The Complete Guide to Building a Solid Foundation for Remote Teams

Did shifting your teams to remote work feel like the world came crashing down? It can feel difficult to rebuild something solid when all the pieces are not connected… physically and mentally. While your teams are working remotely, you need agility at scale with the right support for your remote teams to deliver with greater transparency.

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Are your teams new to working remotely? Are they struggling to deliver with the same transparency and efficiency as they did in the office together? Or, maybe your teams had been working remotely before, but could use a little support in the communication and teamwork department. Either way, The Complete Guide to Building a Solid Foundation for Remote Teams provides all of the tips, tools, and methods you will need to make your remote teams work and mange work from home risks, all in one place.

Fill out the form to download your copy of the guide to take with you as you build a solid foundation for keeping your teams connected.

Ready to roll up your sleeves and get building? Let’s connect the pieces together below!

Laying the Foundation

Faster time to market and more innovation, with less connectivity.

Most enterprises struggle with faster time to market and the ability to innovate under “normal” circumstances. Their troubles are further compounded when managing remote teams. The key to successful business agility is in frameworks that support people and their interactions, not just implementing a digital tool.

Let’s connect the pieces.

Connecting the Pieces: 5 Things Remote Teams Need to Operate Successfully

Leading remote agile teams was always going to be tricky, and like many leaders faced with the sudden shift to virtual team environments, you may be finding that it takes a while to refine the new ways of working. As a leader, it is important to allow your agile teams a sense of autonomy while also being supportive and involved to understand issues and allay any concerns you may have regarding productivity now that teams are not in the office.

A great place to start to realign your teams is to establish a collective vision. Ensure that the team fully understands what the business needs to do achieve, why that is important, and the outcome they are seeking. If the vision is coherent and consistent, this will help with the alignment of goals across agile teams.

Once you’ve established a collective vision, make sure your teams have:

  1. Clear Structure: What are the rules by which they’re expected to deliver as a team?
  2. Goal Clarity: Why is the work they’re doing valuable?
  3. Dependability: Can they depend on each other to deliver to the deadlines set?
  4. Shared Purpose: Are they in it together as a team, or are they merely a collection of individuals working as one group?
  5. Connectedness: We’re all human beings and have social needs. If these aren’t taken care of, team productivity can suffer.

Building a Solid Communication Strategy

One of the biggest challenges of remote working is how to stay connected with team members. It can be tricky, especially right out of the gate, to maintain remote team culture, morale, and motivation, run engaged meetings, track communication progress, and help teams focus on priorities.

There are many forces aligned against quality remote agile team engagement. It becomes very easy for engaged team members to feel disconnected and for collaboration and engagement levels to drop. As a leader, it’s so important to encourage effective communication activities that promote quality. But what do leaders need to change and do differently to communicate effectively during a pandemic with their remote agile teams?

Effective communication is about valuable outcomes.

Creating a shared understanding, providing goal clarity, inspiring team members, or improving employee engagement are all valuable outcomes of effective communication. These outcomes are normally achieved through a range of agile team interactions, from Scrum events to large program planning events and communiques to corridor conversations or a comment to the person physically sitting next to them.

Replacing the communication activities with an email won’t likely achieve the intended outcomes. Email is a great communication channel as a reference or as a confirmation of a certain message, but it is not an ideal medium for effective communication. It is likely that your organisation has already, or is working hard towards, enabling online connectivity and now has a suite of collaboration tools, like video conferencing, chat channels, and screen sharing. It is important to understand which medium to use for effective communication and understand which mediums are less effective.

Challenge your own comfort zone.

Consider the outcome to be achieved and then deliberately chose the best-suited communication channels to achieve that message in the organisation.

