Since the COVID-19 pandemic, most organisations have moved the bulk of their staff into working from home arrangements. For most workers, this has proved challenging, but for Agile delivery teams, who are used to collaborative work and decision making, this has proven to be especially challenging.

Many workers are shifting to new working conditions and there are many challenges team members are unaware of as they encounter the remote workforce. The most obvious is teams adapting to a new working environment with technology tools they are unfamiliar with, or how to use it effectively. On the other hand, some may not have the right technology and feel unprepared to work remotely.

For remote teams to function effectively and deliver, we must ensure they understand the foundations of delivery – the three agile-quality attributes of transparency, accountability, and collaboration.

Here in this blog, we will show you some easy steps you can take to ensure your remote teams have what they need in order to perform their work, and deliver effective results no matter where they are working from.

Transparency

Shifting work onto digital agile boards

Traditionally, teams would use physical boards filled with cards stuck into different columns that listed all the necessary works that needed to be completed. This was a way for teams to visually communicate.

However, with more team members working remotely, it is difficult to see what they are working on at home. The level of transparency in a normal office setting will need to be continued into the remote work setting by shifting their work to a digital agile board.

Microsoft Planner is a free agile planning tool that is available to anyone running the Microsoft Office 365 platform. Microsoft planner allows team members to list tasks, assign tasks to other team members, allocate deadlines and dates, comment, note and shift tasks between categories, all in real-time. Its flexibility means agile teams can use their planners at any location, at any time and on any device.

Agile teams may find it difficult at the beginning to get their heads around Microsoft Planner, as they are familiar with physical boards. Not only this, but physical boards also enable face-to-face conversations and easy visualisations. Changing this mindset early on will allow team members to grasp the benefits and deliver progress more efficiently.

Another challenge teams may face in driving transparency is invisible work. Invisible work is work that team members complete without putting the cards onto the board, in other words, creating more work and getting less done. Having all work visible will empower your collective teams with the confidence and shared understanding of what the team is working. So, make sure you communicate how important it is to limit the work in progress.

Remember it will take time for your teams to transition into the remote workforce and adopt this new style of transparency.

Accountability

Enforcing ownership and responsibilities to Agile teams using communication

Accountability comes in the form of setting, managing, and communicating expectations. Typically, a scrum master makes sure each scrum role has clear understandings of accountability.

What is a scrum master? A scrum master is accountable for everything scrum and, creating the conditions for effective delivery through coaching and facilitating.

For example, the scrum master will ensure the product owner is accountable for establishing a product backlog and, the development team is accountable for agreeing on their shared quality standards and for creating releasable stories or delivery.

However, going remote will change the normal modes of accountability and now, with more agile teams working remotely, scrum masters are now facing communications issues with the risk of interfering with agile progress.

To ensure accountability and agile progress, begin by encouraging your team members to participate and speak up during daily stand-up meetings. It is important to prevent assumptions or implicit ownership or expectations, which can negatively affect the team. If a team member claims ownership, ensure you relay this information back to the team through the verbal confirmation of responsibility.

On this point, it is also important to set time expectations. Make sure your remote teams can tell you when they will finish. Understanding timeframes will ensure any work not completed in timeframe should result in something the team can help with.

Working remotely with agile teams can be difficult however setting the right expectations, ownership and encouraging open and honest communication will ensure agile processes are maintained and work is completed on time.

Collaboration

Use digital communication tools

Collaborating in an office setting mostly includes interactions that are face-to-face, email or chat. However, collaborating when agile teams are working remotely, separated by their distance is difficult.

Ensuring you have the right digital tools and collaborative practices, is the best way to transfer the communication and collaborative culture into the remote environment. Microsoft Teams is a great tool that can generate communication threads.

Microsoft Teams is a unified communication and collaboration platform that combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and application integration.

When it comes to communication, especially between you and your teams who work remotely, be clear and explain to your team how they should communicate. Setting policies and guidelines to what kind of messages they should send through which medium will help remove ambiguity and how teams should interact with others.

Here are some ways to use Microsoft Teams to ensure effective remote communication:

Video Calling – This is the best way to communicate virtually face-to-face and encourage your teams to collaborate, be more attentive and avoid distractions.

  • Screen Sharing – Allow your teams to present their desktop screen or app during a meeting or chat. An example, sharing agile boards to your team members during a regular morning stand-up meeting.
  • Profile status – Communicating where you are, what you are doing and if you are available can be easily done using the status function on Microsoft Teams. With five settings, Available, Busy, Do Not Disturb, Be Right Back and Appear Away. Communicating your presence will set the right expectations and remove ambiguity, also prevent interruptions, especially when a team member is in a state of deep thinking or making huge progress in their work.
  • Create Service Level Agreements – Creating SLA’s for communication will give your teams piece of mind knowing when to expect a response and details to how they will receive the response, removing any headaches down the track. For example, setting email expectations regarding responses to 24hours.
  • Using the right medium – Microsoft Teams allows team members to access other Office 365 applications, including Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Excel, Outlook, as well as integratable third-party applications. You must understand that some applications may work best in some scenarios but not all, for example, meeting summaries should be typed into Word on a shared drive and story status change notifications are best suited for Outlook. Playing around what suits your agile teams most will help you develop the right communication practices and strategies.

Conclusion

CT has worked via remote teams for over 14 years. Over the years, we have inherited many skills on how to operate teams with remote works successfully. Beginning to move towards remote agile teams can be difficult without the right tools and guidance.

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