Solutions To Remote Work Issues During COVID
This week, two clients I have been working with ran into problems at the same time, and although they are in very different industries, they had similar problems. One client is in the military and is part of a strategy team, not a combat unit. The other client is a major player in the healthcare industry.
Both of them struggled to find a suitable solution to this sudden covid-19, and both ultimately chose to work remotely.
Both of these clients are known for their innovation, creativity, and foresight. I would like to share solutions to some of the common work problems they found during their time at COVID.
Kids And Distancing Learning Need To Be Added To Workday Schedule
In an effort to curb the spread of the covid-19, the world has taken steps to seal off cities and states. Schools around the world have sent students home, and they plan to continue teaching the curriculum in the form of online courses.
We have two children, and both my wife and I are working. This week, we had to revert to the traditional gender division of labor that had been in place for generations before us due to certain circumstances. While I was locked in the office all day, she was doing a lot of childcare. In addition to the incredible injustice of it all, it was causing her a lot of pain because she felt like she was doing a terrible job both as a parent and as a workplace person. So next week, we're going to try something we learned from a client in the healthcare industry.
I found their approach to be very transparent and productive. First, they flagged the need for this sudden arrival, that is, the difficulty of having to be part teacher and full-time parent. Second, they allowed the members who needed to be at home with the children to design or change the schedule of the entire group to break through this difficulty.
For example, if someone writes "kids" on the calendar between 8am and 9am, no team meetings or Scrum events will be scheduled during that time. Team members who are not parenting adjust their workflow to accommodate this change. For Scrum teams, parents adjust their capabilities to accommodate this shift.
Our military clients take a similar approach. They found that parents needed more time in the day to care for their children. Therefore, they insist that these team members take 2 hours off instead of 1 hour. Such a simple configuration of members takes the pressure off the parents and allows the team to continue to focus on the task at hand.
I was inspired by these two strategies. It's not easy to achieve a work-life balance that has undergone structural changes, and the issue will always be there. Both elements of work and life are taking up space for parents or non-parents, but when it all works out, it's amazing to see the team come together and support each other - it's amazing.
Surviving an Avalanche of Meetings
Once working from home became the norm, both clients noticed a surprising increase in the number of meetings they had to attend. There was a lot of discussion about what was to be done, what should be done, and what work should be done. After all the discussions were completed, there was no time to do the actual work.
My colleague Matt Jacobs shared a way that can see immediate results: because all meetings are now work sessions, the requirement that each meeting has a tangible meeting output that clearly allows the team to achieve real results. Whatever that output is, it can be a document, a plan, or a sales briefing table, it's all about creating a collaborative session to make a final solution.
To help establish this mindset, the meeting needs to begin with a list of tasks at hand and criteria for task completion. Participants begin with a quick discussion to ensure that everyone is clear on what needs to be accomplished, and then everyone refuels to work. This approach ensures that each meeting has clear priorities.
Another way to address this issue is to create regular meeting-free time. I found that this manifested itself in a situation for me where I would have constant invitations to meetings, so I started turning off the busy, trivial reminders of work that I had recorded in my calendar to give myself space to think.
Who Is Working On What?
My military client had some issues with the clarity of roles, responsibilities and accountability of the team in agile development. Note that this is not a team-level issue, but rather a long-standing problem interspersed throughout the organization.
This results in multiple teams throughout the organization doing the same thing without any awareness of the problem on their part, which has obviously resulted in a huge waste of resources. Worse, it also caused rework of the product, as the work done in each part was less clear and none of it was to the extent expected by the end customer.
As we adapt to what is now called the new normal in this situation, this problem that arises from a lack of organizational division of labor seems to be happening to everyone.
In my opinion, their problem is mainly the lack of a good, clear, and accessible backlog list and the lack of visualization of their work. In this case, it was thought-provoking to have such problems. They could not simply walk up to a colleague to see what was going on but had to communicate by calling someone or emailing someone, and such indirect communication created a real barrier to communication between colleagues.
Therefore, working in sync in a virtual work environment requires not only more rules and discipline but also direct communication.
Also, you need to have extensible Daily Scrum, or whatever the name is, the name doesn't matter, and the most important thing is that the team needs to have a dedicated discussion about which aspect someone is doing that will make a huge difference to the teamwork.
When Other Teams Let You Down
My military client was one of the first agile teams to get started. When they suddenly all had to work from home, they did so efficiently and on time.
Sure, it wasn't easy, but the structure and pace of Scrum allowed them to make timely switches within 24 hours and be able to keep the project on track. One of the leaders said that in this unexpected situation, the real problem was with the rest of the organization, not the agile part.
As a result, this group grew much faster than anyone else, but they needed the input of the non-agile team, which ultimately still struggled with the transition because of this critical issue.
As can be expected, this agile team appeared very frustrated.
Another colleague of mine, Alex Sheive, told them what we think of teams with external dependencies: first, do the story writing so that the "done" criteria stop at the dependency. The team has done its part and passed it on to another team, or indicated that it has asked for help from another team. Once the story is complete, simply submit the work or make a request. When the task or request is passed back to the team, you will start a new story with the rest of the work needed to complete the task.
Individual teams may not be able to resolve their dependencies, but this at least allows you to build a to-do list that takes their needs into account, thus greatly reducing the efficiency slowdown caused by them.
The Most Difficult Questions
I've spent a lot of time talking about these two specific clients on the blog. But now, I want to move away from a specific instance and build a whole set of solutions to the problems I've heard about this week from around the globe.
Does my work have any value?
Meaningful work is one of the primary human motivations, and doing work that seems irrelevant and completely unrelated to the crisis seems pointless and more demoralizing.
I always respond to people with the same words, such as the end of the pandemic and the end of the crisis. While the situation on the other side of the world may be different from this end, the epidemic is indeed a thing of the past.
It's important for people to think about how to shape the future, and it's not enough to emphasize how to survive; you can make yourself better by building the future.
Maybe after this epidemic, we will have a better way to incorporate the needs of parenting into our corporate lives; maybe "meetings" mean a powerful collaboration of minds, not a waste of minds ... What is happening now is unprecedented in history. Perhaps we can ask ourselves what we can learn from life in the face of this sudden crisis.
What we've learned from our experiences over the past few weeks is what the ultimate value of the Agile Manifesto advocates - "**respond to change over following a plan."