Five things a remote Agile Coach should do (imho)
I’ve been working remotely for a year now. I had ups and downs but to be honest… more ups! Yes, I miss walking through the office and talk to everyone I need or want to talk to. I miss those 2-minute coaching encounters at a desk, elevator or in the meeting room just before the meeting starts. But working online works pretty well too!
I like to share some of my thoughts and experiences as an Agile Coach to this whole online working thing. Hope you can relate or get inspired! More tips are absolutely welcome :-).
1. Rethink your communication model
Working remotely changes the whole communication between co-workers enormously. For Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches who often act as a fly on the wall to observe what’s going on, the input to go on is reduced by 90% (wild guess). But also teamwork is very different if everybody is in his own home-office, tiny house, garden or trying to work from a sailboat.
Most important is to keep the communication going. Maybe do the daily stand-up twice a day instead of once, or stimulate online pair-working (or if it’s possible have two people work from one person’s home).
Agree on communication tools for specific situations. For example no questions via e-mail but by phone/video call, announcements can go via e-mail, many to many team communication should go via slack or a similar tool (and keep pushing teams to use it!!).
One other thing I noticed is that for some reason it’s easier to use online meetings for status updates and raising issues instead of talking content and finding solutions. The last two have different communication formats that are just more difficult to perform online. But status updates get really boring so when you notice this is happening just intervene! Try to collect the meaningful topics to discuss upfront, set up an agenda, think of a format, use a collaboration or whiteboard tool (see next tip) and go for it!
2. Use collaborating/whiteboarding tools
When the whole covid thing hit the world I was inbetween assignments. I had enough spare time to do some research on collaborating and whiteboarding tools. I started experimenting and hosting sessions with my peers just to practise and gain experience. Pretty soon I felt confident to also conduct online training with these tools. The majority of these tools are pretty easy to understand and use (at least the basics). Most people in my online classes needed about 15 minutes or less to get started. Of course, as a facilitator, you want to explore all the options and possibilities to make your sessions more engaging and there are so many resources available to learn from, it’s really amazing. My favorite tool? Miro!
So by giving the right example and practising what you preach you can inspire teams and everyone else to leverage the capabilities of these tools and improve online collaboration big time!
Because I also like to make drawings during meetings, workshops and training (nothing close to fancy to be honest), I bought myself a new iPad with a pencil. I can just use a second logon to the session with my iPad and make drawings in Miro, Teams or whatever tool I use at the moment. It’s just like having markers and a flipover! But in fact easier to share afterwards without people having to take pictures :-)
3. Make it entertaining!
I don’t know about your experience but to me it seems like online meetings are less entertaining than the physical ones. I mean you hardly see anybody knock over his coffee over the keyboard or see all heads turn when someone walks by. It’s just serious and boring business all day every day! My advice to all online meeting facilitators is to spice things up a bit. You probably think ‘my co-workers don’t like that shit, I’ll skip this one and read the next tip’ but hey, if you don’t try you will never know for sure!
So what can you do? Well, for example log on to the meeting a bit early and put on some happy music to welcome everybody. Some Boney M or Baby Shark will put a smile on everybody’s face on entering the meeting. You can of course add a little sing-along and dancing but I leave that up to you.
For longer meetings I often use ‘Intermezzo’s’. A short scavenger hunt (try to locate and show some foreign currency, a T-shirt from a band or concert or anything else that you can have a short conversation about. If you have a meeting with multiple teams you can do a quiz or if you are presenting you can do a word-bingo to make sure everybody pays extra attention to the keywords.
Also make it a habit to stop the meeting at 10–15 minutes before the whole hour. This is to give everybody time to use the bathroom and get some coffee or gin-tonic before the next meeting starts… but also offer to stay on a little longer for chitchatting.
4. GOMBA Walks (Go Outside, Meet, Be Active)
If you’re working remotely but live in the same area as some of the people you work with it’s a really good idea to step away from the virtual meetings and meet your co-workers for a walk in the park or some other nice area.
Your conversation will benefit from the fresh air and the depth of your working relationship will increase. In my country, before covid, groups of co-workers often use their lunch-break to go outside for a 30–45 minute walk and it really helps in connecting and becoming a team.
There is no real reason to not do this when most of us are working from home. And if you don’t live close to eachother just agree on a timeslot with someone (or up to four people) and walk by yourself and have a (group) call just using your earphones. And hey, if you rather step on your bike that’s also fine but be aware of the traffic!
5. Stop complaining
I have been complaining about the remote setting for a long time at the start of yet another online workshop, meeting or training. While in fact I got pretty used to it and at times even liked the online setting better than being on-site.
For a training for example… if a training starts at 9 at a location 45 minutes from my home, I would leave around 7 and wake up even earlier... I had to take into account traffic, setting up the room and be ready before the first learners arrive. Online I can prepare everything upfront (in fact I got templates in Miro that I can use instantly) and wake up at 8.30 and still be on time and to start very relaxed at 9.
Anyway, for some reason, I still find myself saying that it’s unfortunate to have to do the meeting, workshop or training online. Instead of emphazising the fact that it is amazing to be able to work and learn from your own home, with your cat walking on your keybord, not having to commute, having more time for healthy cooking drink tea with your kids and so on and so forth.
So my advice is to stop whining and complaining and start your sessions on a positive note! Invite people into your (virtual) home as if they are your best friends and do your thing!