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Office Apocalypse: 5 Ways For Your Team To Win During A Global Meltdown

It’s March 2020 and we’re seeing an unprecedented global health crisis. COVID-19 (AKA CoronaVirus) is forcing many companies to take measures to ensure it’s workforce can work remotely. Teams that have always been co-located are now faced with a challenge they’ve never encountered before: remote working may be required for the foreseeable future.

Remote working is becoming ever-more popular and acceptable in the corporate world. ‘Flexible working’ policies are being adopted everywhere, and once you’ve had it then you probably wouldn’t take another job without it.

If you’re a co-located team (you sit together in the same office) then remote working can be great, and it’s generally not disruptive if you’re all in agreement on how you manage those ‘flexi-working’ instances.

BUT – whether it’s coronavirus, adverse weather or a public transport meltdown, sometimes we’re ALL forced to work remotely as a team – and that can be a whole new challenge…

We’ve put together 5 simple team tips for remaining effective whilst all working remotely.

1) Facetime > Phone > IM > Email > Smoke Signals

You may have heard the Agile principle: ‘the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is face-to-face conversation’.

Well, it’s true, and remote working isn’t an excuse in 2020. Being visual, and being able to see the faces of those you’re talking to, is so important for effective communication and building relationships.

93% of communication is non-verbal.

So here’s a few ways you can leverage simple tech to get truly personal with your team, regardless of physical proximity:

  • Facetime by Apple: free for IOS devices, great for iPhone users.
  • WhatsApp video call: handy for colleagues who don’t use iPhone.
  • Skype: messaging client of choice for many, just turn your video on.
  • Zoom: a great app available on IOS and Android that allows for group video calls. The free version allows for up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes.

Yes, there is a communication hierarchy.

Face-to-face is best, a phone call is a good second choice, instant messaging is a permissible 3rd (if you already have a relationship with that person), and coming in last alongside smoke signals and morse code – email.

Only send email if you have no other choice.

If you have relationship with those in your team, leverage that connection and opt for quick video or phone calls.

2) Increase standup frequency

A mature Agile team will see the value in an additional standup straight away whilst less developed teams may need some encouragement, but when everyone’s working remotely it’s even more crucial that everyone gets a chance to align on priorities and uncover blockers regularly.

Let’s recap on the what, how and why of a standup:

WHAT

  • 3 key questions to address as a team:
  • “What have we achieved since we last met?”
  • “What are we going to achieve next?”
  • “Any blockers or issues?”

HOW

  • 15 minute max timebox
  • Face-to-face whenever possible
  • One person at a time, give everyone a chance to speak
  • NOT for sending everyone to sleep with your ‘to-do’ list…

WHY

  • Alignment: are we all clear on how we need to work together?
  • Focus: are we prioritising the highest-value tasks?
  • Rapid removal of blockers: is there anything holding us back right now?

A great standup should add value to the team and not waste anyone’s time. When everyone’s working remotely, having an extra 15 minute slot in the day set aside for this is never going to be a bad thing.

If your regular standup is first thing in the morning, try a second standup later in the day and be prepared to adapt based on what works for the team.

3) Be disciplined with your Scrum/Kanban board

When everyone’s working remotely, it’s now more important than ever that, as a team, you are are religiously updating your digital Scrum or Kanban board. When you’ve got a handicap on communication, that single source of truth is going to be critical for keeping everyone aligned.

There’s plenty of digital Scrum/Kanban board tools you can use. You’ve probably heard of JIRA, Asana, Trello, Microsoft teams – all of which can be accessed remotely and replicate a physical board.

Maintaining transparency of your team’s workflow is going to benefit all involved. Make that bad boy your homepage if you need to.

4) Give people the benefit of the doubt

We’ve all done it. So and so is ‘offline’ and you jump to conclusions about their whereabouts.

“Typical. Geoff is probably off playing golf…”

“Offline for 42 minutes? I bet Jill is getting her nails done…”

Firstly, we’re probably wrong. It’s more likely they’re on the phone to someone, grabbing some lunch, or if they’re sensible – they’ve gone for a walk around the block to get some fresh air and fend off the cabin fever.

Secondly, if you saw someone in the office at the start of the day then didn’t see them for hours you’d never jump to the same conclusions. Why do it just because you can’t see them physically?

Thirdly, if you genuinely need them then you could simply call them.

Giving each other the benefit of the doubt means choosing to trust those around you, and show empathy to your fellow team mates. They may be juggling emergency child care, they may be taking a break for lunch (in the same way you would if you were in the office) or they may be structuring their day in a way that works for them.

Choose to believe the best in those around you. When the team are all working remotely, you’ll need it now more than ever.

5) Make extra time for social chat

When we’re in the office, you get plenty of time to catch up on what everyone thought of the latest Netflix craze or share that dancing dog video that’s going viral.

We’re social creatures, and great teams have strong social bonds that strengthen their working relationships.

When we’re working remotely, we tend to lose those spontaneous ‘water cooler’ moments where social chit chat occurs. Don’t underestimate the importance of this on your teams!

Have an extra 5 minutes before or after your standup call reserved PURELY for non-work chat.

Try a ‘virtual lunch’ and open up a dial in for people to eat and chat over lunchtime.

Call someone up out of the blue just to see how they’re getting on. You never know who’s struggling and could do with a friendly catch up to help them through the day.

Be active on your non-work communication channels! Start a team whatsapp for purely social conversation and stir some friendly banter with the team. Share a snap of your working-from-home setup or your favourite coffee shop hangout.

Ultimately, when we’re all forced to work remotely, it’s our communication that is tested and our relationships that will require extra attention. There’s plenty of things you should be doing as an individual to maintain sanity when working remotely (regular breaks, exercise, fresh air, healthy lunch, appropriate work station) but as far as your team goes, it’s all about going over the top to ensure you’ve still got that fast & dirty communication.

Let us know how your team stays happy & effective whilst working remotely.

Ben Lyon

Ben brought the Agile Avengers together after realising that Scrum Masters need super resources to power their teams. Working across start-ups and corporates, Ben's developed Scrum expertise beyond his years that he now wants to make available to others.

Ben believes that the millennial workforce will increasingly desire an Agile workplace, where teams truly have autonomy and purpose in what they do. He wants to ensure the teams of tomorrow are empowered to be the best they can be.

SUPERPOWERS | Empowering people. Turning ideas into reality. Eating eggs.
KRYPTONITE | Wanting to learn everything. Limitations. Cleaning kanban cards.

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