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How agile teams can stay collaborative while working from home

How agile teams can stay collaborative while working from home

There's no doubt that the pandemic has impacted office dynamics permanently, with the most dramatic change being the switch from in-office first to remote-first working conditions. Yes, these new ways of working are now the norm. Still, as the pandemic becomes a thing of the past, remote-related collaboration challenges will remain an ongoing challenge in need of regular re-assessment by managers and developers alike.

Some of these challenges include:

  • Miscommunications
  • Timing mismatches
  • Challenges accessing files and documents
  • Lack of motivation
  • Misaligned expectations

Yes, these issues will always come up from time to time. However, with proper consideration of a team's processes and remote policies, these can become few and far between.

In this article, we will share how agile software development teams can create a better environment for collaboration while working from home.

Let's get started.

Using agile reporting to identify gaps in collaboration

Before you work on optimizing your team's collaboration processes, it's a good idea to look at data you may have collected that indicates what areas in your process require the most attention. For this, one of the best tools we recommend is a cumulative flow chart. Cumulative flow charts help you identify where the team is most often blocked in a pipeline – this can help you first address collaboration issues related to underperforming processes before moving on to other areas.

Suppose you haven't engaged in agile reporting. In that case, you can still identify efficiency issues by uploading your GitHub repo into our free productivity grader. The productivity grader gives insights into your team's performance using your GitHub repository's last four weeks of data and compares it to the top 100 GitHub repos.

Provide the proper tooling and resources

While traditional agile workspaces included whiteboards, physical kanban boards, and post-it notes, these examples are (obviously) inaccessible to remote workers. But, believe us, nobody misses these tools – digitized versions of the aforementioned and other collaborative tools make remote work much more streamlined and efficient.

So, what comprises infrastructure and tools for remote teams?

Besides high bandwidth connections and computer hardware and accessories (headphones and webcams), here are some must-haves for remote agile collaboration:

Instant messaging apps: Be sure to choose a messaging app that has features for better collaboration like the ability to create topic-specific channels and threads, team status updates, and huddle rooms or video calling. Popular apps include: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Flock, Chanty, etc.

Tools for structured information access: Make a plan with your team about where information will be accessible and how it should be organized. Tools may include password managers, issue templates, sop documentation, team onboarding software/website, company employee directory, and corporate wiki. When implementing new information hosting tools, always include instructions for the team to ensure they're providing the correct information and formatting it properly (e.g., no missing dates or descriptions!).

Integrated and automated project management tools: Project management tools are critical resources for collaboration – if they're kept up-to-date. The best way to ensure you're team is maximizing collaboration power on project management tools is to integrate them with the tools your team is already working in. For example, developers primarily work in GitHub, so getting them set up with a GitHub extension like Zenhub is a great way to keep them updating the rest of the team on their project progress.

Additionally, setting up automation inside your project management tool is a great way to ensure updated information. Automating the movement of issues between pipelines or sprint plans can keep teams on track with fewer touches.

Encouraging cross-team collaboration

Cross-team collaboration often takes a hit when organizations switch to remote work. This can make it difficult for teams to leverage valuable intel from other departments.

Cross-team tools and access

Using tools easily leveraged by wider departments, not just an individual team, can help enhance cross-team collaboration. For example, Zenhub allows software engineers to work directly inside GitHub while enabling wider teams to engage with and view the progress of software projects without needing to use GitHub.

If tools that are useful for everyone aren't possible, at the very least, you should grant access to one person from each department to each information hub on your team. For example, the customer service solutions your CS team is currently using can (and should!) be used by sales, marketing, and product teams for gathering customer intel.

Virtual hangouts, knowledge swaps, and brainstorms with the whole team

Sometimes, encouraging cross-collaboration is as simple as breaking the ice between teams. Having regular virtual hangouts for team members to get acquainted with one another allows teams to become more comfortable asking each other questions and collaborating. Consider also having regular cross-team knowledge-sharing and brainstorming sessions to familiarize team members with each other's areas of expertise.

Leverage golden hours and lump meetings

Multinational companies have people logging in from different time zones. When such firms go hybrid, there's a little window for remote workers and on-site staff to collaborate. This window is termed golden hours.

According to Zenhub's developer productivity survey, context switching is the top productivity concern when attending meetings. "Golden hours" are a great time to take advantage of a productivity hack for preventing context switching – lumping meetings into a single time slot.

If you lead a team of devs, you can implement this by suggesting to your team that certain times (preferably overlapping with golden hours) be designated times team members can schedule meetings. The rest of the calendar? Meeting-free zones. This tip will make your team more deliberate about what meetings are meaningful to them (and what are unnecessary) and reduce context switching between tasks.

Conclusion

Some say a dedicated, agile team on the floor will always remain a project manager's favorite, but a remote team can easily outperform them with the right approach. Your remote team can be the most effective collaborators by identifying gaps in their processes, implementing the correct tooling, enabling more cross-collaboration, and making meetings more meaningful.

Let us know how these tips worked out for you by sharing them on LinkedIn or Twitter!


Guest Author - Hazel Raoult is a freelance marketing writer and works with PRmention. She has 6+ years of experience in writing about project management, productivity, entrepreneurship, and all things SaaS. Hazel loves to split her time between writing, editing, and hanging out with her family.

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