Should Agile Teams Ban Telecommuting?

Printer-friendly version

Technology advances have made telecommuting a viable option for many employees in today's workforce. Due to its nature software development is especially suited to remote work. The open source models of companies like JBoss and its parent company Red Hat prove that regardless of the physical location of your staff, a company can churn out great software products.  

Given our industry's take on working from home, Marissa Mayer's announcement to ban telecommuting at Yahoo has raised many eyebrows. Even Richard Branson, the English buisness mogul, chimed in on the telecommuting ban calling it a “a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective.” Branson makes a good point that remote working is certainly easier and more effective, but what is often missing from the argument is the need for face-to-face communication.

The Agile Manifesto states that an agile team should value "individuals and interactions over processes and tools." This has often been interpreted as a preference for face-to-face interaction.

It is often suggested that more than 90 percent of what we communicate is not the words we speak but our verbal and non-verbal cues. So much of communication is being able to perceive the innuendos, note the sarcasm, and clarify missing information. This is especially important in software development as getting the requirements wrong leads to excessive costs down the line.

So does this mean a telecommuting ban is appropriate for an agile team? It depends on the team and the situation. There are a few key factors that drive whether an agile team is equipped for telecommuting. 

Are the right technologies available?

Without the availability of remote face-to-face communication tools like Skype and a remotely accessible repository like GitHub (or a VPN to achieve this), telecommuting is not an option. Before considering telecommuting, a team must ensure sure that these basic requirements have been met.

What is the seniority level of the team?
If all members of the team are very senior and have little need for guidance and mentoring, the ability to collaborate remotely is more feasible. The time spent collaborating can be reduced to short Skype sessions on an as-need basis rather than the constant pairing sessions that are often needed with more junior developers.

How much input is needed from a product owner?
If the product is well defined with only limited interaction necessary from the product owner, it is easier to work remotely. A Scrum room (or war room) is better suited for teams that need constant collaboration with one another as well as the product owner in order to ensure that fuzzy and often ill-defined requirements are clarified.

What are the personalities of your team members?
This is a critical and often overlooked component. Some personalities take well to remote work; others find it much less appealing due to a feeling of isolation. Make sure that the entire team is onboard with the decision to telecommute before implementing any new policies.

If answering these questions leads you to believe that a telecommuting ban would improve your productivity, then follow Marissa Mayer's lead. Just make sure that you analyze your team and your situation before imposing any new rules within your organization.

Printer-friendly version

Something to say? Leave a Comment

Jacob Orshalick

Jacob Orshalick is a software consultant, open source developer, speaker, and author. He is the owner of solutionsfit and co-author of the best-selling Seam Framework: Experience the Evolution of Java EE His software development experience spans the retail, financial, real estate, media, telecommunications, law enforcement, and health care industries.