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Agile Works at Home
By Hannes Brändli and Fabian Delava

  • Agile teams work extraordinarily fast in iterative sprints. Focus and communication are critical to their success. Before Covid-19 there was a common perception that Agile teams needed to be face-to-face to work effectively and get results quickly.
  • So when Covid-19 arrived, moving about three-quarters of white-collar workers into remote setups, many executives assumed their Agile teams would be put on pause. Some, however, decided to test whether their teams could work remotely. While some industries adapt more easily to remote work of all types, growing evidence shows that today across a variety of industries remote Agile teams are succeeding.

Agile In A Modern Age

  • Agile has existed in one form or another since the 1970s but truly came into its own in 2001 with the Agile Manifesto, a document created by 17 software developers outlining 12 guiding principles for an Agile workforce.
  • It was designed to make software development more iterative, collaborative and people-centric. A core tenet of this manifesto was that face-to-face meetings are the most efficient and effective format for project success.
  • “Zoom fatigue” has become a common term among organizations. It is very real and can cause significant complications among team members, specifically when it comes to forming social bonds. Meetings need to be set, and teams need to actively plan to engage and discuss rather than spontaneous conversations that encourage the idea of informal brainstorming.

The Way Forward Is Challenging But Not Impossible

  • In a recent software developer survey, more than half of the software developers polled said they were happier working from home. Perhaps more importantly, over 40% of those same respondents said their teams were working at an increased velocity. It is far too easy to allow direct personal communications to lapse in a digital environment.
  • Tracking elements like performance metrics and engagement before and after the remote switch will reveal which teams have adapted well and which ones need some additional coaching.
  • So will Agile disappear because of the challenges presented with a remote workforce? No, but it will evolve, with new practices to help guide teams through a blended work environment.


Remote Agile teams face, and must overcome, five critical challenges


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    Facilitating effective communication

    Distributed Agile teams need to accelerate communication, and do so by scheduling more frequent (though shorter) team meetings. Video and interactive digital collaboration and cocreation tools help, as long as team members are comfortable with them. Teams should not load up on fancy tools, but start with the minimum viable set and expand as needed.

    Improving connection by establishing a fun and creative working environment

    Virtual Agile teams can improve connection with team-building activities such as virtual coffees or games. Instituting a shared online space, a team chat room where everyone can post questions and get input, is also helpful. When a service company needed to develop a new CRM software despite Covid-19, a remote Agile team used virtual happy hours and cooking classes to nurture a strong environment.

    Virtually prototyping in each sprint and gathering customer feedback

    Soliciting customer feedback on digital simulations or sketches is helpful since products are typically designed on the computer before the first physical prototype is built. This helped an Agile team at a consumer goods company develop in just two weeks a minimal viable version of a real-time dashboard for recommending marketing investments.

    Closely involving customers in solution development

    Remote Agile teams can connect with customers using a number of techniques including live product testing over video, virtual interviews and feedback, and workshop sessions to remotely observe customer experience and preferences. Developing mock websites or leveraging e-commerce websites makes it possible to simulate buying behavior and helps teams analyze product acceptance.

    Ensuring a sustainable team experience

    To make sure remote teams can endure and succeed, some are instituting offline lunch hours and other breaks while also rigorously monitoring the time members are allocated to the team. An Agile team developing a new product for the global snack company set express goals for maintaining balance, like personally engaging in sports at least three times a week or having dinner with the kids every night.

    It’s time to reimagine where and how work will get done
    By PwC’s US Remote Work Survey

    • Most companies are heading toward a hybrid workplace where a large number of office employees rotate in and out of offices configured for shared spaces. This model embraces the flexibility that most employees crave after working from home for months.
    • Most of the executives and employees we surveyed expect this hybrid workplace reality to begin to take shape in the second quarter of this year. To be sure, the timing will depend on the rollout of vaccines.


