March 2020 changed the way we interact and work, possibly forever. The global coronavirus pandemic forced businesses of all shapes and sizes to adapt to remote working or close.
When this happened I was fortunate to be working as a contract Project Manager at a Russell Group University, in the division responsible for the various online systems that support teaching (virtual learning environments, virtual classrooms, online exams, recorded media repository etc). The University's bread and butter is traditional face to face, on-campus teaching. With five main campuses and many, many more buildings scattered across the city including multiple libraries, research centres, a teaching hospital and a teaching veterinary hospital, connectivity is something the University is very good at. They also have a mature online degree programme and recently launched the first fully online MicroMasters. From mid-March 2020 all staff were required to work from home, and teaching and assessment moved fully online immediately.
I've been a fan of remote working since the mid-2000s when I managed a dispersed team of 20 while working at NHS Education for Scotland. We had an office base but the team was scattered across the globe with people in the USA, Spain, India and Iceland at different times of year. Communication had to continue whether I was in the office, at home, in London, Birmingham, Aberdeen or Malta; every week was different. Whether someone was at home or in the office, they were included in communication and meetings through an online daily 15-minute stand-up and instant messaging. Following the advice of a superb development manager we tried to keep all meetings short, using instant messaging for most things. Working with developers and other techy-types helped... the old adage of developers sitting in dark rooms with only their pet mouse for company was pretty accurate. They embraced new technology and had no fear of online meetings, planning poker and instant messaging.
Back to the University...I had already used Microsoft Teams for a project in 2019 and liked the integrated meeting and file storage functionality; when you set up a new Team, you automatically get a SharePoint site in the background to store shared documents and you can add things like a Planner (Kanban board) for task management. Yes, there are issues but that's for another day. Version control is straightforward, meetings can be recorded and the meeting 'chat' is sticky. When the University moved fully online I already knew the Teams interface so the move wasn't difficult for me personally.
Online working...the difficult bits and how to avoid them
I've found communication within project teams has been even better while we have all been working at home. Ad hoc questions can be posted to a group and as long as everyone manages their own notifications they can contribute, view later or ignore. Once we begin to return to physical workplaces I hope remote working will no longer be seen as second best.