Remote Agile – Put the “emote” in “remote” work

Ria, Darleen, and Zhao are part of a 9-member distributed scrum team.

Having joined their company during the pandemic, they have never met each other or anybody else from their workplace, in person.

The agenda of their daily scrum call is simple. Everyone answers the 3 key questions – what they did the previous day, what they intend to do the current day, and what impediments are holding them back if any.

It is short, focused, and productive. Or so it seems.

Yet, our subjects Ria, Darleen, and Zhao can’t wait to get done with it.

If they were to be honest, they would tell you that they feel the same way about all scrum ceremonies in their new place of work.

Scrum’s beauty lies in its adaptability and organizations that have failed to harness this ability run the risk of having their employees feeling detached, indifferent, and unable to communicate effectively.

This could potentially have a negative domino effect on the entire project.

The sixth principle of the Agile manifesto written in 2001 states that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

The traditional scrum framework, which is based on this manifesto thrives on in-person communication.

But a lot has changed since 2001 – more so since the pandemic started.

Telecommuting has changed its stance from being an exception to being a rule and remote collaboration tools have caught up accordingly.

Gartner predicts that by 2022, 90 percent of agile development teams will include remote work as part of business continuity planning, up from nearly 30 percent in 2020.

Scrum practices that have conventionally worked brilliantly for co-located teams need to be constantly reshaped to suit current conditions with a special focus on people who are new to the organization and thus do not have the benefit of familiarity from pre-corona times.

In the absence of informal hallway chats and impromptu in-person gatherings, remote teams need to pay extra attention to communicating more and, at times, over-communicating too.

Remote workers are often seen to go through bouts of isolation and seldom develop a sense of camaraderie with their work colleagues. These can be utterly detrimental to the agile style of working.

Scrum masters of remote teams could help evade such pitfalls by adapting practices like –

1.  limiting team size; preferably to 6

2. encouraging team members to switch on their video during meetings

3. initiating games and activities to strengthen amity and bonding

4. establishing ways in which team members can communicate their availability or contact each other for informal questions

5. being more disciplined with scrum rituals

Remote scrum teams should also fully leverage tools that have intensive remote partnership capabilities like JIRA, Confluence, Trello, Teams, etc.

At Altimetrik, online meetings essentially involve sharing personal stories and games that seek to promote social connections through visual interaction and fun.

Altimetrians are habituated to remote collaboration tools right from their induction into the project.

These are observed to set the stage for better technical discussions.

With the right customization of agile practices, remote teams can outperform co-located teams that do not even follow agile. Another Gartner study endorses this hypothesis.

With talent dispersed around the world, it’s almost a fantasy to believe everyone will ever be co-located all the time.

Regardless of whether or not you are working with a Ria, Darleen, or Zhao, molding scrum practices to suit the team’s needs and using the right collaboration tools is the way to employee well-being. The fact that happier employees foster flourishing institutions has been proven beyond any doubt.

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