Remote work is excellent. You can bring talented people from different regions, disciplines, and cultures together.
But, anyone who has worked in a remote team knows that there are positive aspects and challenges.
Teams that work together on-site discuss many things along the way. You also get to know how someone is doing and the mood through non-verbal communication. That is more difficult with distributed teams.
What do people talk about all day in the office?
- Current work (what just happened, what’s coming up?)
- future events (e.g., a presentation, a customer appointment),
- current mood (e.g., anger after a problematic customer meeting, joy about positive feedback),
- colleagues offer support when someone reports difficulties,
- exchange of knowledge.
- further education/training,
- work process improvements,
- private matters (family, leisure time, etc.)
How do people, who work on-site, meet?
There are regular meetings for some topics, e.g., the Daily Scrum, the Sprint Review, and the Sprint Planning. Thus, there is an opportunity to talk about the daily work, difficulties/support, and plans for the near future. Also, through a Sprint Retrospective, you can ensure continuous review and improvement.
The exchange about other topics is often rather unorganized or spontaneous. People meet at the coffee machine, at the printer, or in the canteen, thus getting to know issues. Sometimes follow-up meetings are arranged during the informal exchange. In time-critical problems, you can bring the people together and discuss how best to proceed. And there are communities of practice where knowledge transfer takes place.
What is the situation for remote teams?
Scrum events take place just as regularly; however, not on-site, but remotely, supported by appropriate online tools. The possibility to communicate via audio and share the screen is vital. It gets even better if you see your colleagues via webcam. Unfortunately, in some companies using a webcam is not allowed, or the internet bandwidth is insufficient.
Unfortunately, when webcams aren’t used, non-verbal communication is missing.
In general, you can observe that there is less discussion. There is also the danger that individuals withdraw and contribute little. The threat increases if the team is large because it becomes more difficult to notice whether everyone participates.
Sometimes you lose focus more quickly because it is very tempting to do something else on the side (no one sees it).
To ensure transparency about work, it’s crucial in remote teams to use a tool to manage tasks and to have a wiki. My favorite is Jira. It allows the Product Owner to manage their backlog and the Scrum Team to plan their sprint and make their work transparent. In addition, there are many customization options. In combination with Confluence, the team gets a wiki and can store its documentation. Other tools are well-suited besides Jira / Confluence, such as Azure DevOps, VersionOne, or ServiceNow. But, the team members must be familiar with the application or be trained.
Exchange beyond the Scrum meetings
To enable knowledge transfer and to develop a team culture, you need to promote collaboration beyond meetings. Tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack are beneficial because they allow asynchronous communication. Also, they provide different channels to discuss topics of different areas. Additionally, you can set up informal channels, such as “coffee corner”.
Also, if you need support, Slack is an excellent way to ask if anyone knows about it. An alternative to Slack is offered by Microsoft Teams, for example.
Knowledge sharing (spontaneous or in communities of practice) is also good remotely.
Face-to-face meetings and team events are helpful for cohesion. If the team is not spread over several countries, you should try to get together in person for the sprint changes. Such meetings should then also provide the framework for a private exchange. For example, you could invite to a joint dinner or something similar.