By Dan Kastelik, Principal Specialist – Agile Delivery
From July 2020
These are strange times that we’re living in at the minute. It’s frustrating, it’s challenging, and the desire to bend the rules becomes pretty unbearable, but what do you expect after 3 months in lockdown!
During this time I’ve been; in a contract, out of a contract, looking for work, starting a contract and I’ve taken a perm role, all whilst remaining within social distance regulations. I’ve experimented with a number of different ideas to make working a little easier, and a few key ideas that really seemed to help. There is no ‘one size fits all’, and different things will work for different people and their individual styles of working, but here’s what worked for me in my current (and recent) position:
Both clients that I have worked with use a Scrum delivery framework and despite working remotely, we have tried to ensure that the ceremonies have continued. It’s more important now than ever to be able to touch base on a regular basis.
We have our first call of the morning at around 10am, this gives everyone a chance to ensure they’re online and well-caffeinated for the day ahead. This call happens over Microsoft Teams/Zoom/Google Meet. I don’t have much of a preference as long as everyone has their video on (more on the thoughts behind this later) and they can see our sprint board.
We use Jira to hold our product and sprint backlog, it’s the next best thing to having a physical board and everyone is asked to keep their tasks updated (this is part of our agreed ways of working).
Our second call of the day is more of a catch up / free chat which we normally have around 3pm. The idea behind this is that in a shared working space you’re able to turn around and “have a chat” with someone, which really isn’t easy with current working restrictions so making time for an informal chat can be really helpful. Sometimes, it might not be a “useful” chat from a work point of view and is more of a friendly catch up, but then again sometimes we’ll discover some overlap or waste that we can address then and there. If nothing else, it’s good for the team to connect and keep in touch.
This is the one ceremony I feel that being remote isn’t impacted as much as the others. We’ll cover the standard agenda items;
- Explaining what will and will not be demoed
- Key occurrences within the sprint
- Demonstration and discuss what’s coming up in the next sprint/backlog review.
This is where being remote actually helps us, through using video conferencing software we’re able to record the session and share the recordings for others to view at their leisure. Whilst we would perhaps prefer that stakeholders attend if they can, this is a really useful alternative.
I love an interactive retrospective! I have a varied toolbox of formats that I can go to but the challenge here is feeling a room’s energy and knowing where I’ll need to facilitate and how best to get that buy-in. It’s possible still, but it’s not as easy to pick up on those small changes in body language/tones of voice when holding this session remotely. This is one of the reasons that I ask attendees to all have their webcams turned on so I can at least try to pick up on facial expressions/body language.
Tools that we’ve found to work well for us so far are Miro when needing a whiteboard session and the breakout rooms feature in Zoom. These in combination are very handy! If you haven’t used either of these applications previously I’d suggest giving them a go. They have free versions and it may work for you and your team.
Planning / Refinement
These are fairly standard and there’s not much to really call out here. Jira and Zoom/Teams are our go to tools and ensuring everyone agrees with the sprint goal or the prioritising / ordering of future work. The goal is added to our Sprint Backlog so everyone can see it and it’s our focus of discussion in each Stand Up.
Ways of working and Team charter
One thing I mentioned earlier is our agreed ways of working. This artefact was created as soon as we were able to and defined; how we’ll communicate, how frequently, and using what tools so there isn’t any uncertainty and there’s consistency across the team. It’s important to mention that it’s a fluid artefact meaning it can be changed and iterated on if we feel the need to. If you don’t have one of these yet I strongly recommend that you put one together asap.
On top of the ways of working we have our team charter which is a set of “commandments” that we as a team try to adhere to all the time. An example of these are;
- Always listen with presence. Don’t just wait for your turn to reply, actively listen to what is being said!
- Be honest, even when things aren’t great. Honesty is the cornerstone of trust which we need to be as effective a team as possible
Those of you that are reading this will hopefully be able to empathise with this. Whether it’s a pull on your t-shirt by your 3 year old being asked for the 100th time today “What are you doing Daddy?”, or the doorbell going with the delivery of your 3rd package of random Amazon purchases, or the millionth trip to the fridge.
I’ll be honest, I quite like it when I’m in a meeting and a peer is interrupted by their child or spouse. I feel that this can help build stronger bonds with the people you work with, through empathy, shared experiences and whatever mischief your little one might be getting up to in the background.
It’s important to be able to factor these distractions in with a team and be patient if this happens – its very different to being in an office environment, and the sooner this is embraced by the team the better.
Whilst we all have a job to do, our work should be enjoyable and if possible we should be looking to try and make the best out of the situation. I enjoy doing what I do and the relationships that I build, but in the current circumstances I’ll admit I sometimes find it a little difficult to be as engaged with the team. Things that have worked for me in the past are;
- Squad meet ups – Outside of working hours, grab a drink, dial in to a video call and play an online game. May I suggest Fibbage, Drawful or Quiplash. Just beware that you’re playing with work colleagues so make sure your answers are appropriate!
- Shared playlists – Create a Spotify playlist and share it around your team, put some basic rules in place i.e. no back to back songs by one band and if anyone says skip, you move on to the next song. You’ll find an eclectic mix quickly appears!
- Our version of MTV Cribs – A slack channel was created where employees created a short video tour of their homes and working set ups with a weekly prize for the most entertaining. Just make sure to make your bed before starting filming!
Final tips for remote working
These are challenging times for us all, and whilst the above is important to give you and your team structure, here are some tips that are more for you and your own wellbeing:
- Take regular breaks – Humans haven’t evolved to be seated for 8 hours a day! Take regular breaks and if you can do some form of exercise (even if it’s just going for a brisk walk)
- Have a routine and stick to defined start / stop times – For your sanity please do this. When not working (unless necessary) don’t check your slack/emails You’re allowed to have some downtime. And in fact if you have them take your holidays and enjoy the nice weather.
- If you’re able to try and dedicate some free time for yourself to just think – whether you meditate or listen to chilled music, factor some of this into your day, you’ll find it will make you more productive.
- Invest in a good chair – Your back will thank you for it! Or, if you’re feeling brave, why not try a standing desk.
- Last tip, and probably the most important one, try to be mindful and help others if you can – for some of us the lockdown restrictions have worked well, but for many out there they haven’t. Ask people how they are doing and listen to what they say and how they say it, it may be the only chance of interaction they get that day. We’re all human, and we’re in this together.