I have always been one of those people that believed one of the major factors for succeeding with Agile ways of work is physically co-located teams. As far back as 2007, I remember the joys of walking into an open plan office bustling with activity, and colourful post-it notes on white boards within the office. Being the self confessed Agile Evangelist that I was, I would lobby for co-location within the work place as i believed it complimented collaboration; we just preferred the business and technology teams sat next to each other.
Fast forward to March 2020, employees across the continent find themselves working remotely; we are currently at the peak of a global pandemic, in which social distancing is at the forefront of most public health policies across the globe. Undoubtedly, this forces all employees to work from home, a practice that has historical been branded as ineffective, impractical and insecure which has led to some organisation to ban the practice of remote working.
However, now that the world is faced with this pandemic the once “forbidden” practise of remote working have been relaxed and given the go-ahead by most organisations across various sectors. Incidentally, I have been doing some work for a Startup based in the Pacific Time Zone. The entire team has always been working remotely; the current team is geographically dispersed and include countries such as Vietnam, India, Germany, United Kingdom, United States of America, Estonia and more. Our working practices have not been affected much by the pandemic and I hope to share some of the learnings that has worked for our team.
1. Regular Catch ups:
Scrum and other Agile methodologies recommend that team catchup regularly and some of these meetings include daily standup, retrospectives, product demo, design sessions e.t.c. One of the key ingredients to making Agile work in an organisation is regular communication between team members at all levels.
I am of the belief that, these meetings should be conducted in such a manner to ensure that these are of high quality. In addition, the team should deploy the best tools that ensure that the quality and delivery meet the requisite standards. I recommended video calls over voice calls, and voice call over any kind of instant messaging.
One of the teams that I currently work with decided to ditch the daily calls in favour of using a bot for recording daily status updates, and this was complemented with a weekly standup call. In addition, the team members agreed to directly place a call to any team member when required, provided both parties are available.
2. Outcome Based work:
I have always been an advocate of Outcome Based Work, and in this “social distancing era” in which we are all required to work remotely it is a beneficial method which bears considerable weighting. The idea behind this principle simply suggests that, it is NOT okay to micro manage members of your team. When I coach teams, I encourage people to take responsibility for work and how it is done.
Outcome Based Work implies that the leader of the team doesn’t dictate or track “how”, rather the focus should be on shared understanding of the “why” and the result that is expected to be delivered. A work environment that focuses on its outcomes develops its manpower and creates independence of work. This applies to every single level of the organisation; however it is worth mentioning that it might be a good idea to have some shared understanding of best practices for consistency sakes.
3. Golden Hours: I came across the concept of “Golden Hours” about a year ago, however I felt that this concept applied and positively impacted teams who worked remotely. ”Golden hours” are hours within the day, where the majority of the team are expected to be available online; with remote working comes a lot of flexibility which implies that team members can attend to other domestic issues in their home and within the families.
Remote working breaks down the concept of 9am - 5pm or the expected work hours for the respective organisations; team members are able to commence work earlier or later and finish work earlier or later but it makes sense to have some 3-4hrs core hours where a proportion of the team members are available online. This helps collaboration and prevents situation in which people are blocked for prolonged periods of time.
4. Family Life - Work Balance: Working remotely doesn’t mean that team members spend extended hours on work matters at the expense of their family life. Agile encourages sustainable work and as an Agile coach this is a principle that I encourage everyone to adopt. As a Leader, you want your team members to bring their best into work and burnout can be a great obstacle to achieving that. Team leaders have to respect period that members of the team have indicated as off-work due to annual leave or sickness; it is inappropriate to call their personal phone number or message personal emails at this period.
Individuals are expected to prioritise their wellbeing which include health and nutrition, organisational policies should encourage employees to work out and stay active; subsidised gym membership should perks made available to employees.
5. Human Resources (HR): The Human Resource department is required to radically re-align its objectives, processes and structure to support the current ways of working which is largely remote working. There are a number of questions that HR professional should be asking themselves and these include:
1. How do we support employees to manage their time? 2. How do we put in places policies that contribute to employees' entire wellbeing? 3. How do we reward people based on outcomes and not tasks completed? 4. How do we incorporate the "human" into onboarding new joiners and leaving process when they leave the organisation? 5. How do we ensure the company culture is not diluted with everyone working remotely?
This is not an exhaustive list but it is a starting point for Human Resources department and the Organisation at large.
Summary: It is evident that the current climate has caused uncertainty across the global community as the future for organisations and some work place practises remain unclear. As society advances, we are left with opportunities to learn and adapt to the new ways in which we can positively progress in future; and abandon the inflexible and rigid work place policies which many were subjected to before covid-19.