  • Create shared purpose, understanding, and goal clarity: Organise a virtual meeting to talk through context and purpose, or record a video. This can be combined with an email communication to a slide deck and/or a live Q & A session.
  • Gather progress updates and mange risk issues and dependencies: Organise virtual meetings, combined with email communications, confirming what has been discussed.
  • Grow connectedness between agile team members: Organise regular virtual informal coffee catchups over video conference.
  • Continuous coordination of work during the day: Create a dedicated chat channel at program level and team level so people can communicate during the day with short messages and check-ins. When there are longer conversations needed, encourage people to do a phone call or video chat.
  • One-on-one check-ins with team members: Check in more often with an individual over shorter time slots in informal and formal online catch-ups. Consider the use of chat, phone, and/or video conferencing.

Keep the collaboration going.

Continue to encourage employees to use the online collaboration tools available to them and continuously inspect and adapt based on experience and feedback. For formal meetings, consider introducing Netiquette cards to help overcome online issues remote agile teams may be facing.

Preparing to achieve an outcome in a remote world is more complex than just scheduling a meeting and sending an email. When planning for remote communication, consider defining the actual outcomes to achieve first, and then deliberately choose the right combination of communication channels.

Keeping it Together: Managing Delivery in Remote Teams Through Product Owners

Traditionally, project mangers and delivery mangers are engaged to manage delivery, scope, and time frames. In an agile world, successful delivery of value is the responsibility of Product Owners.

Often mistaken for the customer, a Product Owner is part of the agile team, not someone “borrowed” from business. So, what does a Product Owner do? They represent the needs of many customers and stakeholders and are empowered to make decisions on:

  • What will be delivered—It’s made transparent in the Product Backlog.
  • When it will be delivered—The further down the Product Backlog, the further into the future the items will be delivered. A Product Owner will also typically use product roadmaps to communicate their intentions regarding when features will be released.
  • The budget—Value drives product development. The Product Owner is responsible for where to invest order to optimise the delivery of value.

The Product Owner also sets the vision and objectives for one or more products and/or services based on organisational strategies and goals. Effective governance and stakeholder management underpins success. Importantly, governance should underpin effective and timely decision making. One of the most important principles of effective governance is to ensure a single point of accountability for success. This ensures clarity of leadership and timelines of decision making.

Keep Building Higher: Tips for Running Remote Scrum Events

It’s the Scrum Master who needs to make sure all of the Scrum Events continue to run smoothly, on schedule, and with an engaged team. People are operating with even more uncertainty and complexity, so it’s now more crucial than ever for Scrum Masters to ensure agile practice is maintained, and to support teams to continuously improve their practice and self organise, but stay connected and focused on the Sprint Goal.

Scrum Events are an important way to help teams learn and remain focused on goals, as each event has a clear intent and point of inspection and adaptation. Maintaining transparency and ensuring teams remain connected and collaborative whilst working remotely is a key factor in their ability to self organise and remain a high performing team.

These Scrum Master tips for hosting each Scrum Event remotely will help keep the team engaged and focused with an agile mindset.

Sprint Planning

  • Video “always on” as Primary channel: Use of individual web cameras within a Zoom/ Teams/Webex session
  • Users all dial into the meeting either using provided phone number or computer setting
  • Electronic board is screen shared
  • Be aware of Netiquette and follow the basic online meeting facilitation
  • Keep event to agreed timebox
  • Secondary channel if Video is not working is Conference call with some  mechanism to share documents
  • Avoid emailing documents to each other
  • Determine the attendee location breakdown and how many people will be attending virtually to ensure load can be accommodated
  • Dial-in to all virtual spaces the day before, and again 5-10 minutes prior to the first scheduled usage to test technology is functioning as expected.
  • Test load of collaboration video channel if attendee numbers may be an issue
  • Take into account factors like different timezones
  • Create a directory of key contacts for the event detailing how all teams, stakeholders and business representatives can be contacted during the event (this could consist of phone numbers or virtual room details)
  • Facilitating remote events imposes certain restrictions so think about how you can inject interactivity during the event such as virtual whiteboards and ideas boards
  • When addressing all attendees, do a “round of the sites” by name so all attendees have an opportunity to provide their feedback
  • Set clear guidelines around privacy and security
  • Use emojis – Don’t underestimate the power of an emoji. Research shows people connect better and react to them like we would to a real human face
  • Don’t assume – encourage team to be open and emphatic and assume the best in people
  • Don’t go MIA (missing in action) – In the office, if you are away from your desk people assume you have been called away to a meeting. Remind team that if they need to head out, let your Scrum team know you will be away for a while and when you’ll be back to join the meeting