    Top findings

    • Remote work has been an overwhelming successfor both employees and employers. The shift in positive attitudes toward remote work is evident: 83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company
    • The office is here to stay, but its role is set to change.Less than one in five executives say they want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic. The rest are grappling with how widely to extend remote work options, with just 13% of executives prepared to let go of the office for good. Meanwhile, 87% of employees say the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships — their top-rated needs for the office.
    • Employees want to return to the office more slowly than employers expect. By July 2021, 75% of executives anticipate that at least half of office employees will be working in the office. In comparison, 61% of employees expect to spend half their time in the office by July.
    • There’s no consensus on the optimal balance of work days at home vs. in the office.Over half of employees (55%) would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once pandemic concerns recede. For their part, while most executives expect options for remote work, they are also worried about the effects: 68% say a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinct company culture.
    • Least experienced workers need the office the most.Respondents with the least amount of professional experience (0-5 years) are more likely to want to be in the office more often. Thirty percent of them prefer being remote no more than one day a week vs. just 20% of all respondents. The least experienced workers are also more likely to feel less productive while working remotely (34% vs. 23%).
    • Real estate portfolios are in transition.Most (87%) executives expect to make changes to their real estate strategy over the next 12 months. These plans include consolidating office space in premier locations and/or opening more satellite locations. Over the next three years, while some executives expect to reduce office space, 56% expect to need more.


    Few executives think company culture will survive a purely remote working set up


    Going back to the office is not an easy call to make

    • Though almost all companies surveyed expect to be back on their premises and able to support 50% capacity by the end of 2021, much can change. Companies are making their own plans about if and when to go back to the office — and by what proportion.
    • At the same time, the pandemic is accelerating an outward migration of knowledge workers from New York and California to less-expensive locales. Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, the top real estate markets at the start of 2021, are among the boomtowns attracting more than their share of young workers.
    • Given the trends accelerated by the pandemic, executive leaders need to quickly articulate what their office is meant to accomplish. That clarity will enable them to reimagine how and where their work gets done, how much office space they need and how to support employees to be effective in any work environment.


    Company actions supporting remote work are bearing fruit

    • Remote work productivity is not just a fleeting crisis phenomenon. Findings from this second survey should help dispel concerns among the skeptics that work-from-home (WFH) is less effective. Instead, this data should draw attention to specific actions companies can take to help their workforce perform effectively in any environment.
    • Optimizing the hybrid workplace requires accelerating investments to support virtual collaboration and creativity, as well as for scheduling and safety. Over 60% of executives expect to raise spending on virtual collaboration tools and manager training. Half plan to invest more in areas that support hybrid working models, including hoteling apps (50%) and communal space in the office (48%).
    • Companies that may have been slow to adopt technologies that support remote work — or to create clear rules and a secure structure around WFH — are playing catch-up. Optimizing the hybrid workplace requires accelerating investments to support virtual collaboration and creativity, as well as for scheduling and safety. Over 60% of executives expect to raise spending on virtual collaboration tools and manager training. Half plan to invest more in areas that support hybrid working models, including hoteling apps (50%) and communal space in the office (48%).

    Executives are ready to ramp up return to the office in 2021; employees say not so fast

    • Executives expect to return to the office faster than employees. By July, 75% of executives anticipate at least half of the office workforce will be back on-site. Employees who report decreased productivity when working remotely are more likely to envision being in the office earlier: 55% are already back in the office or say they expect to spend at least half of their time in the office by April 2021, compared with just 36% of respondents who report being more productive during the pandemic.
    • Returning to the office won’t be simple. The rollout of vaccines is raising confidence in returning to the hybrid office, but uncertainties remain about how to bring employees back safely, as well as how to align workforce scheduling with school reopenings or when to resume business travel.


    Hybrid workplaces likely to become the norm


    • Hybrid workplaces likely to become the norm
    • Set out the purpose of your office
      Communicating what people can expect to accomplish in the office is as important as when companies should plan for employees to return. Specify who needs to be in the office and what they can expect to accomplish while there.
    • Be prepared for changes in the post-pandemic jobs market
      Just under one in five executives want to get back on-site as soon as possible; they see the office as critical to their success and company culture.
    • Manage expanding choices with tools and training
      The complexities of a hybrid workplace can be managed with scheduling tools. Employees will need the structure of a set schedule so they can better manage other responsibilities outside the office.


    Employees and employers don’t see eye to eye on the optimal schedule for remote work

    • Over half of employees (55%) say they’d like to be remote at least three days a week. In contrast, when asked how they feel about remote work at their company, 43% of executives prefer limited schedules or want to be fully back in the office as soon as feasible, while only 24% expect many or all office employees to work remotely for a significant amount of their time.
    • Expect some friction, While employees do show interest in a range of scheduling options for the workweek, they have also been consistent throughout the year in that they expect more remote work in the future. There are minor differences.


