Agile Collaboration on Remote Teams
The first value in the Agile Manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” and for many teams, being located in the same place facilitates these interactions. However, being part of an effective, collaborative team is less about location than it is about motivation and good practices.
Employing these practices is becoming more important as remote work grows more popular and widespread. Working from home benefits employers as well as employees—it is more cost-effective for an organization not only in terms of saving on office space and allowing for staffing flexibility, but also in terms of increased productivity and employee retention.
But even those who don’t work from home full time may have cause to work remotely sometimes. Teams will sometimes encounter the need to collaborate remotely with a vendor, a contractor, or an employee traveling or at home for weather or family reasons. Disaster recovery scenarios also often require the ability to support remote collaboration. Given the realities of incidental distributed work, it is valuable for everyone to have the ability to work well remotely.
Consequently, it’s important to remember that individuals and interactions still matter on remote teams. Because many agile practices create environments that facilitate improvement by making problems visible, remote work can highlight—and stress—cracks in our collaboration infrastructure and processes.
Working well remotely requires thought and planning. The book Work Together Anywhere: A Handbook on Working Remotely—Successfully—for Individuals, Teams, and Managers has excellent advice about how to form a successful remote team. One of the key principles is to have a “remote first” approach to meetings and other collaborations. Another key principle is to have an explicit agreement about how to communicate. Knowing what medium is appropriate for which information and what level of responsiveness to expect will go a long way toward preventing misunderstandings. Protocols like these are important for both remote and collocated participants.
Along with the best tools and practices, the book also emphasizes the importance of developing connections, even though you can’t be face to face. In some cases, video can replace in-person meetings when travel is difficult. It’s also possible to achieve the relationship-building value of incidental conversations that happen in an office. For example, team members can join video meetings early to allow for time for chatting and casual conversations.
Having time to connect and making explicit agreements about interactions are two things you can do to help a team collaborate better. Working remotely will cause issues with communication dynamics to surface more quickly than when you are collocated, but realize that the problems can exist with collocated teams, too—while collocation can make interaction easier, it doesn’t guarantee successful, valuable interactions.
With the right attention to these details, you can have effective interactions between the individuals on your team regardless of where they are located.