Easy remote workforce hacks for maintaining engagement and velocity within Agile Delivery Teams

BLOG ARTICLE

With the current environment world-wide requiring more and more of our workforce to work from home (remotely), businesses are increasingly worried about losing delivery velocity due to employee disengagement as a result of large periods of remote only contact.

While working remotely does bring new and exciting challenges to the way we work and collaborate, it does not have to be to the detriment of our team’s engagement.

In this blog I share some of my simple hacks for keeping your delivery teams engaged and performing while partially or 100% working remotely.

THE HACKS


KEEPING AN UP-TO-DATE STATUS INDICATOR

It’s okay to take a lunch break! Just pop the sandwich icon up!

 

For those of us with a great work ethic, working from home can be a daunting task – “what if that person messages me that one moment when I’m cooking lunch or visiting the lavatory?!”, or on the flip-side, that one guy that always appears online, but has an average response time of 2 – 4 hours when your work is blocked and you need them most…  Well there’s a simple answer that is surprisingly incredibly effective and simple – Status Icons! 

Most good collaboration and real-time messaging software has the ability to set status’ either by text or emoji/icon. Tools such as Slack even allow quick shuffling of status and pre-configurable custom icons and duration limits. 

This makes setting some remote working standards with your squad easy. A simple Sandwich can be used for someone on lunch, a Script icon for when someone is in deep coding focus or pairing with someone on a problem, and of course, that luscious green icon we all look for meaning “Heya, yeah I’m working but free for some collaboration or call, etc”.

 Take the time to agree on some standards around status indicators with the team and put them in place. 

Lastly, always sign out at the end of your day! Shut off, recharge and refuel. Signing out or going inactive, lets others know you’re done for the day. 

CAMERAS ON ALWAYS

Let’s not deliver that important presentation to 100 names on a screen.

 The simplest and arguably the most effective hack I’ll share with you today… Turn the front facing camera on any time engaging with another.

Talking with someone remotely doesn’t have to be any less engaging than in person. If your connection can handle it, even in large remote showcases, I’d highly recommend promoting all participants to switch their front facing cameras on.

This becomes even more important in small teams as they go about their daily tasks over long periods of remote only contact.  Whether it be a daily stand-up, iteration planning, a quick pairing session with a fellow engineer or developer, switch that front camera on. Seeing and hearing is believing so milk that video/camera button!

ALL EVENTS MUST GO ON... REMOTELY

Get creative with your remote team events.

This hack speaks for itself, don’t stop any of your regular team events.  Everything from stand-ups, retrospectives, brown-bags, hang-outs, planning sessions and everything in between must go on… remotely. Start to get creative with your planned team events and even think of others that may be interactive and stimulate the team to collaborate and engage one-another.

There are many free and paid tools and solutions out there that will make this task a piece of cake, which brings us to our next hack.

REMOTE COLLABORATION TOOLS

Everything from interactive retrospective tools, story creation, brain-storming, mind-mapping & Interactive whiteboards – they all exist if you know what you’re looking for.

Before we jump into this section, I want to make clear that while this blog may name a few tools, I’m not here to sell products, more to stimulate you to find the right solution for your particular needs.

Many products may seem to have similar features so asking the right questions to find the right tool for you within the context it will be used is crucial.

Think about the needs of your teams and the particular situations:

  • Do you want something to simply collaborate and capture ideas, shape out backlogs or dynamically interact with electronic post-it notes on an e-board?
  • What about integration with other tooling, such as being able to import your story mapping sessions into say Jira, or receive notifications from Continuous Integration and Delivery Pipeline?
  • How will you centralise and visualise delivery effort across the remote team?
  • Maybe you need a robust real-time chat/call solution?
  • What about a remote IDE (Integrated Development Environment) which can handle hundreds of users collaborating and coding at once?
  • Perhaps you have requirements to self-host the solution due to data and security requirements?
  • Is the tool a tactical or strategic choice?

Remember that tools are there only to support our good practices and environment – We never bash or augment a good process to fit a specific tool choice. In this case, remote tools are to enable us to stay connected.

There are many open-source solutions and paid products (most of which have Free Trial periods), let’s not let indecision get in the way of getting everyone connected – google it and have a play!

REMOTE STAND-UPS

Likely the most important group engagement we’ll have each and every day.

Even in non-remote working situations a good morning stand-up is without a doubt the most important group catch-up we’ll have all day. Stand-ups become even more important in remote work situations as it may be for some the only other human interaction we have that day.

In essence, everyone should speak and be included in a stand-up – generally a 2 minutes update from each member (in turn – no cutsies!), on what they worked on yesterday, any blockers and what their plan is for today. For teams entirely remote, a great hack to drive collaboration is for each individual once completed their update, to pick the next person to go next. Having all members have an opportunity to speak supports transparency, inclusion, pairing opportunities and the ability to pivot and align quickly.

For those in partially remote teams where multiple members may be on site and only a few remote, I’d suggest that the remote people ALWAYS give updates first. There’s nothing worse than sitting on a line well a room speaks only to chime in at the end, or possibly be forgotten…

Lastly, reminder –   Cameras on always!

TEST YOUR BACK-LOGS!

Keep your delivery practices clean, transparent and centralised.

In the DevOps world we write automated tests for the entire Software Delivery lifecycle so that we can deploy working software regularly, with no customer downtime and with confidence, this should be no different for our delivery practices!

It’s a little bit harder to go tap someone on the shoulder quickly for a 2min update on a story. For these reasons, backlogs (the foundation of our delivery!), have a higher tendency to degrade, and quickly. Even allocation of effort between the squad or team, such as one handing a story over to another can be lost in translation. While I’m a strong believer that all Iterative/Agile Delivery Teams should be performing regular tests and checks on their backlogs, this becomes even more crucial in remote situations.

As an example, for an Iterative Software Delivery Team, a simple test could be checking Stories that have in “In-Progress” status but are not allocated to an Iteration (generally 2 weeks long); this would reveal unaligned, unprioritised work that does not contribute to a release strategy.

The type of tests and checks will depend on the context of how your squad/team works. Have a think with your team about your ways of working and how you can implement some visual controls to keep the house clean.

CONCLUSION

There are many little hacks that can assist maintaining engagement and delivery velocity, have a chat with your team and start trialling and experimenting with different solutions.

 It’s also important to keep in mind that working from home or remotely may be new for some people, and they may need some additional support transitioning. I’ll leave you with a few high level pointers for individuals to keep in the back of the mind and up their sleeve, to help them keep sane over large periods of remote working:

     Implement a solid routine – Set aside time for breaks, lunches, finish time, etc and take them on time (update your status indicator of course);

     Set up your workspace to your needs – you’re going to be spending most your time here, have fun with your camera backdrop but keep it professional;

     Stretch and take regular scheduled breaks – Get outside and go for a walk!

     Grow your work connections – hit the video call button instead of sending that e-mail or making that phone call (camera on of course);

     Eat and exercise well! – This one seems like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how easy it is to fall into bad habits when working remotely for long periods. Snack less, eat properly and exercise regularly.

 Lastly, should you wish to find out more or how your squad/team/organisation may benefit from support establishing good remote practices and ways of working, reach out on the Cevo website: https://cevo.com.au/contact .