Leaders across industries are moving promptly to protect employees and build resilience, as the impact of the COVID-19 crisis continues to mount.

Companies are working tirelessly to manage the impact of the COVID-19. The key areas we have seen the most demand for support is rapid responses, business continuity, strategic initiatives and operating model evolutions. We are helping our clients to look beyond the current pandemic to envision how implications will affect the competitive environment, and more broadly, what society will require over the mid-term and long-term.

How to Sustain Remote Agile Practices

Agile ways of working emphasise the importance of team collocation because this forms one of the fundamental pillars. Research demonstrates teams who work in the same location report higher productivity, effectiveness and overall better decision-making. Several of Wavestone’s clients are making best use of technology (e.g. Microsoft Teams) to enable the continuation of agile ceremonies (considering the lockdowns imposed to keep people safe). We have been working with organisations to solve two major problems:

  1. When a major disruption (like COVID-19) happens, can teams members working in remote locations remain agile?
  2. Will working in a remote way adversely impact productivity and results?

The majority of teams (especially those recently formed) will encounter some drop in productivity, but this should not result in panic. Strategic initiatives delivered using to an agile philosophy (SAFe, Agile, Scrum, Lean) can make remote working easier. The following principles help to realise the benefits of remote working:

  • Agile Leadership: Strong leaders generally focus on results, output and goals to ensure strategic alignment, which allows teams to work toward a common vision
  • Cross-Functional Teams: Autonomous teams which are the right nimble size can build resiliency, which makes it easier to change direction
  • Meeting Rhythm Regularity: Implementing regular cadence for agile ceremonies enables teams increases collaboration when people are working from home
  • Prioritsation: Whether teams are working at the solution, programme or team backlog level, it is important to constantly refine to ensures valuable work is prioritised

At its core, agile is not a set of specific practices but instead a set of cultural values, behaviours and principles which enable teams to deliver customer value faster, while ensuring efforts are aligned to customer insights, feedback and demand. Currently, we are helping clients to align to agile principles and remain operationally effective within the current remote working operating model.

How to Prioritise Efforts?

Small, cross-functional, empowered teams are at the core of every agile organisation. Autonomy generates creativity and ownership as this allows teams to make faster decisions and operate/deliver quicker. However, autonomy only works well when teams are aligned. Working remotely increases the risk of teams not being aligned. Agile leaders need to communicate intent, elaborating on both the “what” and “why” to ensure teams align with strategy, purpose and priorities. In times of disruption, when team members are not collated, the importance of alignment becomes is key.

Delivering results relies on effective organisational structures. Regular agile ceremonies bring normalcy to the remote workday. Bringing the right people together to discuss achievements, forecast objectives, raise emerging risks or issues, and maintain effective communication is critical to remain effective. Daily stand-ups (15-30 mins), strategy planning sessions (60-90 mins), team checkpoints (30-60 mins), and retrospectives (30-60 mins) are recommended. Leaders should make time for regular ceremonies and touch points with their teams to drive momentum.

Due to COVID-19, many of our clients are using technology platforms (Microsoft Teams, Skype) to drive their strategic agenda. Virtual meetings (using videoconferencing where possible) and instant messaging have become the new normal for colleague communication. Fortunately, there are an array of virtual tools to leverage, including Microsoft Teams, Skype, WebEx and Zoom for meetings and e-whiteboards technologies like Trello and Jira.  Whichever tools are used, cyber security threats must be taken into consideration to ensure data remains protected.

Frequent calls or conferences can help increase remote working productivity and help people adapt to the new way of interacting. Team members should be comfortable engaging in one-on-one meetings while also forming part of larger virtual events, this is an important element of simulating collocation. Problem-solving using virtual whiteboards is a great way to overcome physical separation between team members and help people feel connected.

Building a virtual team culture is probably the most difficult part of working remotely and the most important. Implementing technology to improve team collaboration, prioritising workloads to ensure teams are aligned, and making sure leaders remain committed are all key pillars, but implementing cultural change to a dispersed workforce is tricky. The following three good practices help to create a viable virtual culture:

  1. Empathy: Different people respond more readily than others to workplace disruption. Team members who are aware of each other’s circumstances tend to operate more effectively.
  2. Transparency: In this time of uncertainty, leaders should make an extra effort to be totally transparent about their work, deadlines and responses.
  3. Engagement: Informal conversation amongst colleagues is important as ‘water cooler’ chats are key for sustaining relationships. These conversations can still happening virtually and can help to balance mental health and wellbeing. At Wavestone we have introduced virtual coffee breaks and lunches to provide opportunities for colleagues to connect.

Last Piece of Advice

Forecasters continue to predict how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, but it seems inevitable that many organisations will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. Productivity could be adversely affected, but implementing some of the recommendations listed in this article can help organisations strengthen during the COVID-19 crisis. Implemented correctly, an agile approach can help remote teams function effectively and build resilience for the future. Following the pandemic, working from home more frequently (perhaps 2-3 days per week) may become an accepted norm for many companies, as this could realise cost efficiencies and prove that an agile, remote working model is productive.

Daniel May

Daniel May

Senior Consultant

To sustain remote agile practices, leaders should focus their efforts on strategic alignment, prioritising workloads, leveraging technology and evolving their virtual culture. This will increase productivity, innovation, effectiveness and decision-making