    Employees and employers don’t see eye to eye on the optimal schedule for remote work

    • On the other hand, female respondents are slightly more likely to prefer three or more days of remote work than males: 58% vs. 51%. Be prepared to set new guidelines that outline what’s expected, especially for front-line managers who may require training to understand what good coaching and feedback look like in today’s hybrid workplace.
    • Employers will have to recognize that workforce needs and desires have shifted due to the pandemic. They need to understand the concerns of their employees and work with them to build policies and approaches. The return to work will be effective only when employees are on board.


    While there is some uncertainty around the use of office space, most executives anticipate changes to their real estate strategy in the next 12 months

    • Just under a third of executives (31%) anticipate they’ll need less total office space in three years, primarily due to increases in the frequency and number of employees working remotely. The other executives surveyed foresee no change (14% in December vs. 19% in June) or an increase in office space needs (56% vs. 51%), primarily due to planned headcount expansion or the need to reduce office density as fears of the virus linger.
    • Executives are not standing still. Over the next 12 months, 87% of surveyed executives expect to make changes to their real estate strategy, with many planning more than one change. Six in ten expect to consolidate office space into at least one premier business district location, and a similar number say they expect to open more locations


    While there is some uncertainty around the use of office space, most executives anticipate changes to their real estate strategy in the next 12 months

    • Hybrid work is driving the office footprint strategy
      Findings make clear that companies are actively reviewing portfolios as they invest in making the hybrid workplace effective. As a result, we expect that the drive to align the real estate strategy with the hybrid workplace strategy will pick up speed in 2021, with implications for assumptions on real estate savings as a result of WFH trends.
    • Real estate portfolios — locations and workplace design — are in transition
      These findings suggest that more than a few companies are taking up the opportunity to get creative with the workspace over the next couple of years. The goal is to make visits to the office an experience that enhances relationships and the company culture.


    Social waves

    • The social waves are already in motion. A recent survey by PwC found that after a year of remote work, there is a “nomadic trend” among employees, with 22% considering or planning to move more than 80km away from a core office location.
    • Adecco Group found three in four employees would appreciate a flexible work scenario, and figures suggest workers are not afraid to change jobs over the issue. A US survey shows 26% of workers are planning to leave their current job over the next few months, citing flexibility as one of the reasons.


    Winners and losers

    • Many workers have made big wins from remote work such as savings on transport, better work-life balance and more autonomy. Managers have had to trust their staff more, and zoom calls have been a great leveller – removing barriers for those unable to attend in person.
    • And then there have been the losers. Experiences diverge greatly depending on personal situations – such as space, childcare responsibilities, the nature of the job itself and the individual temperament of the person.
    • Women have borne the brunt of the care juggle – as home-schooling and limited care options for kids made remote working a nightmare scenario for many parents.

    Hybrid work. But what does that look like?

    • An inflexible one-size-fits-all solution will suit no one; hence the “hybrid” model seems most probable, where the office becomes more of a “hub than a second home”.
    • If workforces become mobile entities, aside from big questions around human resourcing costs where employers might have access to cheaper remote workforces, or employees may have to accept pay cuts relative to local costs of living, how does a tax system that is directed at 100% office-based working relate to a new hybrid? In the US for example, if directors and partners are working across state lines, there are compliance issues and the question of tax residence for companies.
    • There are also signs that senior executives are returning to offices, but staff are not following suit, jeopardizing the chances for diversity even further.

    Hybrid working is here to stay. But what does that mean in your office?
    ByDan Schawbel

    • Both employees and the C-suite recognize the benefits of hybrid working.
    • Companies plan to define hybrid working arrangements in many different ways: according to specific time commitments, work type, and worker categories.
    • Co-working spaces can provide a refreshing alternative to home and office environments.

    The strong support for the hybrid model owes to the fact that it offers important benefits for workers and businesses alike. In our study, employees cited better work-life balance, greater schedule control and less stress as key benefits. Meanwhile, the C-suite highlighted that the hybrid approach increases productivity and engagement, lowers real estate costs, and helps attract and retain talent.

    Both groups agreed that while working from home has its advantages, having access to an office space is critical – not only for building relationships, but also so people have a space to go to when they need to focus on their work. In fact, employees miss having an office so much that nearly two-thirds (64%) would be willing to pay out of their own pockets for access to an office space.


