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Agile teams and remote working – four ways to make it work

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For some teams functioning in an agile structure, the rapid shift to remote working was tough. With the agile ethos focusing heavily on co-located teams who constantly collaborate, interacting through a screen struck at the heart of what we all thought it meant to be agile. 

But, of course, if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we underestimate how adaptable we really are, and that goes for agile teams too. In this article, I’ll pull out four key ways in which organisations have changed their agile ways of working to keep their remote teams motivated and their deliveries on track.

Invest in the right tools

Co-location isn’t just about people being in one place, it’s about bringing information together too. When working remotely, agile teams also lose that single, physical location to share ideas, tasks and notes – no more physical kanban boards, and no more user story sticky notes. 

Investing in the right software tools is crucial for creating a central information store. If you’re looking to upgrade your toolset, they largely break down into three categories: 

  • Communication: Whether it’s Teams, Slack or Jabber, a communication tool helps teams stay connected in the same way they would have in the office. Pick a tool that fits the way you want to share ideas, ask questions and solve problems throughout the day.

  • Organisation: This one directly replaces the project boards and sticky notes. There’s a whole host on the market, with classic names such as Jira and Trello now facing competition from newbies like ClickUp and Monday.com.

  • Collaboration: Brainstorming sessions and workshops can still happen effectively when working remotely, thanks to tools like Miro and Mural. Granted, they don’t create the buzz of a face-to-face workshop, but it’s as close as you can get when working fully remotely. 

If you’re comfortable with it, bring your business customers into these tools too. This ensures everyone has visibility and keeps you focused on the customer need.

Smile for the camera

It’s essential to get as close to face-to-face working as possible in a remote environment. One of the best things to come out of the pandemic was how quickly videoconferencing evolved.

On video calls, each and every team member should have their camera on by default. Some organisations even ask their employees to keep their cameras on outside of meetings too, as it simulates seeing your teammates across the desk. 

While that might be impractical for some, it does boost connectivity between team members, helping them to maintain that connection despite the many miles between them. 

Restructure your agile ceremonies

Virtual fatigue is a real thing, not just something used to skip the 5pm video call. Collaborating on software tools through videoconferencing is awesome, but it takes its toll throughout the day.

A simple way to overcome this and boost productivity is to break up long ceremonies into smaller, more manageable chunks. Those long sprint planning workshops and retrospectives don’t have to be done all in one session and actually work better if you break them down. 

This way, the fatigue you get from dodgy computer audio, bright screens and staying sat in your office chair doesn’t build up, and your teams are in a better headspace to produce excellent outputs.

Keeping things fresh when working remotely is hard, so get into the habit of trying out different agile games. For those new to agile, look into the bubble point or chocolate bar games, or freshen up your retrospectives with ESVP or truths and lies.

Evaluate your delivery speed  

To finish, if your team has recently switched to remote working, take the time to assess your new optimum delivery speed. While it’s true that some teams deliver faster when working remotely, it’s by no means the norm, especially during that transition phase.

Be honest with yourself as a team, and your customers, about how your agile delivery has been affected. Ultimately, agile delivery can only happen on time if timescales are realistic, so reset expectations accordingly. 

And remember, if your team feel too stretched, morale will slip much faster than your delivery timelines, so even more reason to reassess as frequently as possible. 

Summary 

Functioning in a truly agile way can be hard when teams first begin working remotely. The natural ebb and flow of co-location is hard to recreate through a screen, but it can be done. Ultimately, it’s all about doing what you can to maximise the number of team interactions every day, whether that’s through collaborative software tools or simply freshening up the day with some fun agile games.

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