5 Tools for Remote Work Success with Distributed Agile Teams

March 27, 2020 Danny Presten

CollabNet VersionOne recently hosted a webinar with our Chief Methodologist, Danny Presten, to share some best practices and tips on how you can navigate the new normal of fully remote work during these difficult times. We had a lively discussion with attendees who got to ask their most pressing questions on how they can collaborate effectively with distributed Agile teams, sustain their transformation efforts, and adapt to new ways of working. The high attendance rate and breadth of questions asked shows that many feel unprepared to handle large-scale remote work and there is a strong need to strengthen remote work practices with tools and clear working agreements. In this series of blog posts, we will cover the top themes discussed. This post unpacks which types of tools your business needs now so that this difficult time can transform into a period of innovation, experimentation, and connection.

Your Remote Work Toolbox

The Agile Manifesto states that “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” But what happens when this becomes impossible? Luckily, there are many tools out there that can make communication almost as effective as face-to-face in this time of mandated physical distancing

Here are 5 types of tools that you need to thrive while working with distributed agile teams and to be as effective as possible when working remotely. Check to see what your company is already using and make sure you are compliant with company policies. If your company doesn’t have one of these tools in place, speak with your team and/or manager to find your perfect fit. Many of the tools listed below have free trials, too:

1. Video conferencing. This is as face-to-face as we can get right now! Maintain relationships and build a deeper team connection through video conferencing. Live video helps you better collaborate on work, check in with each other, and just get in some quality time with your team to discuss things outside of work.
Suggested: Zoom, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, Sococo, Cisco Webex

2. Work management. Conduct remote Agile ceremonies (such as sprint planning, daily standups, retros and PI Planning. These tools are essential to help you organize the work you’re doing, the work that has to be done, as well as stay up to date on in flight work - everything you need to manage distributed Agile teams in one centralized environment.
Suggested: Collabnet/VersionOne

3. Instant Messaging. Email still exists, but quality instant messaging tools are essential in today’s work world as they provide convenient, quick ways to get in touch with one another. Some have threads or group discussions; some have ways to share files or video chat as well! Overall, messaging tools bring people closer together.
Suggested: Slack, Workplace, Microsoft Teams

4. File share. Share important documents and presentations in a secure location to keep teams organized and informed. Your company most likely already has a preferred vendor in use, so if you are unaware, talk to your team and/or manager before implementing your own.
Suggested: Google Drive, Dropbox, Box

5. Collaboration. White boards are great when you’re in a room together, this category of tools simulate that level of engagement electronically. Use these to Conduct remote team retrospectives, brainstorm and maximize visual communication with a good online collaboration tool. These tools allow teams to create content together collaboratively in real time.
Suggested: Mural, IdeaBoardz

Establishing Working Agreements

Having one tool from each category can bring your team closer together than ever before. Now, as you begin to think about and implement these tools, one of the first key things you want to do as a team to really make this flow well is establish working agreements for how you might use these tools.

What is the purpose of the tool? When would you use one tool over another? For example, if you use Slack for messaging and also have a team member’s cell phone number for texting, maybe you and your team establish that Slack will be used for general communication that needs an answer within an hour and that text messaging is only for emergencies that need an answer within 30 minutes. Deciding as a team what each tool you use helps provide clarity and direction on how to collaborate most effectively.

What is the expected response and response frequency for each tool? Usually, the expectation for replies over email is slower than Slack. Scheduled meetings set an expectation that when the meeting is starting, all attendees will be there. Expectations can vary by team so, again, it’s important to clarify expectations so that everyone is on the same page. 

How do you all agree to use a tool? For example, if your team uses Zoom, turning on video may be an expected team norm when you join a meeting. Another example may be setting a norm that when using Slack you thread conversations as much as possible.  Establishing what kind of communication happens via IM vs. email is important as well. Clarifying these and establishing team norms helps ensure communication flows in an expected manner than things don’t get lost. 

All of these agreements are customizable to your team’s needs and preferences. When put in place, working agreements for tools builds trust, structure, and understanding. However, if you don’t establish working agreements, stick to them, or respect them, it can cause a lot of frustration when unexpressed expectations aren’t met within your group and within other groups that you depend on

It’s also important to remember that these are unprecedented times are a good opportunity to establish a more understanding, inclusive, and collaborative remote work culture in your organization. Whether you have worked from home regularly for years or this is your first time working remotely, everyone is struggling with how to cope, adhere to new safety regulations, and adjust to a completely different way of life. So please, be flexible, sympathetic, courteous, and transparent. Bend the rules when you need to. Be patient if there’s a child, pet, or other distractions in the background of a team call. If someone is not adhering to team working agreements there’s probably a good reason, check in with them afterward to make sure they are doing ok.

Overall, having a tool from each of the 5 above categories can help your team feel closer than ever, even while working apart. View the full webinar to learn more:

About the Author

Danny Presten

Danny Presten is Chief Methodologist at CollabNet VersionOne. Danny has several transformation tours of duty behind him in which he's worked in agile organizations, consulted with senior leaders and led training initiatives

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