Keep your Projects Healthy and on Track with a Remote Team

Some say that COVID-19 is a main factor for digital transformation and introduction of new ways of team management. Others say that the world will never be the same and even after the pandemic many people will continue working remotely. 

By definition Agile is “being able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment” and after a couple of months of working fully remotely with our teams, Agile has proven that it truly works for distributed teams. Neither Scrum Guide nor Agile Manifesto forbids remote setups, yet many scrum followers insist on having co-located teams.

So let’s consider a few tips for creating a remote environment that is efficient, collaborative, and productive.

In order to help your team succeed in adopting agile practices while working remotely and increasing their efficiency, build a culture of regular online meetings. This is the most efficient way to make sure that everyone is on the same page, the project is moving in a right direction and people are still motivated and passionate about the product they are working on. Also, it is always nice to see or just hear people you are working with and build a better connection with them. 

The challenge is how to make the most out of those meetings. Here are a few tips on how to improve the quality of your remote meetings.

Before you start your first remote sprint make sure that your team is using  appropriate tools and all technical advantages available on the market. Without the right technology, your meetings (and work in general) become less effective and more time-consuming. It is a good idea to test a few instruments in the market with a smaller team and understand what is really important for YOU! There are tons of tools that everyone knows like Jira, Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Webex Teas, YouTrack, Trello, Asana, etc. Make sure you choose the instruments that solve problems, not create them. Use tools that fit your team culture, size and budget.

Some of the important features you might want to use during remote agile are video conferences with screen sharing, chat with easily accessible history, file sharing. 

Do not let tools lead you, use/choose remote tools and instruments to get advantage from them – set up available integrations that would send important notifications, create and update tasks for you, create appointments in calendars.

Don’t forget that with a remote team not all people are in the same environment. At the very beginning, they need to set up their audio and video tools properly in order to collaborate efficiently with the rest of the team. Sometimes it is necessary to buy a new microphone or headset for voice/video calls since it is crucial that everyone can hear each other without delays, random noises or interruptions. 

 If you notice any issues, make sure to find a solution to get rid of them as quickly as possible as they directly impact your team’s productivity.

Stand-ups or daily scrums are a core component of the agile framework and work perfectly in a remote setup just as they do in an office environment. Such meeting is normally time-boxed to a maximum duration of 15 minutes, though this may need adjusting for larger teams. To keep the meeting short, any topic that starts a discussion is cut short,  and discussed in greater depth after the meeting, between the people affected by the issue.

During the remote work, the role of stand-ups is much bigger, they help create a sense of connection and collaboration.

It is important to figure out the best time for a daily scrum to occur and hold the stand-ups at the same time every day. Our team found it convenient to hold a daily scrum at the start of the day so it serves as a morning check-in for the team and gives everyone a clear idea of what the day holds. End of the day is also not a bad idea – it helps with small personal retro and plans for the next day.

However, if you have your team working in different time zones, it is a good option to choose an hour when the majority of your team is starting their day. This way, the team members can get aligned on the most important tasks before they start.

As mentioned before, meetings are important while working remotely, but do not schedule a bunch of meetings just for the sake of it. It is best to have only the necessary meetings and run them efficiently, keeping time boxes and having the goal of meeting and agenda clear for the time upfront.

The Scrum framework has defined ceremonies dedicated to particular goals and they are time-boxed to achieve these goals. The essential scrum meetings are Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-up, Sprint Review and Retrospective. In addition, the team may need a backlog refinement session (grooming) during the Sprint to ensure the quality of users stories and prioritize the features list.

All these events, when done properly, should be sufficient to help with achieving the Sprint goals so there is no need to have any other all-hands meeting.

At Dedicated Lab, we also practice architecture planning and code review which require 1-1 or smaller group calls, which are scheduled a day ahead in a remote environment.

The most challenging part of working remotely and also the most important is a culture of work. The organizational culture is a crucial part of the workplace – is it remote or in the office,  but this culture can be easily lost when teams are suddenly distributed and have no connection.

At Dedicated Lab, we build our culture around our products and users. Constantly thinking about better product usability, performance and success helps sustain working rhythm even with remote work. But it is also important to respect and collaborate with the team members in the best positive way as a group, especially if you are sitting so far away from each other.

Being empathic

It is essential to understand that some people never worked remotely before and they can have problems adjusting to the new situation. Others may have family circumstances that do not allow them to work on certain hours from home. Changing the work environment can cause problems with efficiency and productivity. These issues should be properly discussed and understood by the team.

Team members that are aware of one another’s circumstances collaborate more effectively so it is important to create an atmosphere of openness and empathy.

Being helpful

In a remote environment, this value is twice more important. Now team members should not only be helpful in solving problems, removing impediments, sharing knowledge, but also in building self-reliance.

Some people can have problems with building self-regulation mechanisms when the working environment changes. The daily routine from the office is being disrupted and new working conditions need to be set up. It is important to help each other with adapting to the changes.

Being collaborative

In order to build effective collaboration with your remote team members, it is really important to create an environment of trust and transparency. We need transparency between the development team and a customer to make sure we are building the right thing. Also, we need openness inside the team to make sure we build it the right way.

Frequent communication, open questions between team members help avoid any misunderstandings and get things done faster. Focus on the common goal to bring all the team members together and increase their engagement and collaboration.

Stay positive

During meetings create a positive and engaging atmosphere. Stay positive and find something good in every work day. This will keep the team motivated and connected.

Using agile practices with your remote team is a learning process. And if you want the process to be successful, always strive for better results. Look back on what wasn’t great and should be improved, what was working well and should be taken to the future.

A sprint retrospective meeting involves the team reviewing what went right and wrong during a Sprint in regards to the process, tools, communication, etc. The meeting brings a great opportunity for the entire team to reflect back on the work and what improvements are necessary.

Overall, the agile framework is effective for a variety of team structures. But from our experience, we can ensure that it is especially effective for remote teams for the reason that it allows us to quickly identify what is working well and what needs to be improved. Owing to the inspect and adapt approach, you can make changes immediately which is especially important in maintaining efficiency in distributed teams.

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