These days it’s hard not to think that you’ve seen this movie before. I’m reminded of Vizzini in the classic The Princess Bride, climbing the cliffs of insanity and repeating his signature phrase: “Inconceivable!”
As we read the news or scroll through our Facebook feeds, it’s probably safe to say we’re all feeling like Vizzini these days. And much like the man in black thwarted Vizzini’s carefully thought-out plan, the coronavirus has turned our world upside down and inside out.
Work is home and home is work, for you and all your people.
Sure, this new workplace paradigm is unnerving, awkward, and isolating. But at the same time, nobody needs to know if you’re wearing pants while on a video call.
Kidding aside, managing a suddenly remote R&D software team can seem like a daunting task and leave you with more questions than solutions. How do I keep my team motivated and accountable? How do I manage projects? How do we collaborate? How many hours of television do I allow my kids to watch before I should feel guilty?
Having managed remote teams for 10 years, we have the expertise to help you navigate these uncharted waters. Here are some things to consider…
Control your anxiety
First things first – bring down your anxiety. The only certainty is that this uncertainty is potentially going to last for a while and accept the fact that you can’t control the circumstances. However, it does provide you with an exciting opportunity to learn new processes and implement new team practices, both of which can lead to better results.
Start by fast-tracking remote work and prove that your company can be successful regardless of location. This can open up hiring parameters in the future and free you to bring aboard the best talent regardless of where that person is based, though we generally discourage hiring anyone more than 2-3 time zones away.
Trust your team
Secondly, understand that this situation isn’t lost on your employees – they’re feeling the same angst and stress that you are and will be motivated to contribute in meaningful ways. Regular communication and touchpoints will shorten the learning curve, provide expectations, and ease anxiety. Leading with kindness and grace and trusting your team to do what they do best is Step One.
Cultivate good communication
Next, cultivate a sense of normalcy and an office feel by utilizing a good communication tool like Slack, Skype, or Zoom. PRO TIP: DO NOT OPT FOR THE FREE VERSION! If ever there was a time for paid services, this is it.
Encourage your team to schedule meetings between colleagues. Video conferencing capabilities will allow them to interact and problem solve. Even if it’s just to say hello, that virtual face-to-face interaction creates a human connection that is missing from their lives right now.
In fact, try leaving a virtual session open all day long to help bring down stress and increase productivity. We’ve used this method ourselves to create a room in our video conferencing tool to allow anyone to come in and hang out while they work to promote team collaboration and project success.
Remember, flexibility is critical when it comes to adapting to this new normal. A 9-5 routine doesn’t necessarily work in this set-up. And that’s totally ok! Instead of measuring your team’s productivity by time spent, measure success by their ability to deliver on the commitment they made at the start of the week. Your people need to feel useful and engaged—allow them to load up with a good amount of work and be flexible about how they get it done. Hold them accountable for delivering by COB on Friday, be available and supportive during the week, and you’ll be amazed at their velocity.
Also, your team will absolutely, positively, encounter distractions at home. We can say with 100% certainty that conference calls and video chats will be interrupted by barking dogs, impatient kids demanding refills of Kool-Aid, and confused spouses wandering in the background searching for their coffee mug. Embrace it! Laugh it off. The work will still get done. See this as a wonderful opportunity to share in our humanity as we all pull together to get through these troubling times.
Virtualize agile boards
Finally, virtualize your agile boards. JIRA and Trello are great tools to understand what’s currently being worked, what’s on the backlog, and what’s in QA. Avoid the urge to overdo it! Just use the user story title with an estimate and person assigned. Easy-peasy.
This isn’t a policing tool to keep tabs on your team Big Brother style – it’s merely a means for everyone to know what’s happening. Sure, governance is important, but it’s not the priority right now; finding a new cadence and velocity is. How does working remotely impact delivery? Is it slowing you down or speeding you up? Take notes to help you adjust as needed.
Yes, the man in black is coming, and you’ve not yet built up your resistance to iocane powder. But you’ve got your wits, a Giant, and a Spaniard on your team. And much like in the movie, , our foreseeable future is sure to be filled with wonder, uncertainty, and plenty of charming characters (in this case your team’s family members). So, just have fun with it—the future isn’t written and you have more control over it than you may think! Before you know it, you’ll be back in the office, normalcy will return, but you’ll have a stronger, closer, and more efficient team.
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