideline as to whether a team is suitable for working in a home office or not. There are many hybrid forms and possibilities. The risks clearly outweigh the opportunities in some industries and then I might make a different decision. But for ProjectWizards it was the right one and I am happy about that. I don't think we would have had this success in another setup.