Managing international IT projects remotely during COVID-19

Since March this year, it has undoubtedly been a very turbulent time for people all over the world. Since then, some things have massively changed due to the effects the pandemic has imposed on our everyday work. Almost overnight, our project managers and consultants at NTS Retail not only had to move from our office building into home office, but suddenly there was no longer any direct customer contact on site due to severe travel restrictions.

After a summer of successively loose restrictions, Europe is introducing more restrictive measures again and an increasing return to remote work is imminent. Looking back at the last few months of handling remote work at NTS Retail, we would like to give a perspective on the new reality that is emerging from the pandemic-related circumstances for companies all over the world.

A constructive meeting culture despite video calls

The switch to teleworking in home office at the beginning of this year brought along quite some major positive aspects. In particular, it quickly became apparent that switching to remote work was easier than anticipated and the smooth transition to video calls resulted in a positive development in terms of the meeting culture. Both internal and external video calls, sometimes with a large number of participants, have become our daily routine since the beginning of the Corona crisis. Surprisingly, the meeting participants have shown even more discipline in terms of punctuality and attendance than before the lockdown. Meetings have since started with all the planned attendees and usually ended within the estimated time. The ongoing usage of easy-to-use communication tools, such as Microsoft Teams, has allowed participants to communicate any delays effectively and quickly to other meeting attendees. This would have been much more difficult in case of on-site appointments. Thus, the efficiency in communication is a clear advantage generated from working remotely.

Consistent pursuit of project goals despite teleworking

At NTS Retail, we were able to prevent starting difficulties, especially concerning project management. Due to the fact that some of the meetings had been held remotely even before the Corona crisis, our project managers had extensive experience in ensuring that project goals would be pursued consistently. As usual, workshops were organized in a way that participants could work together on various projects via video and telephone conferences. Soon enough, our project managers noticed that the undoubtedly most important criterion for ensuring a problem-free collaboration was a stable internet connection, followed by a clearly structured agenda adapted to the appropriate group of people.

Sustainable cooperation as a recipe for success

In order to comply with the measures to contain the pandemic, the specification workshops that were previously held mainly on site had to be converted to remote work. We could observe that the new format of collaboration reduced the quality of these workshops in no way, as companies all around the world were forced to deal with the same problem approximately at the same time. For this reason, collaboration by means of digital communication tools immediately became the focus for everyone, which resulted in a very positive dynamic.

In order to make the working atmosphere as pleasant as possible, project stakeholders everywhere adapted themselves willingly to the new circumstances. As with direct customer contact, it was essential to continue taking cultural needs and customs into account, as working methods are only minimally influenced by the new working mode. Due to these learnings, we have since been able to host many successful remote workshops in various projects.

The way our project management teams handled this new situation accurately demonstrated that teleworking is doable in practice. As a result of remote work, many processes could even be simplified. With worldwide business trips to on-site meetings canceled, the resulting time savings turned out to bring along even some fundamental advantages for us thanks to the introduction of teleworking. This way, the surplus in time was invested in concrete working time and could thus compensate for the loss of efficiency caused by remote sessions.

Measures to improve cooperation in the future

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the mode of collaboration has expanded by one facet: the collaboration in a hybrid form of remote work and direct cooperation in the office. Particularly in this situation, it is essential for the teams to remain in constant contact. Given the fact that the usual opportunities for informal information exchange, such as having a coffee or lunch together, are currently omitted or can only take place to a limited extent, we as an organization are challenged to find ways to promote a sense of togetherness and maintain the team spirit. Within the project team, this means relying more on regular exchange and, in meetings that take place both with participants in a meeting room as well as virtual participants, paying particular attention to ensuring that everyone involved gets their chance to speak and that the exchange of information works properly.

Conclusion: Remote work is absolutely possible, but direct contact remains important

As an interim conclusion, we can observe that the acceptance of teleworking and the willingness to make adjustments with regard to the efficient organization of collaboration has increased significantly, both internally and in cooperation with our customers. Even though the transition to teleworking was managed well, the importance of direct customer contact has become apparent, especially when discussing crucial topics or when process decisions need to be taken. Even though the way of working was well received, our project teams are already looking forward to working directly on site with our customers again. Eventually, project work is borne by the intensive cooperation between individuals and interpersonal contact is still irreplaceable.

Nevertheless, the current situation is new to everyone – to our customers as well as to our project teams – therefore, there will always be a given level of uncertainty. Accordingly, a constant exchange, ideally direct paths and the right processes are decisive in order to react quickly to changes that might arise.

Michael Pavala

Written by Michael Pavala

Michael has 20 years of experience in leading retail and telecom projects all over the world. Heading the NTS Retail project management department, he ensures to lead all NTS Retail projects to success. With his profound expertise in software implementation and his strong business consulting knowledge he perfectly supports his expert teams in all project phases.