    The hybrid working spectrum

    • Whether or not an organization can offer a hybrid work model depends on several factors, most notably industry or job type.
    • However, companies adopting a hybrid model have often decided to take very different paths. Some are taking a decidedly more flexible approach. For example, at IBM how often an employee goes into the office will be determined by work deliverables or the need for team collaboration. Meanwhile,
    • Other companies like Uber, Citigroup and H&R Block are requiring a specific number of days in the office, typically two to three per week. And on the other end of the spectrum, a few employers will place workers into categories or tiers. For example, Salesforce will have three tiers: flex (in the office one to three days per week), fully remote, and office-based (in the office four to five days per week).

    Getting hybrid working model right

    • As companies transition to a hybrid model, they’ll have to consider many factors, from COVID-related safety to workforce management considerations. To address safety concerns, companies will allow employees to make reservations for office desks on the days when they go in.
    • Companies should also encourage employees to take advantage of work environments other than the corporate offices or their homes. These environments provide a refreshing change of pace that can boost creativity and collaboration
    • Effective workforce management is also critical when it comes to getting the hybrid approach right. Businesses need to set clear guidelines for what tasks need to be done in the office versus at home.

    There’s a Perfect Number of Days to Work From Home, and It’s 2
    By Amanda Mull

    • Unless you’re extraordinarily wealthy (congrats on that), your experience of working through the pandemic has probably been miserable. If you’ve had to work in person, your days have been dangerous and precarious. But devoid of choice and novelty, remote work has lost some of its romance for office workers who previously dreamed of ending their commute. In home offices around the country, the wallpaper has begun to yellow.
    • WFHers have been working longer hours and more weekends than before the pandemic, and they’re more likely to report loneliness, depression, and anxiety than people working in person, according to Gallup. At the end of April, nearly 66 percent of respondents to a Morning Consult poll said they wanted to return to the office as soon as possible. Half of remote workers even miss their commute.

    Working from home 2 days a week

    • Much attention has been paid to a small number of influential companies such as Facebook and Twitter, which have announced their elective remote-work policies, as well as to those such as Goldman Sachs, which insisted in February that remote work is a temporary anomaly and not a new normal. Most companies are still deciding exactly what their post-pandemic workspaces look like, which means many office-going Americans are about to enter a few months of relative freedom during phased, attendance-capped reopenings.
    • What would be best for most office workers is something between the extremes of old-school office work and digital nomadism. What’s right for you might end up being a little further in either direction, depending on how social or siloed your job is, or if you’re a particularly extreme introvert or extrovert.
    • Working from home certainly can have perks. You can sleep later and sit on your couch. Your boss probably can’t monitor your every move. Even if you have hated remote work during the pandemic, WFH advocates are quick to point out that the experience of the past year is not at all a good barometer of what your remote-work future could be, especially if you’ve had kids at home all day who would otherwise be at school.
    • Working from home also gives you more control of marginal time in the workday itself. At the office, if you need a break from your computer, that might mean going to stand in line to buy a salad or yet another coffee. At home, it could be washing dishes or folding laundry or doing a grocery run—stuff that would otherwise eat away at personal time.

    • But working from home is also not what most people say they want to be doing full-time in the near future. In a 2020 survey from Gensler, an architecture and design firm, more than half of respondents said that they’d ideally split their time between home and the office. Many people benefit from working and living in separate places. Commutes can have upsides.

    • Once you’re actually at work, seeing others there can be valuable, even if you have a robust outside social life. In-person communication provides texture and detail that Zoom can’t re-create, and can make working with your colleagues feel less transactional and more humane—listening to your boss say something absolutely wild in a meeting isn’t quite as bad if you can make eye contact with a friend across the conference table and then run out for a coffee afterward to vent.

    • Your company has to provide you with the equipment necessary to complete your work, instead of you furnishing your own home office. The company pays the power bill to climate-control your workplace all week, and it provides internet access that’s good enough to have multiple people using video services at once.

    • Receptionists, assistants, file clerks, mail-room attendants, and people who enter data and field customer-support calls do vital work, much of which is paid at significantly lower rates than their big-shot colleagues, and many of them can’t do their jobs fully remotely. For those who can, extra bedrooms and home-office equipment aren’t cheap. In an all-remote future, the wealthiest employers would probably provide stipends for these things to retain the people they see as the most valuable talent.

    • We’re in a rare moment when American office workers are likely to have significant leverage over their working conditions—in a recent survey, well over half of middle-income workers said they were considering switching jobs this year, and for most of them, remote flexibility would be a factor. Companies that don’t want to spend a fortune replenishing their ranks in a hot labor market will need to make concessions. They can start with two days a week.