Daily Scrum

  • Hosting tips are the same as Sprint Planning above with a few additions to keep in mind.
  • Keep event to 15 minutes or less
  • Don’t forget the human element of the Daily Scrum (allow people time to collaborate and speak informally like would normally happen around the water cooler)
  • Check and monitor team health and look for signs where people may need additional support if their remote set up isn’t helping them be productive and engaged

Sprint Review

  • Hosting tips are the same as sprint planning above with a few additions to keep in mind
  • If running a demo of the Increment, make sure you test the technology the day before
  • Set up a channel chat to the facilitator to ensure the Scrum Team, Stakeholder and Business can provide feedback and ask questions

Retrospective

Even the most prepared facilitator can be blindsided by unforeseen issues. Prepare some alternatives and “Plan B” contingencies, such as:

  • Create a communication back channel for the facilitator so thy can be made aware of issues that aren’t immediately apparent to them (e.g., a team or attendee unexpectedly drops out)
  • Think about the “what-if’s” regarding facilitating a remote event and come up with an alternative should the solution arise (e.g., What if Webex/Zoom/Teams fails? We have a teleconference line ready. What if Visual Board goes down? We have a locally saved screenshot and record progress in Excel.)
  • Remote communication during a Scrum Event presents unique challenges. Combat them by: being aware of surrounding noise levels to ensure effective communication throughout the event and being aware of communication latency when using digital channels, allow a few seconds for responses.

Building the Way to Thinking in Three Dimensions

Create “guiderails” for faster decision making.

Traditional decision-making processes slow when teams are remote—you no longer have the luxury of quickly calling people together to a meeting to discuss solutions and make an instant decision, or signing an approval on a piece of paper.

A leader’s role in agile with remote teams is to establish strong rules for decision making amongst teams and to decentralise sets of decisions to where the information is. This requires teams to have a clear understanding of the rules set for them to make decisions, collective ownership of delivery, ownership of value, and a set of governing principles regarding impediments that are out of their control to remove.

In the face of disruptive change, the ability for executives to mobilise action is paramount. Self-organisation is key—the ability to provide a goal and trust that people have the knowledge and skills to achieve it. This type of self-organisation is an advantage of the agile organisation. As far back as its creation, the Agile Manifesto and Scrum framework have asked executives, managers, and leaders to give teams “the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

From being a servant leader to providing goal clarity and a clear structure that encourages a change to the way people work, there are a bunch of things that you can do to help support agile teams with self-organisation.

In addition to self-organisation, it’s also important now more than ever to decentralise decision-making and make rapid decisions where it counts. No executive doubts the importance of responsiveness: to be able to act with agility to business threats, changes in stakeholder needs, disruption, and seize market opportunities. To do this rapidly and effectively requires decisions to be delegated to where the knowledge of the context and issue is greatest. Any decision that must be escalated to higher levels of authority introduces a delay.

It is important to not only optimise decision making for delivery of value, quality, and reliability, but to also asses if your teams are ready to make decisions for themselves. When executives reorganise organisational structures to optimise for rapid decision making, there is always worry about the maturity of teams to take on the burden, as well as fear of letting go amongst some managers. Decentralising decision making doesn’t have to be black and white.

The decision to decentralise should be based on a number of factors, including:

  • How mature is the team?
  • Do they have all the knowledge of the context and issue?
  • Are we confident the team will make a good decision?

