One of the key fundamentals of working agile is working physically together in an environment, often an office. However, with recent pandemics, natural disasters and the fast-speed digital economy that Australia has been experiencing, we find ourselves in the midst of an entirely remote workforce. Can businesses sustain agile principles when working remotely?
Absolutely. In this blog, we’ll discuss how.
Let’s set the scene:
Established agile teams with a component of remote workers will be moving along smoothly already, perhaps with a few teething issues. New agile teams or new agile constructs across enterprises will be experiencing a decrease in productivity, which is expected. However, in the long term agile makes remote working much easier.
So how can you get your newly remote agile team to work together more effectively? Here is how:
Regular rhythm and cadence of virtual meetings: This ensures cadence and alignment between team members and picks up on potential blockers or issues before they halt progress and provides structure to the remote workday. A common cadence of virtual meetings and calls includes daily stand-ups of 15 mins to discuss progress and weekly team touchpoints of 60 to 90 minutes.
Prioritisation and backlogs: Creating backlogs and constantly refining them will make sure your team members are across every change in the business and where to re-align. This is critical in a fast-changing environment such as we are experiencing now.
Small and cross-functional teams: This creates real autonomy and enables your team to make quick changes when needed. There is a “leader” who can give support and direction when asked, but the teams are left to work out their own way to deliver on their commitments.
Clear output and goals: Agile leaders need to make doubly sure that teams align around the company’s overall purpose, strategy, and priorities. Leaders need to continually communicate intent, explaining both the why and the what, so that members stay focused on their team’s goals and the connection to larger business objectives. This will allow teams to be clear on what is expected of them and when, without moving into command and control leadership
Configure virtual tools properly: In their haste to move teams remotely, some businesses may have incorrectly configured virtual tools such as Trello, Slack, WebEx or Zoom. Aside from the cybersecurity risks, these tools can cause frustration and lack of progress for agile teams. Taking the time to configure your tools properly, setting a usage policy and designating rooms for business chat versus personal chat, or enabling virtual breakout rooms will allow your teams to collaborate better. Keep your eyes and ears open for ongoing improvements or new tools which are needed for new challenges.
Lastly, and most importantly, businesses need to build an agile virtual team culture. This may be the most difficult part of working remotely—and the most important. Agile culture is an intangible but critical aspect of the workplace, and it is easily lost when teams physically disperse.
An agile approach can keep remote teams functioning effectively and make them more resilient for the future.
Aside from general agile principles and cultural values, good agile leaders need to look for inventive ways to build a collaborative culture within their teams. This can be by demonstrating agile values of empathy, trust and delegated decision making. Another is to create personal connections through “virtual water cooler chat”. Another method is to assign roles to the team to ensure focus and to encourage engagement – such as timekeepers, or conversation umpires who calls time on unnecessary discussions.
While no one knows how long this global pandemic will last or continue to affect us, it seems inevitable that many of us will be working remotely for a long time after the pandemic has passed. Productivity may take a hit temporarily, but the economy will bounce back and teams will adapt to a new way of working. An agile approach can keep remote teams functioning effectively and make them more resilient for the future.