Working Remotely During COVID-19 – Bolivia

As the pandemic continues to affect the lives of people around the world, it has also affected businesses and the way we work. From our client meeting during the semester, my team learned that the pandemic placed tremendous financial pressure on the organization that we are working with in Bolivia (i.e. CEOLI). As a result of the pandemic, CEOLI had to find ways to keep their operations going with a greatly reduced staff. Salaries still had to be paid and having to find new sources of revenue is hard. One of my team’s initiatives is to find grant opportunities for CEOLI and long-term partnerships that can further CEOLI’s mission and help them stay financially strong during the pandemic. The pandemic has also significantly affected the scope of work for our project as everything has to take place in the virtual setting. At the same time, we all have to be mindful and take care of ourselves and stay safe. Bolivia certainly is one of the countries that is heavily affected by the pandemic. Compared to the United States, although Bolivia has a smaller population, they have just suffered another deadly coronavirus wave back in February this year. Last year, Bolivia is considered to have suffered one of the world’s worst epidemics with the country’s real death toll being nearly five times the official tally. The good news is that the cases are decreasing now going into April with daily new cases of only 1076 compared to 2666 daily cases in February. With that in mind, I suppose it would be much harder to collaborate with people over in Bolivia because they have to take extra measures to contain the pandemic and it creates a suboptimal working environment. I believe over in Bolivia, it must have been hard to focus and concentrate on the work on hand because of all the other things that they have to keep in mind such as the current state of the pandemic, vaccine availability, etc. Given that CEOLI still has to find a way to support its operations, the stress level and mental strain that is placed on the team are tremendous. Everyone on the team has their things to take care of outside of work, and all of those can affect motivation, focus, and mental capacity. Over the span of the semester, my team did have the opportunity to meet with the people from CEOLI over Zoom. At least, that was one of the ways that kept all of us engaged. However, although we got to meet over zoom, there were also drawbacks to this method of communication. The fact that it is online takes away many of the close connections that we could’ve formed if it was in person. With all of our work done virtually, our scope of work has certainly been limited considering the feasibility of implementing those initiatives. With less bonding with the people over at CEOLI also takes away some of the clarity that we might otherwise have in person because of the limited opportunities to communicate with each other. Having to think of ideas and work in the virtual setting also challenged my team to think outside of the box and explore ways to get things done given the restrictions and safety measures in place for the pandemic. We had to take extra effort to think long and hard to find the most effective ways to deliver value to CEOLI.

One of the most difficult barriers that we had to overcome as a team when working virtually was team communication and bonding. Coming into the project, most of the team members don’t know each other, and therefore, we had to find ways to get to know each other so we can work better together. Additionally, working virtually also meant that all of the team members are not on campus. For instance, I had to work from California which is three hours earlier than Pittsburgh. There is another team member that is from Texas, so there is also a time difference there. As a result, finding a time where we all are available to meet outside of class time was not easy. Thankfully, we were all very willing to make time for each other and we got to meet outside of class. As we progressed through the project, I think we did get to know each other better. We delegated different responsibilities to each other and that helped clarify our focus and goals for the project. We also had periodic check-ins where we made sure that each of the team members knows what they are expected to do. Nonetheless, having to work virtually certainly has taken a toll on our team dynamics and the way we work together.

With our team being from different places in the US, when it came to working with our clients virtually, it was also hard in terms of trying to find ways to connect with them on a more personal level. With our team members not being together in one place and our clients so far away, it is pretty easy to feel a sense of disconnection. Oftentimes, it is easy to lose sight of where we are going and where we should be because of this disconnection. Therefore, self-motivation was very important in keeping our team together and making sure that we are on the right track. The Pitt Business staff were also super helpful in reminding the team what our objectives are and where we should be according to the schedule.

Given the nature of this project, working cross-culturally virtually has not been great. Going back to the point in the last paragraph, it is easy to feel a sense of disconnection because of the virtual setting. The same applies to working cross-culturally, not having the opportunity to fly over to Bolivia and learn about their culture significantly affects our understanding of the Bolivian culture. In the virtual setting, the most that we can do is do research and try to visualize it in our heads. Without actually being there in person takes out a lot of the engaging elements of learning a new culture. To CEOLI’s credit, even though the project is virtual, my team is still able to learn about Bolivian culture via a dance/culture workshop. That dance session is most likely going to be one of the things that will stay with me even after my time working on the project.

While working virtually, there were also positives that I took away from the project. I think the fact that our work is virtual magnifies the importance of being able to bridge cultural differences at work. If this project were to be in person, I think we might not have been able to see the magnitude of the impact cultural differences make in the workplace. As the world is becoming more interconnected, I believe there will be more situations where I will have to work with international organizations. With that, having that cultural awareness will be critical to having success in the project. I think cultural awareness is an important skill no matter what industry you work in, and this project certainly highlights this skill, especially now that everything is conducted virtually. Another positive that I can take away from this project being virtual is learning how to keep myself accountable. The project being virtual has certainly taken a toll on the progress of our work but having to be extra mindful of where we are and our progression on the project helped us become more responsible students. Especially when we are all at home working, self-motivation and accountability are two important skills to have. The project being virtual only helped reinforce the importance of those skills. Being understanding in this situation was also important and is often overlooked. It is so hard to keep track of everything that is going on around the world. The fact that most of the things that we do are now done virtually, it is hard to have that direct interaction with the people around you whether that be your teammates or the client. This willingness to compensate and improvise for each other is so critical to making sure that the project is complete. From one of the course documents that highlighted the ten characteristics of successful teams, being supportive is one of them. When we are working from different parts of the US and the world, it is hard to visualize what the other team members are going through. Therefore, to be able to offer support and help to each other when one sees fit is so empowering not only to team morale but also to our team dynamics. With support comes communication. I have learned the importance of consistent communication with my team and having that mindfulness when it comes to working together as a team. In times like this when work is made so much more difficult given the current pandemic, it only further reinforced the value of teamwork and communication. The experience is not the most pleasant, but the process of having to overcome challenges in teamwork, motivation, accountability, support was essential in making me a better individual and student going forward. With this project and pandemic, I have learned to be more optimistic and always focus on the positive side of things.