During uncertain times like these when the work context needs to change rapidly, centralised decision making frameworks and operating silos mean lost time and the potential for increased damage to the organisation. Decentralisation is the most effective way to promote rapid decision making, but the change doesn’t need to be black and white. Agile frameworks create a paradigm that establish a clear structure for making decisions, and complementary practices help bring light to delays or breakdowns in quality and compliance. Choosing an agile framework, keeping it simple, and introducing an iterative approach to decentralisation of decisions will help you react to change in a smarter way.

The Missing Piece: Assessing Remote Agile Teams

As we move towards more working remotely as the “new normal”, how can we ensure teams remain focused and effective to minimise disruption to delivery and ensure clients get the vital services and products they need. This was a big concern for Executives of a large business transformation program as they were concerned that productivity would decrease when their agile teams started working remotely.

Transparency, empiricism, collaboration and working towards a common goal to meet deadlines and targets for delivery are essential elements for high performing teams. The concern is that with remote working, we lose visibility and transparency and may not identify a problem till later down the track when a release or delivery is at risk. Remote working may make it more difficult to get things to “done” and team members may revert to old patterns of working in silos which will add further handovers and delay delivery.

Agility and connectedness

Having an agile mindset and staying true to agile principles is even more important when working remotely as a virtual team. Many of the teams we had been working with had experience as distributed agile teams for a number of years and we have developed patterns and practices to ensure we keep the connectedness as a team. The difference now was the scale of distribution as, now everyone was working remotely for an extended period of time.

We had been doing assessment of agility with these teams using Agile IQ®  our tool that uses a metrics-based assessment of agile mindset and culture and to reveal the factors that promote good agility – self organisation, agile values, continuous improvement and sprinting. It’s core algorithms are based on team psychology, behaviour, and organisational culture, and align with current international research on modern team effectiveness – like Google’s Project Aristotle and Amy Edmondson’s Psychological Safety. When used to support capability development it’s doubled teams’ productivity, improved quality, and halved their time to deliver.

We wondered whether we could use this to help assess the maturity and capability of teams and predict which ones were well placed for working remotely, and diagnose which ones  will need support to help them adjust to working not only as a distributed team but also a virtual team. So, we ran an experiment…..

Factors for remote team performance

We did a multifactorial analysis of the Agile IQ® which showed a number of sub factors had a significant correlation to remote working success. These 6 sub factors included:

  • Clear structure – what are the rules by which they’re expected to deliver as a team?
  • Goal clarity – why is the work they’re doing valuable?
  • Dependability – can they depend on each other to deliver to the deadlines set by the Product Owner?
  • Shared purpose – are they in it together as a team, or are they merely a collection of individuals working as work group?
  • Connectedness – we’re all human beings and have social needs, if these aren’t taken care of then team productivity can suffer.

Identifying teams at risk

Using the baseline assessment of teams across the organisations, the Agile IQ® sub factor analysis highlighted the agility elements that helped forecast which team are more likely to be successful when moving to remote work and identify those at most at risk.

Using this analysis, we provided Executives with transparency of which teams we needed to target for coaching support and provide guidance to the scrum masters  to develop coaching plans highlighting areas to uplift the team’s ability to work remotely, remain cohesive as a team and deliver successfully.

The analysis showed which agile teams are more at risk (in red) which ones will need coaching support (amber) and importantly, which ones are well placed to succeed remotely as they have a good baseline of maturity on the sub factors for remote working. We validated this data with leadership and now have an assessment tool that has been proven to be leading indicators of team performance.

This helped allay concerns about productivity and delivery as we now had a predictive tool that would help us keep a finger on the pulse of teams’ agility and make agile culture and mindset transparent, view improvement trends and be forewarned about “going backwards”.

We were able to highlight the human factors that diagnoses teams ability to work remotely whilst maintaining team performance. It helped to:

  • Identify teams most at risk.
  • Highlight distributed teams that need support to self-organise.
  • Developed customised coaching plans to uplift their ability to self-organise and work cohesively as a team.

Let’s Build Together