    Back to the office? Here’s how tech company Salesforce thinks that might look
    By Gavin Patterson

    • Business must prepare for the ‘great reopening’ of recovering economies in vaccinated markets, while aiding the COVID-19 response in those countries still suffering.
    • Return to workplace strategies will see future employee experiences likely to be more empowering through more flexible working arrangements and more immersive with reimagined workspaces.
    • This isn’t just about the future of work. This is about the next evolution of business culture and of society – helping to build positive change and growth.

    The global work from anywhere

    The way we live and work has changed dramatically. At Salesforce, we’re now operating and working more sustainably, and delivering customer and employee success — all from anywhere. In recovering markets beyond the curve of infections, such as the US and UK, we have an opportunity to create a workspace and an employee experience that makes us even more connected, healthy, innovative and productive.

    We’ve already opened 26 offices across the globe and throughout the pandemic, we’ve safely had business-critical employees onsite to keep our operations running successfully. We’re using those lessons to inform our return to the workplace strategy.


    Re-educating employees about office life

    • Employers will need to persuade their teams that offices and other places of work are not just safe but stimulating and rewarding environments. They will need to re-educate employees about office life, demonstrating that workspaces have been redesigned safely. Desks converted to shared spaces where employees can reconnect with colleagues, touch-free handles and sensors, plexiglass between workstations, temperature screening and testing stations and air purifiers will all become commonplace.
    • The expected surge in infrastructure and servicing demands that will accompany our ‘great reopening’ will also require organizations to update policies, protocols and safety measures. Having the digital tools and services to co-ordinate this activity will be crucial.
    • Ultimately, the companies that will emerge stronger from the pandemic are the ones that can embrace change.

    The changing role of business

    • The role business plays in ensuring the safe and successful reopening of workplaces and wider communities should also align with what is one of the world’s largest mass vaccination campaigns in history.
    • Agile digital partnerships between the private and public sectors will be essential as we overcome the complexities of global vaccine management and distribution. Partnerships can ensure that vaccine manufacture is scaled up quickly enough to control the expected further waves of the virus.
    • Hopefully, soon, collaboration between companies, governments and health agencies will lead to the creation of secure, and ethically responsible digital health credentials that usefully highlight key COVID statuses and accelerate office and business reopenings.

    UBS to let most staff mix working from home and office permanently

    By Owen Walker

    • UBS plans to allow up to two-thirds of its staff to mix working from home and the office on a permanent basis, betting the approach will give the Swiss lender an edge over Wall Street banks in recruiting. The move to embrace a hybrid working model has been led by chief executive Ralph Hamers and his top managers, according to people familiar with the matter, and underlines the growing gulf with the more hardline approach adopted by many US banks.’
    • The Swiss bank has decided that only employees whose roles required their presence in the office due to supervisory rules or to carry out specific tasks, such as traders and branch staff, would have little or no flexibility in their working practices.

    UBS to let most staff mix working from home and office permanently

    • An internal analysis of its 72,000-strong global workforce showed that roughly two-thirds were in positions that would allow for hybrid working, according to people familiar with the matter. The stance from UBS echoes that of European peers such as France’s Société Générale, but is in stark contrast to the approach taken by several US banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which have ordered staff in New York back to work.
    • UK-headquartered banks HSBC and Standard Chartered have announced plans to allow staff to work from home or in “near-home” locations to reduce office footprint and avoid city commutes. However, even staff offered hybrid working will be required to attend the office for certain activities, as agreed with their manager. UBS declined to comment.
    • Citigroup is one of the few large US banks to introduce a hybrid working model, with staff allowed to work from home up to two days a week. Despite moving just five years ago into 5 Broadgate, one of the City of London’s largest buildings, UBS has long looked for ways to allow more staff to work from home.


    • Agile Works at Home – Hannes Brändli and Fabian Delava
    • It’s time to reimagine where and how work will get done – PwC’s US Remote Work Survey
    • Has Remote Work Killed The Agile Team? – John Schwarz
    • Home-office, HQ, hybrid or work-from-anywhere? This is what businesses are planning – Gayle Markovitz
    • Back to the office? Here’s how tech company Salesforce thinks that might look – Gavin Patterson
    • Hybrid working is here to stay. But what does that mean in your office? – Dan Schawbel
    • Work is on the brink of a revolution – we need office buildings to match – Coen van Oostrom
    • UBS to let most staff mix working from home and office permanently –  Owen Walker
    • There’s a Perfect Number of Days to Work From Home, and It’s 2 –  Amanda Mull


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