The COVID-19 pandemic has massively increased the number of people who work from home. For project managers in particular – especially if you’re in a field like translation – this brings with it a whole host of extra potential challenges.
But it also brings opportunities. If you do it right.
To get you started, here are some working from home tips for translation project managers – although they should be equally useful for PMs in every industry – drawn from Asian Absolute’s own award-winning team.
If you’re just starting to work from home as a project manager, it’s time to:
Project management work from home tips
1) Separate your home space from your “work space”
Being in the same house or apartment – or even the same room or same position on the sofa! – every day is a recipe for going a little bit stir crazy.
Any work from home veteran will tell you the importance of separating your home space from the place you do work in.
For some, this might be as simple as having a home office which they don’t use at other times. For others, with less room to play with, it might mean
- Have a desk in a corner of a room only for working
- Getting up in the morning and “dressing for work”, whatever that means for you
- Having a designated work position – at a dining room table or the like – which is only for working
2) Stop at the end of the day
Setting boundaries between things which are “work” and things which are “home” allows you to switch off more easily when the working day is over. This is especially important for translation project managers whose working days tend to be long – and who have schedules which could run 24/7 if you let them.
This means it’s important not to slip into a habit of “just checking one more email” when you’re technically off the clock. When the working day is done, get out of the “office” – whatever you have designated that to be – and be at home.
The alternative is to be slightly aware of work at all times. That’s a situation which will quickly burn you out, making you less productive overall.
3) Be organised
Simply slumping into casual working from home habits after transitioning from the office isn’t going to do you any favours. You need to get set up and organised at home.
Wherever you have decided your workplace is at home, turn it into a proper workspace. Collect your stationery, tools, computer and so on. Make sure everything is well organised. And keep it that way.
The vast majority of project managers in any industry have their own way they like to organise their desk. Whatever works for you, there’s every reason to keep it going in the home working environment. Hang up those organiser boards. Get a comfy chair. Put up as many monitors as you need. Get the lighting sorted so that you’re comfortable.
Don’t just settle for perching on the corner of the couch and expect to be just as productive and efficient as you were in the office.
4) Don’t lose touch with real people
Working from home – particularly in a project management role – can leave you feeling a little off. More often than not, this is for one of two reasons:
The first is that you’re not getting enough social interaction during your day. Sure, you’re speaking to people on and off all day on Zoom. But these are people whose work you are managing or clients who need to be carefully handled. They aren’t real people who you are interacting with completely naturally.
Don’t overlook the necessity of just having a chat with friends or family about something completely unrelated to work during your day.
Some people don’t like to mix business and personal time. But if you’re working long hours and it doesn’t affect your work, most people would argue that the mental health benefits of sending a personal email or keeping a chat channel or two open when there’s literally no one else around to talk to are worth it.
5) Get some exercise
The other thing that can be at fault if you find yourself feeling a little bit out of sorts with nothing in particular to point the finger at is a lack of exercise.
Without your normal morning commute at the very least, if you don’t make the effort to at least get out of the house every day, you simply won’t.
It’s time to think about getting some exercise. This can be as non-intensive as walking to your local park for a stroll around. But if you can make it a little more intensive, you will probably find that you appreciate being able to sit back down in your “work” chair all the more.
6) Create team home working guidelines
Even if you’ve mastered the personal side of working from home yourself, there’s no guarantee that your entire team will have – or that you will all have mastered how to work together while also working from home.
You will want to consider things like:
- The communication channels you are going to use
- Making clear what is and what is not acceptable regarding the way team members interact with each other
- What your workflow is going to look like
- Likely security issues and how you will handle them
Even more so than normal, you need to be available for both clients and team members to reach. As a translation project manager, you will likely be used to this already. But distance working set-ups add a new level of importance to the need for good, clear communication.
Remember that you have a huge array of potential communication tools available to you. Don’t be afraid to mix these up and use different tools for different purposes to prevent your team from burning out on the more impersonal ones:
- Chat channels and instant messages
- Text messages
- Video conferences
- Web chats
- Phone calls
Even more so than normal, you want to strive for clarity in every communication. You also shouldn’t be afraid to communicate perhaps a little more than normal.
Don’t bombard your team with messages any more than you normally would, of course. But some sort of ongoing updates about where the project is can be a very useful thing for making sure everyone knows how things are going. That’s not to mention regular virtual meetings and check-ins.
Again, as a translation project manager, providing this sort of link between team members who may be working in dramatically different locations and even time zones may be completely natural for you. If you’re a project manager in an industry where this isn’t the norm, erring on the side of more communication is the way to go.
