Remote Team Management in Agile Environment

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Be it due to the flexible working hours and opportunities of today or the complications brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are choosing remote work over in-house teams. This move does come with a specific set of challenges. When the people you work with aren’t located in the same office, challenges are bound to occur.

Agile has been a buzzword in the field of production and project management for years. However, it has recently become the methodology of choice for a number of developing software organizations. The primary reason behind this recent shift of interests toward Agile is the success businesses achieve by following the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto. These 12 principles have proven to be three times more successful than the waterfall methodology for contemporary project management in IT firms.

The framework for Agile Manifesto empowers diverse environments in modern businesses. This influences the push toward remote teams distributed organizationally or geographically. In this article, we focus on the challenges faced by distributed agile development teams in the contemporary workplace. We also move on to discuss possible solutions to these challenges.

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Challenges in Managing Remote Teams

Communication

Communication is already a challenge in agile teams, and is made even more complicated through distributed teams. Distributed teams are limited in their communication platforms. Where co-located teams can talk to each other in person, remote teams have to manage with a speakerphone. A major chunk of all communication between team members is non-verbal, which is not consistent anymore across remote teams.

Solution

A major solution for distributed agile teams is to ensure the provision of conduits that assist teams in communicating with each other. A recent research by the Human Computer Interaction Institute found that the use of visualization tools significantly improved collaboration and performance.

Since communication is primarily dependent on non-verbal cues, which are hard to locate in communication through a speaker phone, video calls online will really help improve communication standards. They will also act as a conduit for better collaboration between remote team members.

Access

A critical issue for Agile teams distributed across time zones is ensuring access to each other despite the different communication tools and core hours in place. Core hours can be extremely tricky to maneuver around, as the greater the time difference between two members, the more difficult it will be to reach a conclusion. Offshore teams can establish overlapping hours here and have lower average velocity. The time difference can disrupt communication and lead to a number of implications.

Solution

There are sadly no solutions available to distributed teams here. The only way to make remote teams spread around the globe work is to establish core hours and to ensure that teams have the communication tools required for visual contact.

Finding core hours, through which everyone is available, can be complex in time zones with a difference of ten to twelve hours. The idea should be to have everyone available for an hour or two every day.

One on One Communication

One on one communication can greatly suffer due to such issues in technology. Since different time zones mean different working hours, organizations will face issues in ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Solution

Organizations should create space to achieve enhanced collaboration and communication between teams. Additionally, there are tools that should be dedicated for one on one communication in a routine manner. An example of this might be a chat over voice call or to have a video call with remote members and talk as you would if they sat right next to you.

Personalities

Selecting employees who can succeed at distributed teams can be a bit complex for organizations to manage. According to recent research by a prominent psychologist, employees who chase socialization are bound to succeed in remote workspaces. Only employees who are inclined to remain connected regardless of the situation can flourish in such a situation. The selection process can hence be a challenge.

Solution

Organizations cannot design a hiring strategy only focused on hiring extroverts (isn’t hiring for a tech firm already very difficult?). Hence, they would have to come up with socialization opportunities and tools that are integrated into workflows as team building exercises. The first step in the process is to ensure everyone is on the same page and trained to utilize the software.

Some examples of integrated socializing experiences that can work here include:

  • Run a ‘know your coworker contest’, where employees have to describe the likes and passions of coworkers. Right answers should be awarded.
  • Five o’clock gaming sessions can work as well, where employees interact with each other through online gaming.

Product Delivery Issues

When the requirements or design team is working remotely, the delivery process can become more difficult than what it originally was. The remoteness of the design team can become an issue when dealing with exhaustive design sessions to address the layout of every detail in a UI. Team members lose track of the progress and the functionality is hence disturbed.

Solution

A simple solution for this conundrum is to send all designs and requirements in a storyboard format. Storyboards are rich in detail and create a sketch of the narrative required for interaction between people and a product.

As with most complex problems surrounding us, there aren’t many one-size-fits-all solutions available. Although distributed workplace environments do present unique challenges to agile teams, there are a number of paths and solutions available that do not require significant diversions from the agile mentality. We have highlighted them in this article and hope you can benefit from them.