Agile For Remote Teams (I) - The Mindset

Every year, more and more teams are moving to work remotely. A survey by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs indicates that remote work has grown 91% over the last 10 years, 159% over the last 12 years and the benefits are starting to show.

Remote teams have been revealed to have better employee retention, reduced expenses for workers and lower cost for employers, and it’s even good for the environment, among many other benefits.

Trends in Remote Work Growth by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics

Trends in remote work growth. Source: Flexjobs

The current situation caused by COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is forcing many organizations to shift towards remote working, many of which don’t have a lot of experience in managing remote teams, which makes the change even more challenging than it already is.

Being an agile-remote team, we at Empirical wanted to share some best practices for remote teams using agile methodology as a philosophy from our own experience:  

First, let’s talk about agile and why it is relevant to distributed teams.

Agile is a Mindset

Agile is mindset is based on a number of principles that were thought of as a way for teams to focus on collaboration and self-organization, as well as cross-functional members. Although this methodology was first made to address issues related that software development teams faced, it became more popular, and it has been adopted as a mindset that can be applied to other activities.

It is now used as an adjective for a way to perform project management that allows teams to respond to change and deal with uncertainty.

Remote teams can come with some new complexities like communication gaps, time zone challenges and even lack of transparency. Nonetheless, a well-managed remote team can easily overcome all these issues while bringing many benefits at the same time.

To get these benefits, leaders and every team member must work towards adopting the Agile mindset in order to build the communication and rapport needed to succeed in a remote workflow.

Communication and collaboration

Two of the core principles of the Agile Manifesto focus on collaboration which represents the strong emphasis of the Agile methodology on cooperation and teamwork. An Agile team must work on establishing best practices and procedures that promote a collaborative environment.

An office environment can be used as a natural enabler of communication and interaction. Meeting rooms, coffee breaks, and just the fact of sharing the same physical space allow for actual face-to-face conversations (body language plays a big role) and good synergy overall.

Transferring these conditions to a remote environment where members work in different spaces and even time zones requires a different approach that can be adapted to fit your team.

A weekly meeting may be enough in an office environment but Agile remote teams must communicate on a daily basis while avoiding interfering individual workflows with excessive group calls or stand-ups.

Entrepreneur sitting on sofa with a macbook in neat appartment

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Daily huddles are usually a standard 15-minute meeting at the start of the day or shift to discuss the tasks to be tackled or any news about the company. Although these types of meetings won’t work well if team members have distant time zones (you can be starting your day while a co-worker is in the middle of a task), and putting the whole team together to talk about totally unrelated projects can be a waste of time for some members.

We at Empirical adopted our daily huddles to be quick one-on-one conversations via Slack when discussing simple daily tasks, leaving our Zoom meetings for topics that require more face-to-face interaction or visual explanation by sharing our computer screens.

We also have our end-of-day (EOD) report very well structured in a flexible template that allows us to communicate any useful information or news and even personal thoughts about our projects at the end of the shift.

We also use Slack to separate our topics or projects into different communication channels and members to keep conversations organized and avoid confusion.

This agile approach saves us valuable time while maintaining flexibility about when or how to address the most important topics, as well as providing the collaborative environment that we need to effectively distribute our time and work.

Mental and physical well-being

Remote workers, especially the ones that are not used to working from home, often have issues taking care of their physical and mental health. While telecommuting workers escape from the noise and distraction of the morning commute or distracting coworkers, they are susceptible to feelings of isolation and lack of connection to their company. This could lead to high levels of stress and difficulty to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

how-much-vacation-in-the-past-year-2019 by buffer

State of Remote Report. Buffer

One way to tackle the loneliness that may affect some employees is to set up a virtual water cooler for non-work conversations so members can remember that they’re not alone and also help to build rapport. Beware that just setting up a Slack channel for these types of conversations may not be enough, teams should also encourage their use.

Remote work also allows for more flexibility with working shifts and schedules. Shifting focus to goals achieved instead of hours worked, employees will be able to schedule counseling or doctor appointments in the middle of the day and take better care of their health and well-being.

Also, encouraging your team to go out and take on physical activities with reimbursements of yoga or swimming classes, or gym memberships will help them get those bones moving.

Woman meditating sitting and looking at tropical sun

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

The best way to build Agile rapport is by having fun

The secret ingredient that makes an Agile team successful is building solid relationships, which is, at the same time, the biggest challenge that distributed teams have to face. It can be difficult to relate to a co-worker if you always communicate in a formal manner or talk about serious topics.

A healthy work environment has to allow itself to be fun and casual sometimes. We’re human after all, and we all like to laugh and joke around. There are many games and dynamics that you can play with your remote team. Sandra Petrova wrote a list of 12 team building games for Agile teams in Adeva that you can check out and see which ones go better with your team.

Making fun quizzes together, sharing photos of everybody’s home office or the things they do after work, play virtual Pictionary, or even having Netflix watch parties can help any work environment feel fresh and amusing.

Be sure to create the appropriate fun environment so it doesn’t disrupt your team’s workflow and be flexible enough to allow more casual interactions to be made in order to keep people socially engaged and motivated.

All the tools your team needs at their disposal

A carpenter is nothing without their tools. There are many tools that are essential for remote workers, and your team needs to have access to all of them in order to facilitate their job, especially if you want your Agile mindset to deliver.

From communication to project management and file-sharing software. In the next part of this blog post, we’ll be discussing the importance of having the right tools at your disposal and share with you the best ones for each productivity category.


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