5 Tips for those starting their #Remote work journey

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I’ve worked remotely since 2014. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Most of that time as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, so I’ve had to learn a few things about working with remote teams. Here are some of those tips that I’ve collected

Get used to booking 15 min sessions with colleagues

When we work remotely, it is quite normal to have more meetings. That’s how we synchronize our timetables. There are fewer opportunities to meet colleagues in the corridor, kitchen, or while walking out to lunch or a coffee break.

So, I started booking 15min session with colleagues, to be able to interact with them, but not completely disrupt their day (or mine).

Here are the rules I follow:

  1. Book the 15min session just before or after a meeting they already have in the calendar (to avoid breaking up their un-interrupted time)
  2. If I need a decision, I send an email ahead with the topic and a few possible decisions (3 is a good number)
  3. Keep discussions short, if no solution can be found, book another call while talking to my colleagues

My goal with these 15min sessions is to keep in touch and get work done in short bursts. Turns out (based on my experience) that most 1h meetings can be avoided by having short 15min sessions to make decisions. However, sometimes that’s not enough, and we book another session for later that day or the day after.

Have breaks!

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn though, was the need to have breaks. When working remotely, all my colleagues are literally a few keystrokes away. There’s no physical barrier (thought there might be a mental one, more on that later). This means you end up having back-to-back meetings, and not getting up from your seat, which may make you feel productive, but will negatively impact your health and creativity.

In my experience, having a 10-15min break every 2 hours is a good rule of thumb, although sometimes I do get up and walk around more often than that. To keep me active in those breaks I either play a game (I’m a big FIFA fan) or do exercise (I bought rubber bands to do strength when traveling or at home).

I’ve learned that a 10-15 min break will help me be more creative when I get back to the “zone”.

Create a routine

I’ve developed my own routine over time, and I expect you will too. Over time, I learned that sitting down right after breakfast is my best strategy. I have breakfast and get right down to the most important tasks (I keep all my tasks in Evernote. Although I’ve tried other tools, I feel text files are my best tool).

After the first work burst, I’ll walk around, play a game and think of the next tasks.

I usually have meetings only in the afternoon (I’m a morning) person, and in the evening. Between the morning and afternoon slots, I have a longer break, maybe an hour or so.

Because I usually have evening meetings, I break up the afternoon with a walk outside to go shopping or go running.

That’s my routine, but you should think about what works for you. Are you a morning person? Or are you more productive in the afternoon?

Set up a workplace you are proud of (you will be on video often!)

When I started to work remotely, I used whatever space was available at home. That’s great for when you get started, but over time you will feel a bit out of place, or get tired of setting up and tearing down your workspace. Recently I’ve bought a green screen and a good camera to be able to create a space that I’m proud of. In the picture to the right is my “morning” workspace. I feel like I’m in a real office, and so do my colleagues!

If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, ZOOM will handle the lack of green screen, so there’s no need to invest in that. And if you use Skype you can blur the background so that your presence pops-up on video. Pro tip: surprise your colleagues with the “coolest” office you can find online! PS: I use PIXABAY and Google image search to scout the net for office spaces.

Track your work, keep yourself accountable

Over time, I’ve had to learn to be even more organized when working from home than when I had an office to go to. Working from home means that you have less of the implicit signs from people coming to talk to you, or having coffee break chats. #Remote workers are both in charge of their work, but also have less information available to make the right priority calls. Because of that, I’ve started to write down what I want to achieve when I start working. I have a “today’s tasks” note on Evernote, and keep all my work there. I write down everything I need to achieve for that day and will jot down future ideas on a future date.

I start my day by writing down the date and listing the tasks/achievements for the day (see image). During the day that list will change, and I’ll also write down tasks/achievements under future dates.

My system is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. If you don’t have a task management system, start now. Start with pen and paper, and slowly try out and adopt a digital tool.

I might write a longer post about my time-management and work-management system. I’ve developed it over quite a few years and learned what works for me (and what does not).

These were 5 simple tips that I’ve learned work for me. What works for you? What questions do you have? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.

Facilitating #Remote Retrospectives for recently distributed teams

At the time I write this blog post, there’s the #covid19 epidemic going on. What this means in practice is that many of you will have changed recently to work with a #Remote team, so we are putting together a set of resources for all of our listeners jumping, head first, into working with #Remote teams.
In this post, I’m putting together a few ideas and lessons learned on remote retrospectives, and how to get started in your #Remote work journey.

