working on a laptop while on a video call
PHOTO: Nathan Dumlao

We have now spent more than a year dealing with COVID-19 in the workplace, with many of us working from remote locations, in mixed environments and living with the overall unknown from day-to-day. While working remotely or mixed between remote and in the office is nothing new for some of us, it is certainly a major adjustment for most and it seems at least in the short-term some form of this hybrid work environment is here to stay. 

In the past, technology may not have been as available to help with collaboration and trust for distributed workers. We had some people on calls at 2:00 am their time while it was 6:00 pm for others on the same call, which can lead to burnout and communication gaps. But people made it work. Now, everyone seems to understand the good, bad and ugly of remote work and we have figured out how to live with it.

So, how do people and teams function when they are used to being able to just get up and talk to each other? How do we enable better collaboration in this situation and how can it become a benefit rather than a threat?

Excelling in a Distributed Work Environment

The first step to working in a distributed environment is building trust across the team. Without trust, the team will find it difficult to function effectively together. The process framework Scrum, which has been used for more than 25 years to help people and teams work together, has taught us that communication is critical for any team to build trust, and transparency is a key step toward building that trust.

What I have learned during this past year however is that more than just trust is needed and so I've begun to really examine the Scrum Values as a way for teams to work better together.

scrum values
 

By having people live and work by these values, combined with transparency, provides a great first step in creating the trust required among team members to accept their situation and look at the opportunity hybrid work provides, rather than the risk.

Related Article: What It Takes to Achieve Effective Collaboration in the Workplace

Creating a Trusted Work Environment

Having team members abide by and hold each other accountable for the Scrum Values can create an environment where everyone is on the same page and working together toward a common goal. The addition of a “team working agreement,” where the team works together to come up with the guidelines for what it means for them to function together as a team, can create an extra level of accountability.

The team as a whole and each member of the team must be empowered to be self-managing. They can always ask for help, but be given the trust that they can work as they need to in order to succeed. That trust needs to come from leadership, not just inside the team.

Without the trust of leadership, the team will never truly feel safe. Leaders can show trust in many ways, including adhering and demonstrating the Scrum Values. Leaders need to truly show trust by encouraging the hybrid models, not shaming those who are not in the office. They also go beyond having open door policies, to proactively seeking feedback and conversations with the team. Leaders should also attend sprint reviews. Go and hear what the teams have been working on, give them feedback and take part in the process.

Related Article: Employee Experience Goes Nowhere Without Trust

Defining the Scrum Values

By embracing the Scrum Values across the team, everyone is a part of them. I will often include the team working agreement and our team’s definition of the Scrum Values in a common work area as a reminder and often revisit them during retrospective meetings and reviews. Some examples of the definitions that have worked well include:

  • Each member of the team should have the courage to do the right thing and speak up when they feel something isn’t right or can be improved.
  • The focus of each team member is on the current work to achieve the sprint goal.
  • The team and each individual commit to respecting each other, whether they agree or not.
  • The team is open about the work that they are doing to create transparency inside and outside of the team.
  • Individuals are open to accepting feedback as a way to improve how they work in a way to benefit not just the individual, but the team as a whole.
  • Respect the process and desire to continuously review and improve it.

Related Article: What's Trust Got to Do With It?

It's Time to Embrace the Change

The past year has really changed how people work, how they think and how they manage personal priorities. If we have learned one thing, it would be not to take things for granted and to spend more time doing the things we enjoy. This has changed not just how we work, but how we will work in the future.

Yes, we were forced to work remotely and in many cases proved that remote work, when done right, can demonstrate positive results. Combine that with many individual increased desires to focus more on family and realizing that time is very short, I expect to see more hybrid environments even after this pandemic ends. Give workers the ability to stay home at times or even all of the time, to spend more time close to home rather than commuting and allow them to make time for the important life events that maybe we didn’t see as that important in the past.

This means it's on leaders to embrace this change and find ways to improve how we work in a hybrid environment — and that requires that we build even a stronger trust across individuals and teams. We need increased transparency, shared values and agreed upon ways of working. With this, we may find that people are more productive and that rather than spending time commuting they are refreshed, providing added time to think and grow.