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PA OPINION

Agile telecommuting - can it work?

Today, new and evolving pressures are challenging the traditional nine-to-five workday. With increasing congestion making the rush hour commute evermore arduous and a renewed focus on work-life balance, organisations are enabling flexible working hours and promoting working from home. But in a world where Agile has become the business model of choice, can remote working teams produce the same quality without face-to-face interactions?

In short, yes. By inspiring purpose in the team, creating consistent communication channels and facilitating effective conversations, organisations can nurture a culture that allows for flexibility while emphasising the team rather than the individual.

Inspiring purpose in the team

Teams should align to the ‘why’ – what purpose inspires you at work? Transcendent purpose, purpose that benefits the community rather than the individual, is the greatest motivator. Having a clear ‘why’ that’s regularly reviewed and reinforced will mean the path to delivery becomes the path of least resistance.

Working with a large US healthcare organisation, we asked members of the change teams to describe their vision for the organisation and the impact they would like to have. By aligning their goals, we raised the sense of team identity and encouraged team members to be responsible for aligning and working together, rather than relying on coordination from a manager. The team went from executing elements of work per person to delivering increments of value as a unit.

Creating consistent communication channels

Don’t settle for teleconferencing, embrace video-conferencing (VC). This may sound simple, but by holding a meeting with video rather than just audio, participants can pick up visual cues that might be difficult to hear. This means VC makes information easier to understand, especially if combined with presentation materials. This is particularly important if discussing complex topics.

Teams should also decide on a single communication channel. It’s difficult to stay on top of emails and there’s a growing array of corporate communication channels, such as Slack, Skype and Hipchat, adding to the confusion. So, choose a channel that’s easy to use and effective, and standardise it across the team. It’s okay to change this but it’s important that old mechanisms are quickly removed.

Facilitating effective conversations

Encourage participation in conversations, rather than letting them be transactional information exchanges. Start calls with a check-in exercise, asking regular questions. These questions can be simple and conversational, such as what the team is most looking forward to today – the aim is to get people talking.

You should also keep meetings relevant by parking long conversations that only involve some of the attendees. And create strict timeboxing of sessions. It’s okay to open another timebox if all attendees would like to continue, but it’s important to start a meeting with clear expectations and boundaries.

You should also encourage the team to be in the same place for key events. Having a regular day or days where your team are all in one place encourages empathy while also helping to nurture a team culture.

When we transformed Schroders, the global investment management firm, into an Agile organisation, quarterly face-to-face planning events were vital to get remote teams together frequently. These face-to-face sessions with the whole programme team are a constant reminder of the value each team member bring to the overall value stream. It also makes explicit the network of people involved and available to get valuable work done.

Agile can work remotely

The challenge of creating a good work-life balance and running effective teams will always carry friction and compromise. But remote working can work with Agile – almost 80 per cent of organisations who have adopted Agile have at least some distributed teams. By getting the telecommuting balance right, there’s no reason why most teams can’t enjoy the benefits of Agile.

Contact the authors

Contact the Agile team

Sam Bunting

Sam Bunting

Mark Griep

Mark Griep

Mitzi Geisler

Mitzi Geisler

Tina Hjort Ejlertsen

Tina Hjort Ejlertsen

Ali Rana

Ali Rana

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