Many companies and professionals are seeking to adapt to this new reality with Covid-19. The orientation is to maintain social isolation and remote work. This is a challenge that was not planned when moving from the traditional to the agile.

After all, how do we work on our agile projects in a context of social isolation? There’s a remote agility?

When we talk about an agile environment, we immediately think of collocated teams, direct communication, physical boards and many other characteristics that go in the opposite direction to social isolation.

A few days ago, we had the option of working with some people or teams remotely, depending on a specific context of the project. Now the situation has changed completely; we are all invited to stay at home to maintain the safety of people’s health. Either we adapt to this new reality or we stop our projects.

Working with a remote team creates some challenges that we normally do not need to worry about with placed teams, such as:

  • Organize a meeting or chat informally when people are not online at the same time. I’m not talking here of pre-scheduled meetings, but of those informal meetings during working hours.
  • Keep people’s attention at meetings when they are in an environment normally shared with other people or animals.
  • Working on activities that were thought to be done between physically close people, such as pair programming, daily scrum, sprint review, etc.

So, let’s try to answer some questions about remote agility

Does agile work with remote teams?

To answer this question, I will make an analogy. If you buy a Ferrari, it is clear that you are looking for performance and speed. The best way to achieve all this performance and speed is on a well-paved and straight track, without obstacles.

If you are on a bumpy and curvy track, your Ferrari will still ride but it will not achieve the same performance and speed. This is how remote agile works. So, the answer is YES, but not with the same performance as in a ‘traditional’ way.

Can scrum master work remotely?

Likewise, we have a situation that is not recommended for an agile environment. As I said in the previous question, a remote agile environment is not the ideal environment to achieve all the advantages of working on an agile project.

The main function of the scrum master is to be a servant leader for the entire team and its presence is very important for the product owner and the developers to achieve their goals.

The Scrum Master needs to deal with intangible things, such as the team’s perception of Scrum activities and artifacts, motivation, cooperation, focus, etc.

These things are very difficult to manage through video conference calls.

These tasks become much more complex if you have a new team starting a new project.

The good news is that this is a learning and development process for the entire scrum team. The more integrated and experienced the team, the more likely it is that remote work will be relatively successful.

General tips and advices for remote agile

Now, the reality is this: you and your company have no choice but to work remotely.  What can you do to get the best results with a remote team? Here are some tips and advice.

The agile manifesto recognizes that

“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”.

You should try to optimize your communication as much as possible to compensate for the physical distance.

  • Set short meetings: Avoid meeting for more than an hour. If possible, restrict the time to 30-45 min. This will maintain the focus of the participants and will force people to be more objective in their participation.
  • If you are the facilitator, be punctual: nothing is more demotivating than the person who organized a meeting that is late. If for some extraordinary reason, you are unable to arrive on time, apologize and justify your delay for all participants.
  • If possible, do video conferencing: this is a tip that can cause some embarrassment in some more timid people. For example, to help mitigate some restrictions on the use of video conferencing, encourage team members to have weekly 1: 1 video chat sessions. Over time, people realize that eye contact allows for more effective communication.
  • Choose the right tool for video conferencing: some tools do not have important functionalities for videoconferencing. Try to use tools that allow the visualization of the whole team, microphone control, call control (some have a small hand that simulates when we raise a hand to ask a question), screen and file sharing, private chats, etc.
  • Make intensive use of chat tools: always stay in touch with your team. Ask about their job, the weather, what they did last night, etc. Use this tool to improve your communication as if you are sitting side by side. Always be careful to not disturb their work. Use common sense to balance these conversations.
  • Define the golden hours: clearly define the times when the whole team will be available for meetings. This tip is especially valid if you have people located in different time zones.
  • Half-sprint retrospective: an experience I really enjoyed with remote work was doing a half-sprint retrospective. It was not exactly a retrospective of the sprint, but an assessment of the performance of remote work. At this meeting, we evaluated whether there was anything we could improve in remote work.

This retrospective was important because we were often not fully adapted for remote work and we couldn’t wait until the end of the sprint to find out. After the first week, we held a meeting to identify pros-cons and where we could improve our communication and our work.

What are your experiences during this period of social isolation?

What are your tips for improving our productivity at a distance?

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