Remote Agile Tips: Transitioning your workplace and taams

Published 30 Mar 2020
by Jared Kells, Senior Developer


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For a lot of people, 2020 isn’t quite going as expected.

Maybe you’ve had a conference or two cancelled (like the Atlassian summit 😭). Perhaps your big team planning event is on the backburner. Or maybe your entire workforce has been told to work from home until further notice.

Amazon has stopped all non-essential travel and a number of big tech companies have encouraged employees to work from home, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, and HP (in some or all regions).

You think you’re disruptive? Well, clearly you haven’t met COVID-19!

The new pandemic has shaken things up. Record numbers of organizations are looking for ways to quickly adapt and transition their teams to working remote. It’s a huge challenge when you consider that agile is typically designed for face-to-face interaction - especially critical events like quarterly PI Planning.

We’ve put together some thoughts to help you quickly transition your team to distributed agile, based on our own experiences and working with big organizations who have been working with remote team members for awhile now. First thing’s first…

1. Don’t panic (about distributed agile)

We’re not qualified to tell you if you should panic about the pandemic (seriously though… you don’t need that much toilet paper). But we are qualified to tell you that a remote workforce isn’t as scary as it sounds. You’re going to be just fine.

Organizations like yours have been doing their thing with a distributed agile team for years now. One of our customers has a large distributed team and only does remote PI Planning. It’s possible to pull it off.

2. Lead people on how to work from home

Some of the people on your team probably haven’t worked from home before. At least, not for an extended period. So, offer guidance on what’s expected and how they can make the most from working at home.

wonder woman

You know… like business up top, sweatpants on the bottom, and no one on the conference call will be any wiser.

But seriously, it’s a good idea to share guidance like:

  • What equipment they’ll need
  • A list of software and apps to download (with licensing info)
  • Where to find information and access files (a single source of truth is best at all times, but especially when things are already a bit overwhelming)
  • How to communicate virtually
  • Ideal environments for focus and productivity
  • How to block out noise and distractions
  • Expected work hours
  • How to switch off and take breaks

But a little guidance will go a long way in helping everyone feel more “at home” with the new work situation.

3. Encourage information sharing

You might already have a distributed agile team who are experienced with working remote. So, encourage the experienced remote workers to champion the practice and lead others.

Create a Slack channel or other environment dedicated to discussions about working from home, so that people can share tips and experiences, and ask questions. At Easy Agile, we’ve created a #remote channel to share our setups.

4. Get the right tools

If your team is working remote for the first time, they might not have all the bits and pieces they need at home to do their job, attend meetings, or show up properly to a remote PI Planning event.

Depending on their role, they may need:

  • Computer - A desktop and monitor setup or a laptop with sufficient processing power for everyday tasks
  • Meeting equipment - Webcam, headphones, and working mic
  • Your preferred communication apps - Slack, Zoom, Google hangouts, Skype, or Microsoft Teams
  • Security measures - Password managers, VPNs, and antivirus software
  • Your project management tool - Jira, Trello, Asana, or Smartsheet
  • Easy Agile Programs for PI Planning in Jira

5. Look at this as a pilot

More people want to work from home and it makes a lot of sense for businesses to encourage this new way of working. It can save a lot of money (one estimate suggests $10,000 per person per year) when teams stay at home. And you can save hundreds of thousands per PI Planning session when you don’t have to pay for flights, accommodation, and event space for a team of up to 100.

The remote work trend isn’t going away - even after the pandemic dies down. So, look at this as an opportunity to try distributed agile if you haven’t already. You could find it’s a better, more cost-effective way for you to get stuff done and give your employees what they want.

6.Trust your people

Man being interviewed on live TV is interrupted by his child walking in the door.

Nobody likes to feel watched while they’re working 👀 But especially not while they’re working from home. At home, your employees will probably:

  • Face more distractions (like kids!)
  • Step away to put a load of washing on
  • Grab a coffee (and probably a few other things 😋🍛🍫🧁) from the kitchen

In between all of that, you need to trust that they’ll get their job done, do their best, and be productive - even if it happens outside of regular business hours.

Fortunately, if you’re agile, you likely have built a culture of trust already. So, keep up with regular communication, virtual standups, and transparency. This should be enough to monitor progress and keep your people accountable without micromanaging

7. Stay social

Even if you can’t meet face-to-face, create opportunities for your teams to come together virtually, socialise, and chat. Set up a non-work Slack channel, do regular video calls, and talk about more than just work. People, relationships, and connectedness matter even more when you can’t be in the same room together.

8. Get better at risk management

When all of this blows over (and it will), you’ll come out a much stronger organization than before. If a single team member, a whole team, or your entire organization need to work remote in the future, you’ll be able to easily switch gears with minimal disruption.

Use this opportunity to uncover risks you might not have considered previously. Ask questions like:

  • What if half of us get sick and can’t work for a few weeks?
  • What backup options are in place for our internet connection, files, and communications?
  • What if our building is suddenly inaccessible?
  • Become more aware of potential risks to your company so you can be better prepared in the future.

9. Look on the bright side

“Sorry we’re closed but still awesome.”

While a pandemic isn’t an ideal scenario, it’s okay to look for the positives, like:

  • Your teams may find they love working from home
  • Some distributed agile teams will find they’re actually more productive
  • You’ll get greater work/life balance
  • No commutes
  • More quality time with family
  • Reduced emissions from cars and planes
  • Quieter roads with fewer traffic jams and accidents

And maybe… just maybe… some of these changes will stick around for the better 🤞

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