Have you and your team been remotely working over the course of the year and are currently struggling to achieve the same levels of output you were making back in the office?
As a leader you may be losing touch with your team members, experiencing miscommunications and missed deadlines. Team members are potentially struggling to access the right information, unable to highlight their concerns effectively and struggle to reach the same performance levels they achieved in the office.
From a people perspective, remote working has become a “norm” over the course of 2020 with many teams transitioning to it with little/no warning. As a result of this sudden shift of working context, teams and leaders are struggling to adapt their old habits to the new “norm”, leaving them uncoordinated, frustrated and underperforming. This and many other undesired effects result in the holistic/systemic output of the organisation’s performance either regressing, remaining stagnant or minimally improving.
As a team member, you want to feel like you are a part of the team and be able to reach out if you are experiencing your own limitations. I have personally experienced the feeling of being left out of a team in a project; I felt less obliged to reach out for support, less confident that I would receive support from my colleagues/team leader and increasingly frustrated that I could not carry out my activities effectively. From personal experience it really does have a negative effect on morale, performance and even mental health.
While that was a (fortunately) brief experience for me, others will have to endure similar experiences for far longer, with the additional impact of working remotely and feeling “out of touch” with the team and project.
So, if you find yourself and your team in this type of situation, what steps can you take to improve the way the team works remotely?
Start with what you have and understand what your existing limitations are, to begin that journey of continuous improvement.
Ensure that you and your team are on the same page within the project and ensure there is team inclusion when the team is spread out working remotely.
Introduce a regular virtual stand-up meeting with your team to gain a real-time status of the project and understand which team members require support with their activity.
Establish WIP limits and prioritise your work to ensure a team is not overloaded with tasks and can focus on the correct tasks at the right time.
Now let’s elaborate on these points and understand further how applying them will enhance the way you and your team work remotely:
Start with what you have
While this step appears obvious, it can be easily overlooked in the search for immediate change. Understanding what you currently have provides you with a platform upon which you can make incremental changes, allowing you to reflect on what works for the team and what issues are preventing you and your team from performing to the desired standards.
Take the time to reflect on what has succeeded since transitioning to remote working and identify the limitations of the project. In identifying the key limitation that constrains the systemic output of the project, you can then focus on growing from those limitations, thereby leveraging the whole project system holistically towards the next step of desired results.
Ensure you and your team are on the same page
When you and your team members are on the same page the levels of responsiveness, collaboration, and productivity rise as the team is more likely to be focusing on the same overall objective. This is an aspect that is challenged when a team is remotely working and while it can become easy to lose touch with one another and for members to feel excluded, applying an agile mindset can drive team inclusion and communication, even when you are all not physically present.
Take the steps to ensure that your team is part of the planning process and that they have access to the plan remotely and can take ownership of their own tasks/objectives. One of the potential issues for a team transitioning to remote working is the inability to access the right information/data quickly (if at all), so establishing a process for storing and accessing data is a must.
Think about how a Formula One pit crew perform a pit stop; the team needs to be on the same page, ensuring that they have immediate access to the tools required to carry out the fastest pit stop possible. If miscommunications occur or if the crew have insufficient access to the right tools, they lose precious time and harm the fastest time their driver can complete a race (arguably the goal of the F1 team). Consider those lost seconds as hours in a typical office working environment and you can begin to understand the frustrations and consequences of having a team that is out of touch and unable to access the right information quickly.
Keeping in touch virtually with the members of the team as well as bringing the team together on a regular basis goes a long way to improve this. Which leads us to the next point.
Introduce a regular virtual stand-up meeting with your team
A simple step that connects the team on a regular basis, it allows leaders to engage with their team and understand how individuals are progressing with their tasks. Meeting virtually on a regular basis allows team members to provide their status on tasks/deliverables, escalate concerns and request additional support to deliver on time.
Leaders will benefit by understanding which team members are requiring support, the current project limitations requiring attention and even team morale. By keeping it short and sweet (save the in-depth technical discussions for another time) it will not consume much of your time and will be an effective way to capture knowledge for the project and will help to put the team on the same page.
Establish WIP limits and prioritise your work
In the transition from working in an office to working remotely (especially if working at home) it is still crucial that team members are not overloaded. Establishing and agreeing WIP limits is key to improve team efficiency as it doesn’t only ensure that each team member is focused on delivering tasks according to business priorities, but additionally reduces multitasking which is a common contributor to delays in a project due to increased assessment times and negative impacts on quality.
It also helps to identify blocking points and indicates when the team is operating at full capacity. When WIP limits are defined and there are appropriate prioritisation of tasks and an established plan, a leader can then ensure the team is working on the correct tasks at the right time. The leader and team can keep track of a backlog of residual tasks that can be planned in when capacity is available. Performing this allows you to apply capacity-based planning and provide reliable commitments to your customer.
A mindset that is a must in agile! Being open to change and embracing those changes goes a long way in addressing limitations, figuring out what works best for leaders and teams, and ensuring the planned improvements are implemented.
Enhancing a remotely working agile team by going digital
Getting into an agile mindset is the key aspect to continuously improve your business that will set you on your journey to better results. Implementing those 5 steps is a great way to initiate that mindset in a team working remotely.
The use of digital technology enhances the application of these agile methodologies and ensure that you get the most out of the team during a project. From improved plan visibility, to tracking tasks, to team inclusion, there are a multitude of benefits to going digital and ensuring that it works for you.