How to facilitate remote #Retrospeectives

We have an episode with Aino Corry on how to facilitate #Remote retrospectives. When it comes to facilitating a remote retrospective, Aino shares these 4 guidelines:
  1. get people to participate actively
  2. get everybody on video (if at all possible)
  3. pace them forward all the time (e.g. using strict timeboxes)
  4. use round-robin (or some other technique) to get everybody to talk
In that podcast episode, we also discuss some anti-patterns to be aware of. Listen to Aino shares her experience on hosting #Remote retrospectives.

If you are looking for a tool to facilitate #Remote retrospectives, you may be interested in checking out these tools, which all have a free plan:

Working with, and facilitating #Remote teams

Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby share their experience with #Remote teams. The research work they did is available on their recently published book, and we go into the key lessons in this Scrum Master Toolbox episode on #Remote teams.
One of the key differences to co-located teams they highlight is how distributed team members need to develop their “affiliation” to each other and form a team even when they are not meeting each other in the corridor.
Mark shares a few ideas, like setting up a #water-cooler channel in your favorite chat application. My self, I love to have coffee sessions with my colleagues. Set up a calendar invite, make everyone optional, prepare a coffee cup and chat with your colleagues. 

First things first, team agreements

Whatever you do regarding #Remote retrospectives, don’t forget that your situation has just changed. It is time to set up a working agreement for the team that takes into account the fact that you are now distributed (even if you had one before, the situation has changed).
In this blog post on the Management 3.0 website, Lisette Sutherland from Collaboration Superpowers, shares her own approach, and the benefits from a #Remote team working agreement session. The main takeaway is to divide work into 3 areas:
  • Information: What kind of information do you need when working with your team? What needs to be actively shared? What can be passively shared?
  • Communication: What kinds of communication do you need to setup now that you are #Remote?
  • Collaboration: How do you share progress information and offer/request help when needed?
Remember, the team is as much in a new situation as you are. Help them find their new way of working.
Stay healthy, #stayhome (if you can).

Darren Smith: 3 Anti-patterns PO’s should avoid

In this episode, we explore in detail some of the most common anti-patterns Darren sees in the Product Owner role, and we discuss why a PO training is not necessary for a great PO. 

The Great Product Owner: Business knowledge and outcome focus

To be a great Product Owner, it isn’t necessary to have attended a certification course. However, it is necessary to have a good connection to the business and a sharp focus on outcomes (impact) over output (more work). In this segment, we discuss what happens when you have those characteristics in your PO.

The Bad Product Owner: 3 Anti-patterns PO’s should avoid

There are many sides to a failed Product Owner role. In this episode, Darren shares with us some of the most common anti-patterns that he’s witnessed in his career as a Scrum Master.

In this segment, we refer to the remote facilitation online masterclass by Judy Rees.

For more anti-patterns, read Darren’s “How to Fail as Product Owner” infographic.

 

Are you having trouble helping the team working well with their Product Owner? We’ve put together a course to help you work on the collaboration team-product owner. You can find it at: bit.ly/coachyourpo. 18 modules, 8+ hours of modules with tools and techniques that you can use to help teams and PO’s collaborate.

About Darren Smith

Darren, aka the Naked Scrum Master, has been helping teams and organizations be better than they were by exposing dysfunction and helping people to remove obstacles from their path so they can be happier and more fulfilled in their working lives.

You can link with Darren Smith on LinkedIn and connect with Darren Smith on Twitter.

Rik Pennartz: Making remote, distributed team members feel part of the team

In this episode, we explore the story of a team that was scattered and working outside the office. We then explore the anti-patterns that made those team members feel like outsiders in their own team. Finally, we talk about the antidote, what to do to make the team feel like a team, no matter where they are.

In this episode, we also talk about Transformational Leadership.

Featured Book for the Week: The culture code, Daniel Coyle

In The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, Rik found a definition of the characteristics of successful groups. What makes them tick and got some inspiring stories that help him be a better coach for his teams.

About Rik Pennartz

Rik is an agile coach, who’s worked during the last years at the Volksbank, the Dutch Railways and ABN AMRO bank. Rik also teaches various agile courses such as Professional Scrum Master, DevOps fundamentals and Leading SAFe.

You can find Rik Pennartz at the Cap Gemini Academy.

You can link with Rik Pennartz on LinkedIn and connect with Rik Pennartz on Twitter. 

BONUS: Aino Corry on how to prepare for and facilitate for Distributed Retrospectives

Scrum Masters all over the world make a significant effort to get better at facilitating retrospectives… Until they have to host a Distributed Retrospective. At that point, we learn that all you learned about facilitating retrospectives is still useful, but not nearly enough!

