Three Tips to Support Your Successful Hybrid-Remote Team
Now that we've proved we can work remotely, I predict some form of remote work is here to stay. However, we won't see all nebula teams, where everyone is remote from each other. Instead, we'll have some form of hybrid teams—some people in an office and others not. Those are the hybrid-remote teams, either satellite or cluster teams. (If you have not yet read From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams, see How To Understand Your Team Type: Collocated, Satellite, Cluster, Nebula.)
Unfortunately, hybrid-remote teams create different challenges than all-remote teams have. Hybrid-remote teams might find it even more challenging to decide how to meet and collaborate. Can the people in the office find a conference room? If not, can they meet from their desks? How can they co-create work as a team, when people are in different locations?
Consider these three tips for any hybrid-remote team to create an environment that works for them:
- Assess the team's workspaces.
- Renegotiate the team's working agreements.
- Support the team's affiliation.
Let's start with the team's workspaces.
Assess the Team's Workspaces
In From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams, Mark and I said workspaces affect everything about how a team organizes and delivers their work:
- Do they use iterations or flow approaches to their work—or a combination?
- What kind of a board does the team use to see all the work?
- What tools does the team need? These tools include storage for the team's working artifacts, communication tools, and collaboration tools.
- What is the purpose that the team fulfills and do all the members affiliate to deliver that purpose?
The team might need to change how they use iterations or flow when they work as a satellite or cluster team. That's because their interactions change so their delays change. I see more teams use flow—and a kanban board—because they can quickly see their bottlenecks and delays.
The team still needs remote access to all of their collaborative work. What will the team do if some people work together, standing in front of a whiteboard? How does partial collaboration translate to the rest of the remote “team?”
Even more important, does the team know the single purpose it's supposed to fulfill? The more team locations, the more pull each person might feel from their various managers. I'll address that later and continue with working agreements now.
Renegotiate the Team's Working Agreements
Many agile teams discuss their working agreements when they start to work together or when a new person joins the team. Your team probably renegotiated its working agreements when they first went remote. Do those working agreements still hold with this new hybrid-remote workspace?
Consider these five questions as a basis for the updated working agreements:
- How and when do we choose to meet? Have our hours of overlap changed?
- Do our team artifacts, such as our board, still serve us in our hybrid-remote space?
- How can we use our backchannel now?
- Would more or different technology help us connect more as humans?
- What prevents us from affiliating as a team?
The more locations your team has, the more the team will encounter collaboration challenges. They need these kinds of working agreements. These agreements aren't just for feature teams—management or any other cohort teams need these agreements, too.
The agreements help the team affiliate around one purpose.
Reinforce the Team's Single Purpose
It's easy to define a single purpose for product or feature teams—that's the product or the feature set. It's also easy to explain a workgroup's purpose, such as Customer Success. That purpose is serving the customers in a timely manner.
When leaders explain and reinforce the team's single purpose, the leader makes room for these types of discussions:
- The team asks if their workspaces fill their needs.
- They will review their working agreements.
- They will work together, deciding how to collaborate.
What about management teams? Management teams offer decisions, not deliverables. Here are some examples:
- Deciding on the project portfolio for now and for this decision's duration.
- Clarifying the ideal customer's problems for the roadmap.
- How to reduce friction the teams experience.
When everyone was remote (a nebula team), the team could define or discover its purpose. When some people are in the office and others aren't, the office-based leaders can pull people in different directions. The result? For product teams, we start to see Conway's Law. For management teams, we no longer have a single purpose.
I recommend every team review its purpose on a regular basis and make sure everyone agrees on one single purpose. As a leader, you might have to start with your peers, to make sure you all agree.
Prepare Now for Hybrid-Remote Work
Many of my clients have no idea when they'll be back in the office, but they hope it's soon. Start these discussions now—so you know what you need to change for your team's workspace and working agreements.
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Pragmatic Manager: Vol 19, #1, ISSN: 2164-1196