An Agile work environment is the answer to efficient, focused, and productive remote work. For agencies like ours, working remotely is second nature as our entire staff has been doing so since we opened shop at the beginning of 2020. Previously, we had all been doing remote work for 5 to 10 and upwards of 15 years. While there has always been a hint of the assumption that working from home means you can be a lot laxer, we have found that not to be the case by any stretch.
In our own experiences and what we have gathered from friends/family/colleagues, adjusting to this new form of work has made it so you have to be far more diligent in the day to day functions. For example, you don’t have a manager who can walk by at any moment to check your progress, encourage you if you’re struggling with an objective, or remind you when to take a break.
It’s easy to spin your wheels and accidentally work overtime that you are not paid for when you function alone from home, which can be demotivating. The main challenge is keeping teams in line and motivated in a group mindset when no one can be in the same space. Essentially, now you have to be diligent about being diligent, which means you need to get concentrated, streamlined, and organized, which we find Agile solves.
The Two Crucial Remote Working Tips For Big Teams
There are a number of things we do at Daggerhart Lab to help everyone feel like they are a part of a team, and not just flying solo. Technology and being an Agile agency are behind every effort we make to keep our individual employees pumped to be a part of the company, their assigned teams, and projects they are on. It is more than just making sure everyone has Slack/HipChat, or are all using the same Project Management software.
There needs to be a clear expectation set for good working and communications habits, as well as ensuring everyone is aware of each phase of development with their goals clearly laid out. For us, we also make sure to find creative ways to digitally gather our employees for the sake of fun, and not always business. Below we delve into the two main conditions we have found are the best solutions for keeping any sized team galvanized and in sync.
Communication is King
Think about ways you can communicate with your team apart from only the “necessary” emails and Slack messages to check in, sending updates, or scheduling meetings. Remember, you’re not in the same office, so it is important to think of ways to mimic the energy of working in a physical team environment. For us, the ceremonies of Agile thoroughly do this by ensuring that we converge and communicate very regularly as a whole team, and as individual teams. From the first through the last step of project development, our minds are working together.
It is important for everyone to join the appropriate Slack (or HipChat) channels and be added to their assigned projects in the chosen Project Management software, such as Basecamp or Jira depending on the project size. However, the Agile steps and ceremonies of development hold the true substance of team mind-set. During the initial step of our Agile ceremonies, called discovery, crucial input from all teams is gathered to make sure we are appropriately budgeting every aspect of development through to delivery. We ensure all teams are able to have their voice heard at the very top of the project, establishing trust amongst internal teams and the client.
The kick-off step, however, is the real meat and potatoes when it comes to getting everyone together and into a group mind. While we may not be in the same room, Google Hangouts allows us to get everyone together as “face to face” as we can be. Everyone will get to know one another, their individual roles, expectations for communication, criteria for success, and outline important milestones. This step covers literally anything and everything that is needed to start and keep the project rolling successfully.
Next, the backlog is groomed by the Product Owner, which leads into the following step where team mentality is once again the cornerstone. This is estimation poker, where each team provides input into how long they believe a certain element or phase of development will take. This feedback will influence workloads during sprints and is central to keeping development on track. Stand-ups follow this, which are brief weekly, or even daily, meetings that involve efficient check-ins to review progress and what teams are working on next. These stand-ups are great for keeping everyone engaged and in tune with one another as they forge ahead in a sprint.
After this step comes the demo phase where teams get to demonstrate what they’ve been working on in development. Lastly, once we’ve finished a sprint and demos have been presented, we’ll do retrospectives. Here, we evaluate across all teams what has been working and where there have been pain points, et al. This step is to ensure all teams have what they need to be successful, that estimations are correct, and that we’re on schedule for delivery within budget. We do all 7 of these steps over and over, sprint by sprint throughout development until the project is completed. That is a lot of efficient and effective team communication, and in our experience absolutely keeps everyone in a team mindset.
Remote Employees and The Digital Water Cooler
Outside of Agile ceremonies that help everyone stay focused and in sync, we’ve found that some form of socialization will go a long way too. If you haven’t worked remotely, you are likely used to being able to chit chat here and there, used to occasional company birthday parties or happy hours, things that aid in feeling bonded to your co-workers. Having social interaction and social respect amongst fellow employees really helps establish that you are indeed all on the same team. Camaraderie is foundational to acting as such, ensuring all employees are willing to help one another, as well as fearlessly reach out when help is needed.
In between ceremonies, it can be easy to think solely of yourself when you work alone from home and to forget that everything you do affects your team. Helping employees keep this in mind lends to smooth communication and development. Another thing to bear in mind are things like the fact that the tone of text can be wildly misinterpreted. For example, if someone has a dry style of texting, emailing, or chatting on Slack/HipChat, it can lead to distrust and fear of reaching out. A single personal conversation can reveal someone’s true nature and dismay those fears in a matter of moments.
So, what do you do when everyone is in their home office and the only interactions you have are for official business? At Daggerhart Lab, we do what we refer to as the “weekly fetch”, which is when we take 2 – 5 minutes to digitally create the “water cooler experience” of a traditional brick and mortar office. We’ll gather teams over Google Hangouts and just chit chat about what we did over the weekend if anyone has any fun or exciting personal announcements, and what projects we’re excited to be working on. These brief, but incredibly fulfilling meetings, have produced a true sense of “neighborliness” throughout our company that we have absolutely felt the positive impact of.
In addition, when we have to do a meeting with a singular person such as a Project Manager or developer who has questions, we prefer to do so over video. It can be easy to quickly shoot an email or hop on the phone, but when you’re talking through something face to face, you get to connect more sincerely and there is less risk for distraction or misinterpretation. It is also a subtle reminder that you’re working with a larger team, you have people that are there for you, and that at no point should you sweat something out on your own. As a whole, making sure we are getting solid digital face time with our employees, co-workers, clients, and specialists has been pivotal to our remote offices’ success.
Agile Is The Answer
These are the main reasons we have found that Agile provides the perfect infrastructure for how to keep ourselves and our employees focused, in a team mindset, and working hard. That said, even if the company you work for doesn’t function in an Agile environment, you can still apply much of this information to your own remote working habits.
If you are currently trying to revise your internal development stack and/or digital shop to a third-party company, shoot us an email. We’re also accepting applications from developers, so drop us a line with your resume!