8) Use tools which help you collaborate
These days, there are a number of different tools which are designed to make overall coordination and management of any project a whole lot easier no matter where your team is situated.
Many companies use Slack for online communications of all kinds. Trello and similar organisers are highly useful. Dropbox and various cloud-based tools allow for hyper-convenient file sharing and collaborative working on projects in real-time.
Whichever tools you use, you should ensure that they allow you to:
- Easily monitor the status of different components of a project
- Get instant updates on your team’s activities
- Set-up collaborative spaces for smaller groups within the project team if necessary
- Check-in with your team whenever necessary
- Keep your team informed as to what is expected of them and comment on their current progress, whether to offer encouragement or appreciation
9) Try to be more flexible
A good translation project manager has the skills to build the possibility of unexpected events and other issues arising into their scheduling for the project. Most project managers are also used to the need to adapt to changing requirements and circumstances on the fly.
But you will find the need for adaptability and flexibility reach new heights when working from home is thrown into the mix.
Clear, constant communications will stand you in the best stead here. As always, if things change, you need to let your team know. But you also need to be prepared for additional events to arise. Either those relating to home working situations – technical issues, for example – or, in 2020 in many parts of the world, those relating to the wider COVID-19 pandemic.
10) Remember time differences
A major area where flexibility is called for is time differences. For most people in translation project management, this is par for the course – a standard part of the challenges of their daily operation.
At Asian Absolute, for example, we regularly assemble teams of expert linguists for each project which are drawn from locations around the world. This means a standard 9-5 working day is unlikely to cut it when it comes to keeping in touch with your team and your clients.
Again, try to stay flexible. You might want to think about:
- Asking your team – when are the times which would suit everyone for regular meetings?
- Hitting “record” for those who can’t make it – if one team member is really out-of-time-sync with the rest, consider recording meetings and updates so everyone stays in the loop.
- Using scheduling tools – with the right collaborative tools, you should receive a clear read-out of everyone’s availability and progress.
- Sharing the information with your team – help everyone stay just that little bit more informed by disseminating information about everyone’s time zones and availability.
11) Have more meetings
Working from home means meetings become virtual ones. But it also means meetings become more important than they ever were in the office. As for most of your team (and probably you too), virtual meetings will be the only way they have to see and interact with the other members.
Many people deride most office meetings as an easy way to waste time. Certainly, most people come away from a worryingly high percentage of meetings feeling that nothing productive has been done.
When working from home though, it’s a good idea to have more virtual meetings rather than fewer. They help your team work together and give them access to you which they might not otherwise have. But to keep things positive and productive, do be sure to:
- Stick to a planned agenda
- Try to keep each meeting shorter
- Consider encouraging everyone to activate their cameras
- Be enthusiastic and cheerful, consider using humour to motivate
- Offer everyone – especially quieter or newer team members – the chance to speak
Project kick-off time is a definite time to have a meeting. It’s the only way to really ensure everyone is working from the same page and towards the same goals – especially if you’re all working from home. It also gives you the best chance to clearly explain everyone’s role and responsibilities.
You should also consider weekly – at a minimum – check-ups, even if they’re very short. Just to give everyone the chance to interact and comment if they feel they need to.
12) Provide a good teamwork environment
When you’re all together in the same office, providing a good environment for teamwork isn’t easy – but is, at least, potentially easier.
In order to work from home successfully, you need to be able to trust your team. You need to know that they are dedicated and able to get down to work without you constantly looking over their shoulder. If you’re an experienced translation project manager, again, you might already be familiar with this.
You might also be more than passingly aware that, in turn, your team needs to feel like they can trust you. They need to know that you are standing by, ready to talk to them when they need it. This means you should:
- Talk to each other in real-time as much as possible
- Ask your team for feedback and ideas for how to improve the way they currently work
- Encourage people to voice their concerns
- For long-term projects, consider agenda-free “after-work drinks” or virtual game sessions (drinks optional) to allow your team to get to know one another a little better
- Celebrate success, milestones achieved and comment on work well done
Because no matter how far apart you are, you are still a team. As a project manager – in translation, or whatever your industry – you need to put in just that little bit of extra work to ensure that your team members know it and believe it even when they’re working from home.
Do you have a project that needs expert management?
Tell us about your requirements today. Asian Absolute’s award-winning project management team has successfully brought projects in every industry – from IT to finance to e-learning – through to completion.