Responding to a co-located/fully remote/hybrid article

I read Should Your Organization Be Co-Located, Fully Remote, or Hybrid from Scrum Inc. It’s nice to see the agile community starting to accept that co-location isn’t necessary to be an agile team. (I’ve been on a team for many years with people in multiple locations and it never stopped us from doing Scrum. We even figured out how to make in person agile games remote. A few takeaways/responding

Feedback

I really like this quote

Uncollected feedback is perishable; the longer you wait the less reliable it is

Many years ago (even before doing Scrum or remote.), I noticed that people had trouble recollecting what they wanted to contribute to the retrospective. They were quiet at meetings and didn’t remember problems not fresh on the mind.

I solved this by putting a shoebox and post its in a common location. This let the team put in their thoughts right as they happened.We had someone organize the post its by topic and used the retrospective time to discuss them.

Over time, that shoebox became electronic. But the benefits still stand. Real time opportunities to record those thoughts. I really like the perishable quote and am sharing it with my current team at our next retrospective!

Purpose of an office

The article lists the following benefits of an office. It was interesting reflect on how much of this applies to me and my troubles over the last 15 months. The table shows my thoughts on them both for work and the high school robotics team I mentor

Item from articleWorkRobotics
Collaboration, communication, and the sense of belonging that comes with colocationI’m not sure. It’s definitely good seeing people, but my team has been distributed for years. So a lot of my connections were with people not on my team anyway.Definitely. The kids noticed how much they feel not being able to hang out, have team dinners, bond over dodgeball, etc
A place to work away from the distractions of homeYes! This is one of the problems I’m having. (I put not having a good physical work space in this area. A subpar work environment is certainly distracting.)Some of the students share rooms or have distractions on calls.
Creation of physical products and use of specialized tools n/a – our tools are computersDefinitely. Not having access to the lab, tools, robot greatly limits what can be done.
Space for gatherings and training While I don’t need to see my teammates every day/week, we do all meet in person on occasion. In person meetings allow for more flexibility and cross training
A need to directly interact with customersn/an/a
A place to focusAnother one for me. I only have so much energy to focus at home. It’s less than 8 hours worth which isn’t even enough for a day let alone fun things after work. I also notice, I can’t carry as many thoughts in my head at home.Not sure.
The status and stability a physical location conveysn/an/a

Sustainablility

Another quote I found interesting:

Working more hours to get less done is not a recipe for success. 

For most of the weeks of the pandemic, I refused to work more hours. (I made an exception for the a month and there was a high cost. I’m still recovering to get myself to the point I was at the week before I made that exception.) I got less done but it wasn’t from more hours.

Most of my colleagues get the same or more done at home. They should be able to to telecommute forever! I am not one of those people. At the office, I have a desk so I can see more stuff at once. I have two monitors so I can work faster. I can hold more thoughts in my head

And also

There will be times when after-hours work will be needed. These need to be the exception – not the rule.  

I agree with this. And I made that monthlong exception intentionally. Also my employer passed the “test” of it being important. I worked one weekend day in exchange for a comp day. So at least it was my employer’s time too, not just mine.

I hear a lot of people say “since I’m not commuting, I can work more.” I strongly disagree with this. I used my commute time productively. I read the news in the morning and a computer book on the way home. (My computer book reading is also down because my at home energy isn’t available when I have time to read now.) Commuting time belongs to me, not my employer. It being gone isn’t a reason to work more hours.

Hybrid workspace ideas

The article also lists some ideas for hybrid work. My thoughts on those

IdeaResponse
Have designated team days for in-person workWe did that when we were a colocated team with telecommuters. (Monday was the day nobody could telecommute.) I consider this a crutch that we long moved past. Luckily we became a multi-city/time zone team after I no longer needed that crutch!
Institute policies to fight ‘Zoom Fatigue’ and burnoutThe article suggests holding 10 minute breaks between meetings. I’ve had meetings 9:05-9:55 for as long as I can remember. So meetings i control do come with those breaks.
Always hold team events in virtual conference spaceThis one we didn’t quite do. We did have people at the same site connect from the same room rather than everyone being at their desk. But everyone did contribute equally. It wasn’t most people in one room and a handful alone at home.
Publish all meeting notes in a visible space which can be accessed remotelyEverything is electronic. While we do publish notes, we aren’t an async team though.
Only use virtual whiteboardsDefinitely! The only time we used physical whiteboards was for pairing when the two people involved happened to be in the same location.

