Alumnus and PM instructor speaks about remote technology’s role amid the pandemic

Shawn Belling

Shawn Belling, like so many others, had to make some adjustments when the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded last March.

Between Belling’s responsibilities as a project management instructor, professional speaker, consultant, and as the chief information officer at Madison College, however, this new task wasn’t without some difficulty—yet Belling was more than up for the challenge.

“Fortunately, I’d already had a lot of experience with remote working,” said Belling. “So for me, personally, I was able to adapt quickly. Remote working has probably made my professional life easier, because I can context-switch so quickly without having to physically travel.”

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville instructor then expanded his thoughts to the broader field of project management. He noted that, although there have been some adjustments, the nature of the work hasn’t changed, given project managers’ reliance on one core fundamental.

“One of the standing axioms in the profession is that 80 to 90 percent of a project manager’s job is communication,” said Belling. “So if you communicate by walking around and speaking with people on your project teams, you've probably altered the way that you do that with tools like Zoom and Slack. The actual responsibilities of project managers haven't changed, it’s only how we accomplish these responsibilities that has.”

That’s not to say project managers as a whole have had an easier time adapting than others, however. While Belling personally handled the transition to virtual work with little difficulty, he’s fully aware that others’ adjustment to the remote environment can greatly differ.

“I’ve found that adaptation can vary tremendously based on a person’s personality,” said Belling. “This shift has been seen as great for some introverts, but on the other hand, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing and can affect anyone. It just becomes a matter of how we’re executing our responsibilities and managing our attitudes with these new tools.”

The notion that a person’s relationship with remote working is influenced by their previous background and experience was one Belling further advocated at a recent discussion panel with Women in Technology Wisconsina non-profit organization working to attract and assist women of all ages in technology-related careers. While at the panel, Belling maintained that understanding we may not all be in the same place with remote technology is important to remember.

“You quickly recognize that people have different experiences with remote working and remote learning,” said Belling. “We have people with small children at home while they work, people who are working with high school students at home, and recognizing that diversity with regard to what resources people have at home and what they are having to deal with is key to moving forward.”

Outside of speaking engagements and work, Belling himself is moving forward in other endeavors. Shortly after his panel discussion, Belling reached out to a contact to connect the Women in Technology Wisconsin organization with the Women in STEM program at UW-Platteville. If successful, the potential cooperation between the two parties could be mutually beneficial, providing even more networking opportunities and resources for women in technology-related careers.

This potential affiliation is just one of many ways Belling is advocating for a changing work environment amid an already turbulent time for many. Wishing to promote equality in his own workplace at Madison College—based in Madison, Wisconsin—Belling helped form Women in Technology Services, or WITS, a little over a year ago. According to Belling, the initiative aims to make technology services at Madison College an employer of choice for women by increasing awareness of the challenges they face in the workplace.

This goal is accomplished through training opportunities, events, and weaving social activities into work, all as a way to provide support and remove impediments for female co-workers. The experience has been both a rewarding and enlightening one for Belling, who seeks lessons with an open mind. For example, after a virtual social hour in which some co-workers felt left out of a male-dominated conversation, he reflected he still had room for professional growth.

“What this teaches me is, simply, what I still need to do,” said Belling. “I need to think about the unintentional mistake that I made as a leader and then intentionally make some changes so that there are different types of opportunities for our groups to socialize and not end up disconnected or disengaged.”

But perhaps the most important lesson Belling has realized is that, no matter what changes occur in the work environment, the situation will evolve. He has his sights set on the future, considering what best practices can be retained as we all move forward.

“Start thinking post-covid,” said Belling. “I think it’s important for people to think about what they have learned—about their team, their work style, their workplace—that they will continue to implement after the pandemic. There have been some things that have really worked well, arrangements that are not traditional, and we should continue doing them because they’re going to provide an even better experience once we return.”