The agile manifesto states that;
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
I can honestly say: I wholeheartedly agree!
Many studies show that up to 80% of communication is actually non-verbal, relying on body-language, tone, facial expressions and eye-contact, none of which can truly be conveyed by an email or an instant message, even a phone call only barely touches the surface. The most effective communication always was and still is a face-to-face conversation. Makes sense, right? So to be successful communicators, we just need to make sure all important conversations, meetings and handovers happen in person. Every time. Plain and simple.
This is where it gets complicated. I look around and what I see is that I work in an increasingly global and mobile world, with more locations, more technology and more cultures working together. While all of these contribute to the quality of the work, the diversity of solutions developed and ultimately may improve the cost-effectiveness of an organisation, working this way also brings its own problems: How do I communicate effectively having to rely on technology? How do I bring together a team across multiple time zones? And how do I promote teamwork and engagement in multi-cultural team?
There are many articles that provide suggestions on how to deal with this scenario, I’ve whittled mine down to 3:
1- start with a face-to-face meeting – being able to see who I am working with is incredibly important to me, in my experience, it promotes team bonding, commitment and communication. I find meeting someone face-to-face gives me more of an insight into their personality. Someone’s body language and facial expressions show their personal and social style in a way a phone call simply cannot. Naturally, it can be too expensive to fly people in just for a quick meeting but even using skype or facetime or other video call tools can make a big difference, I found it is worth exploring the options and using the tools available to your advantage.
2- set crystal clear goals – when working away from your team, it can be difficult to stay motivated, I am no exception. To keep myself productive, busy and engaged I write lists of items to achieve for each day. That way I have a clear goal, I know when I have been successful and when I had a productive day. When working with a distributed team, setting clear goals and targets is even more important, especially so, when you work in different time zones where an unclear goal can lead to hours and hours of idle time until the other party “wakes up”. So I make sure that when me and my team talk about our goals, we do so in real-time. For me, it is important that we collectively assess if we covered the right tasks and check that we have the right amount of work to get done until our next meeting and of course that everyone has understood and is aligned on our team goal. Only if each of us know where we need to be, are we able to assess whether we are on the right track to get there in time.
3- use every communication tool available – when I first started in this role, I really only used our daily standup calls and the occasional email to communicate with my team. This worked well enough in the beginning, however as soon as things got going and got a little more complicated, I quickly missed the advantage of a co-located environment, where I could simply walk over to a person’s desk. Since we didn’t have that option, we just needed to be a little more creative. Technology became our best friend: we added instant messaging, a dedicated webinar room and conference bridge, setup an online sharepoint and added online tools to track our progress. We continue to use emails and our daily standup calls and team sessions, but using more communication tools has given us more flexibility, improve our communication speed and quality and ultimately made us more agile.
I realize none of this is rocket science, it’s actually pretty obvious once you stop and take a the time to look at it. As a new product owner however, there wasn’t much time to stop and look. Especially in the first weeks of working with a remote team it was challenging enough just to figure out how to get from one sprint to the next.
Now, I follow my 1-2-3 and I feel back in control, remote control.