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Can Working Remotely Actually Help Agile Teams?

Agile Marketing: Sprint 9

In the last sprint, sprint 8, I talked about how weather forced our team into learning how to conduct daily stand-ups and our sprint planning meeting remotely using the Cisco WebEx Meeting Center platform. Wouldn’t you know that record snow hit again during this sprint which ran from 2/24/15 to 3/2/2015.

And it wouldn’t be an ASPE sprint if we didn’t voluntarily make our lives even more difficult. Ice and snow stranded the team on Tuesday and our entire team was scheduled to attend the High 5 Conference in Raleigh Wednesday and Thursday. It was imperative that we be productive on the three non-conference days, weather be damned.

We utilized our recently developed online meeting and collaboration Agile Marketing process, which saved us time and kept everyone on the same page. The challenge was that a continued lack of face-to-face time had the potential to hurt collaboration and productivity as a team.

Surprisingly though, the team was actually more productive in the three non-conference days working remotely than they typically are at the office. Collectively the group completed 364 points during this abbreviated sprint. We spent some time in our sprint retrospective talking about this.

Meetings, distractions hurt productivity

This is not an earth shattering concept. Part of agile’s philosophy is making meetings strategically to distribute information, talk through challenges and align work. The goal is to make that time efficient and productive, unlike most meetings. Being early adopters of Agile Marketing principles, our team already did a solid job with meetings, but the incorporation of daily stand-ups, planning meetings and retrospectives have definitely had a major impact. It’s further encouraged daily and on-the-fly collaboration that has made us a better and more productive team.

Non-Agile teams in your organization can hurt productivity

Working remotely eliminated a lot of meetings and distractions from people outside our team. While they understand how our team’s processes have changed, their own processes have not yet adapted to keep up.

The marketing manager and I both know this firsthand. We spend much of our days in meeting and talking with internal stakeholders about their needs and projects. The triage of fires, “emergencies,” and problem solving for these folks eat much of the average day for us. That results in us personally not contributing as many direct points to the team’s total for each sprint, but it also allows the team as a whole to focus, stay on task and be more productive (not to mention happy).  So, working remotely actually allowed the two of us to contribute more directly despite the short week. While necessary, this reiterates the productivity hit that results from meetings and distractions.

For instance, I personally was able to shoot, record, edit and post an internal process tutorial video that had been on the backlog for some time. I honestly was having trouble getting started, but being remote, I was afforded the time, space, not to mention peace and quiet to get it done. I really don’t think that 40 point task would have gotten completed if I hadn’t been forced to work from home on Tuesday.

With that said, my hope is that as time goes by, other internal teams will start becoming more Agile and will get a better firsthand understanding of how and why we work the way we do. Often others accept our responses about point totals and full sprints, but I don’t know that they fully understand. I think that will change as Agile spreads and scales throughout our organization.

A change of environment (forced or voluntary) can help productivity

I’ve always had mixed feelings about working from home. Being face-to-face and within view of teammates breeds collaboration, discussion and debate, but that’s not to say that you can’t also do that remotely. Technology has definitely made it easier. The challenge will always be people and their time. The spontaneity of that random discussion of a problem or thought dies when you have to schedule, email and connect to a video conference, and none of us really like to answer our phone anymore.

However, I think this sprint showed me directly how a day outside of the office can have a big impact on my personal productivity. It also gave me much more confidence in the fact that our productivity and collaboration as a group is much more a cultural characteristic than a product of our environment. It actually may be good occasionally to mix things up and get a change of scenery. That little change of environment for the day may actually increase creativity and productivity if it’s done strategically.

At the end of the day our productivity and collaboration comes from this amazing group that we’ve built. Together or apart, I believe in them. They will make it happen…and Agile Marketing has helped make that possible.

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