Preparing, hosting, and facilitating a Distributed Retrospective is a completely different challenge.

The 4 things that you need to make Distributed Retrospectives work

Continue reading BONUS: Aino Corry on how to prepare for and facilitate for Distributed Retrospectives

BONUS: Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby share tips on how to help Distributed teams succeed

When Johanna visited Agile 2017, one of the largest Agile conferences that year, she was disappointed that the main advice people were giving on stage was: “don’t do distributed”. She then met Mark and started sharing her experience on how she had been able to make distributed agile work in her consulting work.

From that disappointment and both Johanna’s and Mark’s experience, a book was born: From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver.

The most important lessons about making Distributed Agile work for your team

Continue reading BONUS: Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby share tips on how to help Distributed teams succeed

Kristopher Stice-Hall: how to keep meeting-inflation in check for remote Scrum teams

When working with remote teams we must be aware that the number of meetings can easily balloon up because the team does not meet in the corridor. As Scrum Master, we must help remote teams find workarounds for the calendar-driven, meeting-inflated anti-pattern for remote teams.

In this episode, we discuss how a Scrum Master can help a team find the right balance between meetings and ad-hoc interaction even when remote.

About Kristopher Stice-Hall

Is the co-owner of Digital Maelstrom, a consultancy specializing in custom software, DevOps, managed cloud services, and information security. He has been doing Scrum Master work for over 10 years. He has worked with fortune 500 companies to companies less than 15 people. He also has been doing software development for 17 years.

You can link with Kristopher Stice-Hall on LinkedIn and connect with Kristopher Stice-Hall on Twitter.

BONUS: Molood Noori discusses distributed Agile Software Development

Distributed teams are a fact of the multinational organizations we work with. Hiding from it is not going to remove that. And crying “distributed agile = bad agile” is only going to alienate people who genuinely need to learn to cope with the fact that distributed teams are the new normal.

There are good and bad ways to adapt to the reality of distributed software, and copying the methods and practices from co-located teams into the digital world is not enough. Molood shares some of the common anti-patterns that arise when we plainly try to copy the co-located team methods into the new distributed reality.

One such example is the communication channels: trying to copy daily meetings from the co-located team into a digital world will eventually bump against the frustratingly low quality sound of some conference room setups. Molood suggests a different route and shows how a team she helped took full advantage of Slack (or any other asynchronous communication channel) to make their daily meetings for effective, and efficient for everyone involved.

Read on for the detailed show notes….

Continue reading BONUS: Molood Noori discusses distributed Agile Software Development

Chad Beier: How Agile adoption can be defeated by the use of Email

Email is a very helpful tool. It has a lot of things going for it. Email gives us a quick way to jot down some thoughts and ask a colleague (or many) for help. It helps keep track of conversations. It even enables remote teams (with limited overlap in working hours) to communicate without loss of memory. However, it also has some bad sides when misused. In this story we explore how certain uses of email can be destructive for a team, and some tips on how to detect and avoid that anti-pattern.

Featured book of the week: Flawless Consulting, by Peter Block

Scrum Masters act as consultants. They help, but are not responsible for the outcome of the team. They answer, and most importantly, ask questions to help the team learn, reflect and advance. So, we must understand how to be a good consultant. Flawless Consulting, by Peter Block is a book about how to be a better “helper” (read consultant) for the teams and organizations we work with.

 

About Chad Beier

Chad’s first experience with Scrum was in 2005 on a global team responsible for consolidating financial software. After some dark days of death march projects, he left his traditional business analyst and project manager roles behind. He is now consulting organizations as an external change agent and organizational agility advisor.

You can link with Chad Beier on LinkedIn and connect with Chad Beier on Twitter.

Chad’s company is: Whiteboard Consulting.

Heidi Araya on what happens when only part of the company is on board with Agile

Systems, the collection of all the stakeholders and actors, that we work within are not always aligned. A common anti-pattern is when only part of the company is on board with Agile. What happens then? We need to be aware of our supporters, our detractors and the “on-the-fence” stakeholders we need to work with.

In this episode we discuss such a story, and how we – Scrum Masters – can understand and react to those challenges.

About Heidi Araya

Heidi is an Agile coach who has been working with remote teams since 1999. She aims to show teams and enterprises the value of a cohesive vision and mission, systems thinking, and self-organizing teams. An active member of the Agile community, she trains and speaks at events and conferences worldwide.

You can link with Heidi Araya on LinkedIn and connect with Heidi Araya on Twitter.

You can join Heidi and other coaches every month for a virtual meetup at https://www.coachingagilejourneys.com.