BY SIMON KENT
Project managers are literally going the distance, leaving the office behind to run projects from the corner coffee shop or sometimes even the middle of the desert.
With smartphones and laptops in tow, project managers can see the world (even if it is just a whirlwind tour of airports, hotels and conference rooms).
This modern way of working “encourages flexibility, increases our emotional intelligence and our ability to embrace change,” says Petra Goltz, PMP, a senior project manager at SITA, an air transport communications and IT solutions provider in Rome, Italy.
Yet even in a hyper-connected world, the road warrior lifestyle isn't for everyone.
“Working alone from a hotel room or other location can affect my creativity as a project manager,” she admits.
To stay sharp and motivated, Ms. Goltz depends on the support of her colleagues and friends, who might be far, far away.
Senior management must do its part to support mobile project managers— even if an error has been made.
“The last thing you want is someone to say you've made a poor decision,” says Peter Lunio, associate director at Baker Tilly Management Consultancy, Bristol, England. “That undermines the project manager's confidence and raises questions as to why the company sent that manager on this job in the first place.”
ON YOUR OWN
Working from a virtual office can make it difficult to establish any sort of personal connection.
“Moving around this much means sometimes it takes a while to cultivate friendships. On the other hand, the friendships you do cultivate are very strong,” says Petra Goltz, PMP, SITA, Rome, Italy. “I'm lucky in that I really like the work. It can be stressful and hectic, but it's what I enjoy.”
To avoid such unpleasantness, ground rules should be in place right from the start.
“The project manager has to know how far he or she can go in making a decision,” he explains.
Mr. Lunio remembers a meeting for a past project when he had to decide whether to rent a warehouse in Japan. Knowing his boss was out of touch on the other side of the world, Mr. Lunio made sure he went into the meeting knowing precisely what he could agree to.
Yet even project and program managers who head into the office every day know authority doesn't always come with the title. Power can become even more fleeting when they can't make the case in person.
“Working alone from a hotel room or other location can affect my creativity as a project manager.”
—Petra Goltz, PMP, SITA, Rome, Italy
TIP All work and no play makes a dull project manager. So go ahead and use that road-warrior technology for some fun and games.
World of Warcraft, for instance, is insanely popular among the IT crowd—and can even help hone business skills, says Bruce McGraw, PMP, Cognitive Technologies, Austin, Texas, USA. “It may be an online fantasy game, but you are using teamwork to fight off dragons.”
If swords and sorcery aren't your thing, consider spending an evening playing cards or another game with your team online. “It replaces the social relationship with something interactive that's not about the project,” he says.
“It can get frustrating at times,” says John Middlemist, PMP, PgMP, program director at Procoplan Consulting pty Ltd., Sydney, Australia. “When establishing a remote office on the other side of the world, I want the authority to make a decision myself—especially on hiring and firing.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Project managers undoubtedly have an easier time hitting the road these days with the dizzying array of technology available. Still, there's a risk in getting bogged down in too many gadgets. In fact, the only device most mobile project managers need is one they probably already have: a smartphone.
“The complex systems don't apply so well when you're constantly on the go,” says Chad Brokaw, senior project manager at communications agency Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, London, England. “I use my phone not just as a communication device but as a reference tool that carries an archive of correspondence and project data.”
Last fall, Mr. Brokaw was working on a major website launch for Waggener Edstrom while simultaneously relocating to the United Kingdom. All his work was conducted from a laptop and smartphone stationed atop the boxes in his packed-up apartment. He says his circumstances didn't affect his ability to manage the project, though.
“I could be online and productive around the clock, working with project teams from across three different time zones,” he says. “I could even take breaks for dinner and rely on my phone to keep on top of the action.”
For longer initiatives, project managers may want to break out their persuasion skills and convince their organizations to pay for rent on a corporate apartment instead of a hotel room. It can be comparable price-wise and creates a greater sense of familiarity and security, says Bruce McGraw, PMP, executive vice president, Cognitive Technologies, Austin, Texas, USA.
“You need somewhere you can keep your personal possessions,” he says. “There should be some semblance of a home. It makes you more sane.”
Whether project managers are in Chile for the weekend or India for six months, home is where the smartphone is. PM
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