Maintaining agile culture while working remotely

Written by Rasmus Koefoed-Jespersen and Susheel Dodeja on 1 May 2020 in Opinion
Opinion

A lack of physical proximity need not be a barrier to collaboration and an inclusive culture, according Rasmus Koefoed-Jespersen and Susheel Dodeja of BJSS

Credit: Adobe Stock

It is a common preconception that agile projects are destined for trouble if the people involved are not physically in the same location. 

So, what to do now that everyone is working remotely? 

In the principles of the Agile Manifesto, elements such as collaboration, trust and face-to-face interactions are key to success, but there is no mention of physical proximity.

“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done,” the document reads.

The current reality is that the individuals are the same, but the environment around them has changed drastically. To thrive within this new reality, a strong culture is needed. It will essentially determine a project team’s success or failure. 

Like any good digital project, it is important not to simply recreate the physical in a like-for-like digital format; it is an opportunity to reframe and rethink how to maximise outcomes and, in this case, future proof your team.

Start from a position of trust. Just because the team is no longer in the same location, micro-management and constant check-ins are not necessary.  

Consider this an opportunity to rethink how teams work effectively together. Regardless of the team’s agile maturity, it is a chance to solidify agile principles and build a team that is remote-first.

By establishing a culture that promotes collaboration and instils inclusivity, it matters less where your team members are physically located. Engagement and motivation to operate as a team will make the difference.  

From experience of working with a wide range of government and private sector organisations, these are some of the key themes to consider when building a strong delivery culture, regardless of where you are located.
 

  • Build trust in the team

Start from a position of trust. Just because the team is no longer in the same location, micro-management and constant check-ins are not necessary.  

Accountability of your team is necessary though, and it’s important to let them know that everyone feels supported. Co-create plans and agree on ways of working as a group to ensure everybody is aware of roles and individual contributions.  

Interaction on an individual needs basis is important, as it helps to build empathy as well as trust in the team.  A common and successful approach is pair-working, as not only does it reduce isolationism, it also delivers better results too. 

Offer support when needed. It is important that leaders focus on creating the environment that will enable the team to deliver at pace.  Remember, every meeting is a context switch that will chip away at your velocity, so don’t be a nuisance!
 

  • Inclusivity

Make sure that the teams’ way of working is as inclusive as possible. For some, remote working may be hard, and some may need more flexibility to care for children or family members. 

To run effective agile ceremonies, consider principles that help your sessions be as simple and clear as possible, and give shared ownership to the team. 

Try things like rotating the host of the meeting and make sure meetings are well prepared and recorded those who might struggle to follow it in real-time.

Remote meetings can fall foul to domination by the ‘loudest in the room’.  Make sure everyone has a voice and experiment until the approach creates a fair and level playing field. Increasing the level of contribution will yield better results.
 

  • Communication

Finding the right balance between communicating enough and not becoming a distraction to the team is important. There will be no model that apply to all, so experimentation will be needed to gauge what works well.

Some teams have agreed certain hours of quiet time where everyone can focus. Other teams have ‘wormholes’ by means of an always-on video link, so collaboration mirrors the physical as much as possible. 

Try out new ways of staying connected and find out what works for the team. 
 

  • Team energy

With remote teams, it is important to keep the team energised and it will require more intentionality and might feel harder to do.  

Have some fun. Look for ways to surprise and delight your teams. Examples are a team dance-off, mid-morning virtual coffee breaks or having fun with hats or video call backgrounds. 

Look out for burn-out in the team. People tend to do extra hours while working at home and forget to take breaks. Make sure your team maintain their home life and take time off. 
 

  • Culture is the sum of behaviour

It’s tempting to apply the many tips and tricks that are everywhere on the internet. While that is a great source of inspiration, what works for one team might not work for the next.

Just like it is the case for co-located agile teams, it is important to continuously review and evolve the habits that underpin the team’s velocity.


The Agile Manifesto says: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.” 

High-performing teams apply a creative and agile approach to their own culture by identifying ideas for better ways of working, and then test them quickly. 

That is what sets these teams apart. They are built on trust, they are inclusive, they empower people and take a creative approach to building a culture that drives velocity and quality.

 


This article is part of PublicTechnology's How to Design a Government Service project, in association with BJSS. This specially created content week will feature a range of exclusive interview, feature, and analysis content dedicated to the art of delivering digital services for citizens and public sector professionals - from the earliest stages of discovery, right through to maintaining live services in use by millions of people. Click here to access all the content.



 

About the author

Rasmus Koefoed-Jespersen is head of BJSS SPARCK and Susheel Dodeja is BJSS head of public sector. BJSS has successfully undertaken several remote delivery engagements across government. These proven sessions can be rapidly implemented deliver tangible result-based outcomes. Contact info@bjss.com for more information.

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