Does Agile Work With Remote Teams?
By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
Agile workplaces depend on employee use of multiple different types of workspaces. But what happens when you take the workplace away? Does agile work with remote teams? How can a team be agile when it’s limited to one workplace: their home?
The concept of agility isn’t one that’s necessarily defined by hopping from one workplace to the next as work dictates. In fact, team agility is independent from physical workspaces. To be agile, employees need to make broad use of the work tools and resources available to them, and leverage them into efficient productivity. Moreover, they need to do this as a team.
Distributed agile teams are the next big thing in the decentralized workforce. To reap the many advantages they bring with them, employers need to foster cohesion between decentralized teams and provide them with diverse resources to succeed.
Swap diverse workspaces for digital resources
An agile workplace has myriad workspaces. There’s hot desks for independent work. Pods and neighborhoods for dedicated groups. Breakout spaces for quick meetings. Conference rooms for collaborative sessions. The list goes on and on, and varies from company to company. The purpose of these diverse workspaces? To foster efficiency regardless of the type of work an employee is doing.
Distributed teams don’t have these shared facilities—thus, they need opportunities to remain agile in other ways. Employers need to swap diverse workspaces for a robust array of digital resources. A video chat app like Zoom instead of a physical conference room, for example. Digital resources and applications need to fill the gap left behind when there’s no tangible workplace to support employees.
Given the ability to seamlessly switch from app to app, platform to platform, employees will retain their agility as they establish themselves remotely. They’ll develop the same interactions with digital resources that they would the physical workplace, to develop new synergies within groups and in the way they work to complete tasks.
Encourage a fluid group dynamic
Workplace agility is a sort of dance. Employees not only need to move fluidly from workspace to workspace, they need to be mindful of their peers while they’re doing it. This fluidity needs to translate to a digital plane. Best practices for remote agile teams need to focus on the seamless working dynamic between individuals, to facilitate group success.
Agility among distributed groups comes from the relationship between communication and action. How effectively can your employees communicate and collaborate, and how easy is it for them to take action based on those interactions? Again, compare this to agility in the workplace.
Sally and Ferdinand can chat in a breakout space about a project, then part ways to do heads-down work at hot desks, then meet later with Barry and Thom to go over the larger project. How can employers facilitate this same level of agility for remote teams? Technology is the key, once again. Leaders need to encourage employees to maintain the same levels of interaction and communication they would in the workplace as they operate in a decentralized capacity.
Understand the challenges of decentralized agility
There are challenges with distributed teams working agile. The biggest is isolation. Without face-to-face interaction, many people struggle to see themselves within the group dynamic. This can expound into other issues, such as poor communication, lack of team awareness, or misunderstood expectations. The remedy? Thoughtful leadership and consistent team communication, to bring everyone together and keep them cohesive.
Technological acuity may also pose a problem. Just like employees may need to adjust to different workspaces, there’s a learning curve for technology. Some people will catch on faster than others. Make sure employees a) use the digital tools available to them and b) use them correctly. Managers should schedule formal training for essential tools and provide quick tips and tools for minor applications.
Perhaps the broadest challenge in maintaining agility among distributed teams is in welcoming flexibility without inciting chaos. Not everyone will work 9-5. Some employees might be home with kids. Others might have different routines or schedules. Everyone needs a level of flexibility to adapt to remote work—but at the same time, they need to adapt within the framework for group success. The agility of the team depends on the organization, availability, and adaptability of each member. Maintain high personal accountability for each employee to foster group agility.
Agility accounts for quickness and precision
There’s a difference between getting the job done quickly and getting it done right. Agile remote teams can do both. There’s elements of both quickness and precision in agile teams, and it’s what sets them apart from regular (and dysfunctional) decentralized groups. Give teams the right resources and good leadership and they’ll come together to work effectively no matter how much space is between them.
Remote agility isn’t all that different from workplace agility. Swap diverse workspaces for digital resources, encourage group synergy, and let employees find their groove. Agility comes in time.
Keep reading: 10 Traits of Distributed Agile Teams