speaking online – presentation vs panel

I’ve been declining most speaking opportunities from home. I find it a lot harder and more tiring to speak when I can’t see anyone in the audience. It’s stressful enough being at home so much without adding more voluntary stress! I’m also worried about outside noise distracting either me or the audience. For example, sometimes a fire engine “doesn’t go by” (cars don’t/can’t let it go by so it stays at my corner for 20-30 seconds and I can’t hear anything).

I’ve done two “public” things successfully on video from home:

  • Intro trivia and moderating Q&A for the NY Java Sig. (This isn’t the main part of the meeting so I know someone can take over for me.)
  • A panel on architecture. The panel mitigated both my concerns. I could see the moderator and other panelists. So I could see reactions and wasn’t speaking to nobody.
  • When there was excessive noise at my end, I could mute until it went away. Other panelists were still talking so I wasn’t messing up the whole presentation.

more techniques for making agile games remote friendly

Two years ago, I blogged on how make agile games friendly to remote/distributed teams, Last week, I went to a NYC Scrum User Group meeting and was inspired to repeat the exercise.

This time, I’m going through *how* you think about adapting games as well. The key is to identify the lessons the game is teaching and what makes it run.

Game 1: 60 steps in 60 seconds

Key lesson: the importance of self organized teams.

Description of in person game: The group is split into pairs. The “manager” of one pair gives the “worker” instructions – left/right/stop/go. They do this for a minute and count steps. It’s hard because there are lots of people walking around and the worker has no autonomy. Then the pairs repeat the exercise where the manager can give goals rather than literal steps.

My take: I’ve played this before. In fact, it was the first agile game we played when my team was new to Scrum and needed to see the importance of being self empowered.

Making it remote/distributed friendly: This one is hard. I used a similar idea with a puzzle. I made two puzzles and had people pair up to do them using the same technique as 60 steps in 60 seconds. In one, do exactly what is said. In the second one, provide more broad instructions. While I did this one in person, it is easier to adapt to remote teams. Just do online puzzles (like a children’s jigsaw) with screenshare. You’d want to use cell phones for the pairs to communicate and reserve the video conference/phone bridge for the instructions and discussion about how it went.

Game 2: The Name Game

Key lesson: People don’t multi task well.

Description of in person game: This site describe sit well (I didn’t actually play this game at the meetup because you had to choose two of four to play, but I have played a similar game).

Making it remote/distributed friendly: It’s the same game. There’s nothing inherently in person to this game. You can use screenshare for any charts you want to show

Game 3: Throw Throw Burrito

Key lesson: Working together provides better outcomes.

Description of in person game: This game was a variant of the party game throw throw burrito. The first round was the party game. Then we switched to invented rules with a more collaborative twist. The goal was to maximize the score. Finally, we brainstormed how to make it even more collaborative. (As an aside one of the people in my game noted that if your opponent misses when throwing the burrito at you, there is no need to throw it at them and hit. Just walk over and tap the person)

Making it remote/distributed friendly: This one I can’t make remote friendly. There’s no way to throw a stuffed burrito remotely. There’s going to be some like this. The key is to save this type of game up for team onsites. For example, my team threw ping pong balls at each other at on of our onsites. I mean we played catch until there was too much work in progress to sustain it.

Game 4: Deep Sea Adventure

Key lesson: Working together provides better outcomes.

Description of in person game: First we played the Deep Sea Adventure board game with regular rules. Then we played again with the goal of keeping all the players alive and maximizing the score.

Making it remote/distributed friendly: At first glance, this doesn’t seem remote friendly as it is a board game. But it definitely can. You can make an electronic version of the game board/pieces (on OneNote or an online whiteboard) and use a random number generator online to replace the dice. The players would interact with the OneNote or online whiteboard as they play.

Game 5: Space <something>

I didn’t play this one. It looked like it was about collaboratively building a spaceship by trading cards. I didn’t see enough of it to have an opinion on making it remote friendly.