Let’s go into detail into how we can apply the previously mentioned principles when starting the journey of continuous improvement, supported by digital visual management.
Setting up a board – Start simple and include the team
As a leader you want to ensure your team members can access the project, so make sure that your team members are given read/write access to the board to take ownership of tasks and move/edit/manage their own activities.
There are multiple ways to structure your board but starting simple is a great way to ensure your team are on the same page, as some users may adapt to (and thrive on) digital tools and methods faster than others.
A simple Kanban board that shows you the status of tasks is a good start, improving on it immediately by splitting the board into four sections:
Product backlog – queue for all tasks
Sprint backlog – queue for all tasks to be executed within the next few weeks
Work in Progress (WIP)
Some tools have a dedicated section for top-level tasks (e.g. deliverables, milestones etc.) that are then broken down into tasks that suit a sprint duration (e.g. between four hours to one week), so leaders can inspect the top-level items and investigate related activities further if required.
A tool that can automatically update the status/position of a top-level item based on its child cards will ease administration efforts for leaders, who will benefit from a more accurate project status.
Part of this step is to discuss (and agree) the prioritisation and planning process with the team, again starting simple. Agreeing factors like task granularity (i.e. standard task sizes), types of task, means of identifying cards etc. with the team engages the team and will help them to quickly understand what is required to get the most out of implementing an agile methodology to a digital tool.
Set WIP limits and ensure you can give the team ownership
Ensure the software you are using has a WIP limit functionality, such that you can either set a limit for a whole team or by person. Some digital tools give fast visual warnings to signify when a lane is at maximum capacity and prompt you if you are about to breach that set capacity.
Note: Remember that you should not be setting WIP limits to cover 100% of your time – set your WIP limits to a maximum of 80% of your time.
Most tools allow you to assign owners to tasks and deliverables and will also allow for other users to “watch” tasks if required, providing clear ownership of tasks and deliverables.
Categorise for improved visibility & organisation
Adding visual cues that help distinguish card types will improve the organisation of the board and ease identification of selected cards on a board. It will help to visualise card prioritisation when decisions are required for allocating work or focusing on blocking points.
Utilise what you have available to you to simplify the way you identify certain cards: from card colour and stickers to custom IDs, tags and custom fields, make the board more accessible, simplify the way you filter for cards, and save yourself from trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Use features that highlight blocked cards
Utilise the blocking capabilities of the tool you are using or agree a method in which team members can flag their concerns/blocking points for tasks/deliverables. Ideally this is a visual cue that lets the leader know in real-time what is currently blocked and requires attention. Furthermore, the data obtained from frequent blockers can be used to drive continuous improvement.
Some tools visualise blocked cards one level up on parent cards, allowing the leader to observe top-level items to capture the status of the team on the board.
Allow for notifications (but not too many!)
Use notifications with caution, utilising them for aspects that require specific attention. This could include when a team member has blocked a card that affects your deliverable, assigned you to a card or even included a comment within one of your cards.
Remotely working, you lose the luxury to quickly access your team members, so allowing for e-mail notifications is a good way of letting someone know in real-time when you have made a noteworthy change. “Noteworthy” is the key word here – ensure inboxes do not become flooded with irrelevant updates!
Use the board in your stand-ups
The board will provide your visual representation of the project, so make sure to use it to supplement your team’s stand-ups. After implementing the previous points highlighted in this article, you will be able to quickly identify the key points of discussion for that stand-up and have an accurate, real-time visual of how the project looks.
Take the time to celebrate the successes of the project, too! The satisfaction of moving a task/deliverable you have ownership of into a “done” lane is always something to appreciate.
Always look to continuously improve
And here we are, circling back to identifying what we currently have and identifying where improvements can be made. I have decided to keep the board structure and approach for this article simple, as there are a magnitude of ways in which you can improve your way of working to maximise the performance of your team and obtain/exceed your desired growth. Having a simple, effective foundation upon which you can build your improvements is a great start, using team/leader feedback to tailor the tool to work for you in the best way possible.
Whatever digital tool you use, keep an eye out for updates and new features that could give you that extra edge you have been looking for in addressing limitations you are facing.
Acting now and implementing the points of this article will go a long way to bringing together you and your remotely working team members. Even if a remotely working team is not the permanent plan, the processes and methods you have established can easily read across to an office environment and you will definitely gain from the benefits of having a team with an agile mindset.
Show and tell
Exchanging experiences and current practices across teams will help you embody your existing knowledge and skills and will help get inspiration from other areas of the business, as well as being a source of inspiration for others.
Looking for additional guidance?
Holia provides in-depth mentorship and training to businesses worldwide in multiple industries, and if you would like a free consultation into seeing what is your best course of action from the challenges faced by your team in remote working scenarios, contact us at email@example.com and we will come back to you promptly.
When it comes to choosing the digital tool for your project, there are a lot of different options on the market currently. In this article I have been using Kanbanize which is a tool I can highly recommend, as not only does it possess the features I have listed in this article, but has a plethora of additional features that are all part of the tool, meaning you can really tailor it to you and your team’s requirements. It is intuitive to use and has an incredibly useful knowledge base so that you and your team can quickly progress in applying improvements and getting the most out of the tool.
Kanbanize are offering a 90 day free trial through this article, and we would be pleased to assist you in addressing the limitations of a remotely working team and taking the next leap in capitalizing on this opportunity to drive efficiency that significantly impacts your bottom-line results.
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