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Leading a remote workforce: Adaptability is key

by jcp

By Ashwini Bakshi, Managing Director, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, Project Management Institute

As the world navigates through the next phase of the pandemic, we’re given an opportunity to reflect on the enormous impact Covid-19 has had on what we do and how we do it. The world of work has permanently changed and, what becomes clear, is the new normal will require individuals and organisations to adopt a new capability framework to succeed. Within this skills framework, there is one that stands out as most crucial – adaptability. In other words, there is no longer a set norm or process to follow, everything is fluid so we must be too.

There is no denying that the last year has posed a set of complex problems for businesses. According to our recent Pulse of the Profession report – over the past 12 months more than half of UK projects missed their deadlines and nearly a third of projects failed to meet their original aims and business objectives. It is for this reason that we all must assess how to take our new adaptive skillsets and apply these to improving project performance.

Adapting your business model

Even before Covid-19, the workplace was already undergoing rapid, disruptive change that was reshaping the very nature of work. Our role as leaders is to recognise this rapid change and ensure our businesses adapt and thrive. Now more than ever, businesses need to be agile and flexible in their approach and proactively act on the changes around us. At PMI we call this becoming a gymnastic enterprise.

We define gymnastic organisations as those that empower their people to focus on outcomes rather than process. Being gymnastic requires that employees think more like entrepreneurs – always keeping the bigger picture in mind. Creating a business environment that encourages flexibility, adoption of digital tools and valuing new skillsets are just some of the ways we can become more gymnastic. Naturally, what does remain constant is an externally oriented vision of success, complemented with an inner determination to prevail and succeed.

By discarding the traditional rigidities of business and strengthening our collective response to change, we can build cultures that fuel a strong enterprise. We’ve seen this even in the most formal of environments, in finance with the likes of HSBC scrapping its executive floor to allow for remote working and collaborative break out spaces. And typical ‘analogue’ industries like construction are finding ways to work remotely such as adopting Structonsite, a tool developed specifically to help companies monitor construction sites using AI.

Embracing the digital world and the tools it has to offer couldn’t be more important in keeping your employees connected, feeling part of a team, and communicating with customers. The best technologies free and empower. McKinsey found that the crisis has brought about a huge change in executive mindsets on the role of technology, with over half of surveyed business leaders openly investing in technology to refocus their organisation.

Let your employees lead the way

Releasing some of the control can be tricky, but PMI view the power of the employee to be one of the most crucial elements of adapting to our new working world. Actively encouraging employees across the business to lead and learn through proactively driving change and owning their own development is a tool to success.

Those that take ownership of this transition– we call them changemakers – can both conceive and drive meaningful change. Changemakers combine new skillsets in the service of a compelling vision, business knowledge, and flexibility to shape the future of both themselves, their teams and their organisation.

In the past, the responsibility to be a changemaker might have been restricted to those in leadership or project management roles, but this is no longer the case. As we emerge into the new era of work, anyone from a student to a C-Suite executive can and should consider themselves a changemaker. By promoting this ethos, organisations can empower their people to make their mark and play an active role in supporting their business out of the pandemic and into the future.

Prioritise skill development

Actively encouraging changemakers within your organisation is crucial, but so too is supporting and prioritising their upskilling – giving them the tools to achieve. Adaptability is a learnable skill.

Our view of the ideal skill set — the PMI Talent Triangle® — combines technical, leadership, strategic and business management expertise and now, digital skills. These are the skills needed to not only meet the evolving demands of the marketplace, but also elevate individuals’ value as strategic partners in business success.

PMI has prioritised exploration and developing new offerings designed to help individuals strengthen their skill sets in each of these key areas, such as our newly updated PMP Certification 2021 which reflects today’s business environment and helps to develop agility in project management.

Or take digital fluency. Given the emphasis on speed of transformation, companies and individuals are joining the citizen development movement to help them to deliver tangible business benefits, faster and cheaper. Citizen development is growing at an astounding rate and, one day soon, it will be as prevalent a tool/capability as Excel.

PMI Citizen Developer, for example, helps changemakers learn the foundations. As the first platform-agnostic suite of resources, it provides a set of global industry standards, best practices and methodologies that helps businesses adopt citizen development in a safe way that unlocks the true business value whilst taking risk off the table.

But being comfortable with digital evolution is not sufficient. As well as adapting to the use of emerging technologies, we believe that the skillset previously referred to as “soft skills” – collaborative leadership, emotional intelligence, innovative mindset, and empathy – should now be considered as “power skills”. As routine tasks are increasingly automated, a higher premium will be placed on those with the ability to lead teams and think creatively.

Putting your best foot forward, right now

What the pandemic has offered us is the ability to change, to adapt our organisations in a way that best places us to be better partners to our customers, better employers to our workers and better leaders in society.

By harnessing adaptability throughout our business models. and empowering changemakers, we can make our businesses thrive. It’s time to put our best foot forward to seize today’s opportunities and tackle tomorrow’s challenges. Right now.

Ashwini Bakshi, Managing Director, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, Project Management Institute

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