Account and project management is an incredibly essential part of our operations at Top Draw. These valued colleagues keep our clients happy, and our organization viable, by drumming up business and ensuring all our projects and service agreements are running smoothly. The Engagement team also has their fingers on the pulse of strategic planning, resourcing, and task assignments. We wouldn’t be able to do the work we do and help our clients so well without them. Below is a conversation with:
- Aimee, Director of Engagement
- Steven, New Business Manager
- Tommy, Account Manager
- Josh, Project Manager
In this interview, we discussed how their work-life has changed during COVID-19 and what they are doing to stay on top of the ball. Read more to learn some of the great advice they have picked up along the way on how to be the best account or project manager you can during this unprecedented time.
How has your daily work routine changed because of COVID-19?
Aimee: The biggest impact on my ability to get work done is having the proper equipment. I have a laptop stand and second monitor that I was able to borrow from our Top Draw office, which is really nice. I feel that with my current set up, I’m productive and get a lot of stuff done. One thing that has affected me during this time is separating my work time from my personal time. Sometimes it’s a lot more difficult to have that separation when working from your kitchen table. It’s a little bit of a struggle to step away from the computer at the end of the day.
Josh: My work routine actually hasn’t changed too much, but the lack of a commute is a huge change. I don’t have to deal with traffic, I can just walk into my workspace and start my day. What I have had to do though, is focus more on communicating effectively and documenting all of the conversations I have. In the office, we can tap each other on the shoulder and talk. While working from home, we don’t have that opportunity. We have to make sure we communicate effectively, which our team is becoming experts at!
Steven: My new office is my kitchen table, so this has been a pretty big adjustment for me. I’ve managed to keep a similar routine by waking up at the same time and keeping the same work hours each day. The uncertainty of this time can take a toll on our mental health so it’s important to monitor yourself and ask for help when you need it. I, for one, miss the water cooler and coffee room chats and the face-to-face human interaction that is the glue of the team during normal times.
Tommy: A huge change in my daily routine is that I have been able to turn a 2-hour daily commute into time with my child and my wife. I am still able to keep a strict routine: I close the door to my workspace when I need to be alone for a meeting or heads-down on a task, but otherwise, I love spending more time with my family. With being in the comfort of home, I have to be more strict on myself to follow my routine as working from home is more flexible and you can easily develop bad work habits.
What are some challenges you’re experiencing with accounts and project management during this time?
Aimee: My top challenge is communication. With the convenience of being in the office, we have more ad hoc conversations and touchpoints about projects or tasks with clients and colleagues. While working from home, it sometimes takes longer to get answers to questions or get things done on the fly. Also, you don’t necessarily have insight into if a colleague is heads-down and working on something, or if they are free to chat. This can impact my ability to keep things flowing smoothly. Also, there seems to be an increase in meetings to ensure we are all on the same page, which can take away from the time needed to actually accomplish the projects we are talking about.
Josh: A challenge during this time is to make sure that we are not just hearing, but fully understanding our co-workers and clients. It’s important that everything we hear and record is accurate, and that we practice full transparency with each other before we take action on something. When we’re trying to decide on the right approach for a task and where to allocate resources, we have to be sure that we are all on the same page.
Steven: My challenge right now is technology. Top Draw had a period of adjustment to working from home, and so did our clients. Everyone is still adapting and things are ever-changing, and this can cause delays in approvals or moving projects forward. We used to be able to present and review deliverables in-person, and now we have to do that by video conferencing or get sign-off approval via e-signature. With so many shifting priorities, sometimes it is hard to get a hold of someone. It’s important to follow-up using a different communication method if the one you’ve been using doesn’t seem to be working. Try a phone call if there is no response by email.
Tommy: Working from home and not having co-workers around is such a contrast from the open-concept office we usually work in. The energy of everyone fills the room and keeps the team going. I get a sense of excitement and community from being in the office which gets lost somewhat when working from home. While working from home is more relaxed, there’s something that’s dulled from not being in the office. Also, the wins and good news don’t feel quite as big right now. I have to remind myself of the end goal of the work, without needing too much approval from outward sources.
What is a piece of advice you would give to other account and project managers during this time?
Aimee: I think having empathy and understanding through this time is really essential. Taking a step back and realizing that we are a team, we are in this together, and each person should not be an island. Colleagues and clients are trying to deal with this unprecedented time in their own ways. We are in uncharted territory and it’s okay not to know and not have all the answers. The way we will get through this is by being a partner and acting as a sounding board for ideas. From a personal perspective, you should have an outlet to decompress. If you are stuck on something, take a break, and work on something different, talk to somebody about your frustrations, go for a workout, or meditate. Do what you need to do to restore your balance.
Josh: From past experience, if I am internally debating if something was heard and understood, I reiterate and follow up to ensure everyone is on the same page. Misunderstandings can occur when you ignore the need to clarify what was said when it isn’t completely clear. It’s important not to assume and to make sure everything is transparent.
Steven: My piece of advice is to establish and respect your schedule. If you do that well, you are also respecting your coworkers and clients. Simply be reliable for clients and colleagues. These are days we have never encountered before, and hitting a wall or burning out is real. We all will have hard days, but at the end of this, we have to keep our routines intact because it will make the transition back to work and a new normal so much easier.
Tommy: Getting projects completed right now is harder than ever. Top Draw and our clients have a lot going on! I make sure that I’m writing things down, asking questions for understanding, and reviewing those notes. Right now, everything seems like a priority and you can get pulled in so many different directions, and things can get hectic. Also, people can get frustrated and speak sharply, or say things that will cause confusion. We have to really challenge ourselves to be the best Account Managers we can be and partner with our clients to create a back-to-market strategy right now, so when the time comes, we are ahead of the curve.
Is there any “silver lining” to working from home? What we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Aimee: If there is a silver lining to the impact of COVID-19 at Top Draw, it’s that it has become more quickly apparent when things aren’t working. For example, a process may not be functioning properly or a method of communication may be leading to misunderstanding or delays. Knowing this gives us things to focus on and fix to make our operations more fluid. I’ve also noticed that I get excited about little things. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, going to grab a coffee with a client or a friend was something that was just part of my routine. It wasn’t something I got super excited about, but now I cherish the little things and find more joy in my daily activities.
Josh: When you are working by yourself, it reiterates the need for strong attention to detail. All of your habits, good and bad, come to the forefront when you’re working from home. I have to say, it’s helped get my eyes more trained to pick up on the little things, be it if I’m writing emails or creating a client-facing deliverable.
Steven: A silver lining for me is that my commute time has significantly changed. I don’t have to drive downtown and fight traffic. I can use the time for a better work-life balance. All I have to do is walk downstairs to my workspace. Although it’s become more difficult to get excited for non-working days.
Tommy: The fact that I get to spend a little more time with my family is a huge silver lining. I have a small child, and it’s been really special spending time with him, getting to know him more, and watching him grow. I think work has been more efficient during this time too. I’ll have 5-minute update meetings with people to connect quickly and get aligned. It’s helped keep the need for longer meetings way down. This situation has also reminded people that everyone’s human and doing the best they can at this time. People have started openly talking about the common experience of personal struggles, anxiety, and uncertainty. I think these conversations are a good thing that should continue.
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