Will Developers Working from Home Kill your Agile?
Of Course Not!
If you go around asking random developers about the benefits or disadvantage of working from home, I bet they will answer that they’d love to work from home 1-2 times a week. They will probably share with you the benefits of having more consecutive time to work, fewer interruptions, less context switches, and even higher performance. Believe me, that is True! It does impact performance for the better. Even if you can work in agile teams, you need to make it work. The good thing is that it does work. Here’s how.
For all those who are skeptic and automatically reply “but in agile we need close face to face communication based on this statement, (“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”-Agile manifesto), your advice will ruin the team maturity, and team performance,” I have to say you are wrong!
You’d be surprised, working from home can work!
Like anything in agile, collaboration and communication are vital. There is no one way to implement a collaborative mindset as it depends only on you and your organizational culture. There are so many distributed teams working in this tech world all around the globe, and you in no way can be saying that going agile we kill distributed teams. If you set your mind to work, it will work. After all, so many developers are keen to see this working for them!
The fact that some of the scrum team members are working from home will not fail “agile” or whatever is it that you are trying to implement
So, what happens when we have some employees working from home few times a week?
According to Gallup, 43% of U.S. employees work remotely all or some of the time. Various studies tend to back the fact that they are productive.
it’s true! Working from home benefits performance by 13%
Stanford Graduate Business School’s Nicholas Bloom tested the benefits of remote working via a Chinese travel company with some 20,000 employees.
He found the following:
- When we work from home, we tend to do more work.
- Commute time working in an office is substantially saved.
- We tend to be more disturbed when working in the office.
- When we work from home, our concentration levels are considerably higher.
- Employee engagement levels seemed to rise at the company, with resignations falling by an impressive 50% when employees were free to work from home.
“The office is an amazingly noisy environment,” Bloom says. Supporting his view, we can say that we have events and meetings, but when coworkers need instant help, they can turn to other coworkers for assistance to avoid delays. Now when you look at it, are they managing the situation or are they just talking and creating noise?
Go and ask your developers and they will probably agree that some days working from home benefits productivity for them far more than days spent in the office.
What will be the Challenges of Working from home?
- Building rapport when everyone is not in the same office
- Establishing communication efficiency across scrum teams
- Collaborating among different employees through scheduling meetings or informal conversations
- Networking issues occur between offices that can make video and audio choppy or difficult to understand
So, what’s the big deal? If we were talking about distributed teams between countries, we would also have to deal with different time zones and different cultures. This is much simpler than that, right?
“Other types of work hinge on what might be called ‘collaborative efficiency’ or the speed at which a group successfully solves a problem. However, distance seems to drag collaborative efficiency down. Why? The short answer is that collaboration requires communication and the communications technology offering the highest bandwidth connection is, for the moment, anyway, still the office.” (When Working From Home Doesn’t Work – IBM pioneered telecommuting).
Ways to deal with it:
- Establish clear rules of open, transparent, frequent and visible communication. (Emails and documents do not mean regular communication. Talking to each and having special online Face to Face meetings does count as regular communication.)
- Visibility is vital – visible storyboard, visible backlog, visibility of KPI, decisions, statuses. (Emails do not mean communication and visibility. Visibility refers to the ability to clearly see and be influenced easily by information such as using simple dashboards, charts and such.)
- F2F communication in all meetings. Video is on. It’s a Must!
- Think globally
- Code review – distributing knowledge of the code
- Build a united development culture
- Over communication of decisions across all geographies
- Minimize the friction in setting up the development environment
- Clearly define the definition of done
- Create guidelines for filing effective bug reports/user stories and such
- When going agile, address this issue openly. Communicate the organization intentions.
- Do Retrospectives and Sprint Planning F2F in the office
- Scrum teams with remote members should be especially sensitive to communication issues. They should be proactively sought to contact and communicate. Team members that are not like that will not be able to work scrum in remote constellation.
- Whenever we establish a new scrum team, start with all team members in the office. For the first sprint, tow up to 4 team members and keep a close eye until the norming stage of a scrum team maturity, where the rules are clear and the working mindset is all set.
- Insist on keeping a scrum team small. A team of not more than 5 and minimum of 2 people will limit communication complexity inside the team to a minimum. A scrum team larger than this is harder to control in one physical office, but that is not the case with remote team members.
- Invest in good communication tools to help with coding, automation, dashboards, monitoring, CI-CD and more.
- Invest in good networking and IT performance for remote team members. If needed, allocate an IT representative to deal with remote IT issues.
- Invest in good CI-CD frameworks. This will probably allow faster coding, improve quality, and reduce tension of remote communication over manual activities.
- Invest in good meeting-oriented team space in the physical office for remote communication with team members. Moreover, when remote employees come to the office, they should be able to meet and communicate easily with their teammates.
- The last advice is special but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not letting developers work from home. Working in a team where some team members are working from home is hard. It demands self-awareness, trust, commitment and accountability of the remote and local team members. It demands being proactive and having excellent communication skills. It does not fit anyone and it will not fit any stage of a project. For example, when we start a new project, it should allow team members to attend a period of project kickoff and project understanding. In big projects when there are many members in one room, it will be hard to take part in a big group discussion remotely.
- Therefore, being a remote team member, you must make sure to be flexible, to attend large attendance important meetings, to share your view, and to remain a solo remote employee with no opinion.
- 1-2 days a week – working in the office looks as the minimum.
- Make sure there are times all team members are in the office.
- As an organization, adopt a flexible approach while remote and local can co- exist and change according to project stage, type, team type, and size etc.
References and further readings:
1. Faculty & Research › Publications › Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment. – By Nicholas A. Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, Zhichun Jenny Ying. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. February, 2015, Vol. 130, Issue 1, Pages 165-218.
2. Think globally, code locally: the secret to remote teams by DAN RADIGAN
3. Agile and the Remote Worker
4. When Working From Home Doesn’t Work – IBM pioneered telecommuting. Now it wants people back in the office.