By James Weidmann
Don’t be so attached to your desk and for heavens’ sake get up out of your seat. I have had the benefit of working in a small multidisciplinary engineering office of where this is the best advice I can give for communicating quickly and effectively. It may seem obvious, but in an office space where employees can feel so connected to their desk and by phone and email, the simple act of physically talking to someone on the other side of the room or even in the next cubicle can be forgotten. Of course, emails are important but are criminally overused. People can spend far too much time arranging and wording an email when a physical conversation can resolves issues with greater speed. Emails should be used when you need a record of the interaction, but not when a physical conversation is both faster and more effective.
Expect to be more mobile. It can be an effective strategy to move desks when starting or entering a new phase of a project. An effective seating allocation for multi disciplinary teams can greatly enhance team productivity. Traditionally, each discipline is located in the same area, however it can be more productive to break in to smaller teams and sit adjacent to people of other disciplines working on the same deliverable. This strategy can help avoid the circumstance where each team conducts their work separately and falls in to the trap of losing sight of the project goals.
A communication system such as Microsoft Lync can be a useful tool in a larger office setup or in communication between offices. Features such as screen share and the ability to take over control of each others’ computers, can be very powerful means of communicating. But again, it may be more effective to get up from your desk. The use of headsets for conference calls and to talk to one another is also a great tool, but should only be used when physical meetings aren’t as practical.
The importance of weekly meetings should not be understated. As a project manager, even if you think everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing, it’s always a wise choice to make sure. Often unexpected things will come up in meetings. Also, projects in engineering can change from week to week; it is essential that everyone remain on the same page. Typed minutes should be kept for formal meetings and each team member ought to keep at the least hand-written records. Project team meetings should be held weekly and involve leads to discuss budgeting, priorities and scheduling. A separate model review meeting should also be conducted weekly and examine whatever the deliverable is to make certain team leaders know exactly what is currently being worked on. Importantly, a whole group team meeting must take place every week also. This is the best opportunity to fine tune what each person will be doing that week. It is an extremely useful exercise since colleagues get the opportunity to lend assistance wherever they can. If someone is not involved in a particular project, they may still know something about somebody else’s work and thus offer assistance to a co-worker who may be more pressed for time. Finally, client meetings are essential for keeping informed about specific deliverables. It depends on how involved the client wants to be but these should take place at least fortnightly and be preferably face to face.
In summary, face to face communication is the most effective way to improve and maintain office productivity. It should be utilised in favour of but also in conjunction with technologically based forms of liaison to achieve a higher functioning and well informed workplace.
About the author
James Weidmann has previously worked for a small air quality consultancy with a variety of clients in the mining, resources, power generation and port industries. He has been deeply involved in a diverse range of projects including environmental regulations, air monitoring, dust management programs, emissions inventory and emissions modelling.
Over the past six years, James has volunteered with the Queensland State Emergency Service (SES) and has led teams involved in missing person searches, land searches, forensic searches, storm damage and flood clean-up operations. The training and experience he received earned him the rank of senior field operations member.
James brings nationally accredited qualifications to Keegan Consulting Group Mining and Engineering Team in mid-February, 2012.