If you manage an Agile team that’s considering a permanent transition to remote work, you might be worried that it will be an uphill battle.

That’s a valid concern. McKinsey & Company found that a sudden transition to remote work can reduce cohesion and create challenges with efficiency.

However, the same article also mentions that Agile teams that work remotely from the start don’t have those kinds of issues. The challenge is in the transition, then, and not in a distributed working style.

This blog post will provide some tips for how agile teams can collaborate better in a remote work environment.

But first, let’s take a look at the guiding principles behind Agile. Even if you’re already familiar with Agile methodologies, this refresher will remind you of how well-suited this framework is to remote work.

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The Agile manifesto

It’s been over twenty years since the Agile manifesto was first written. Since then, Agile project management has become one of the most popular project management strategies. If you’re not familiar with the groundbreaking document, its core beliefs are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Today, teams use Agile in a wide variety of industries like advertising, engineering, and web development. More importantly, teams are starting to take the Agile concept remote. But how?

The best practices for remote Agile teams

Agile systems are built to allow change. As you read through these best practices, keep in mind that the way you apply them can and should evolve as your team learns.

For example, you might implement a daily video call to build Agile communication habits.

As your team gets better at documenting their work and using information resources, though, you can drop the daily meeting and replace it with more time to focus on deep work.

The Agile strategies in this section are a solid foundation for your remote team. Start here and build a strategy that works with your remote team dynamic.

1. Redefine face-to-face communication

Agile Manifesto core belief: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Face-to-face communication is a staple of the Agile manifesto. Purists believe that this form of communication is still the heart and soul of what Agile stands for.

For these people, it’s next to impossible to imagine a scenario where face-to-face communication doesn’t occur. Many consider it the most efficient and effective way to communicate.

Admittedly, it is harder to communicate priorities and deadlines when a team is working remotely — but only if your team is used to talking exclusively in person.

Face-to-face communication isn’t always the most efficient method anyway. Consider the following statistic:

The average adult can read up to 300 words per minute. Meanwhile, the talking speed needed for comprehension is much lower — just 150-160 words per minute.

Even if you can talk as fast as an auctioneer, will people comprehend most of what you’re saying?

Communication speed only matters if we comprehend what we say to one another. Fortunately, note-taking tools give remote teams an advantage here.

Remote conversation methods allow you to take notes, record meetings, and track your team’s productivity. Here are a couple of tools to help you get started:

Slack

Slack

Slack is the most popular team messaging app around. It’s easy to understand why — it’s a user-friendly app with plenty of valuable features that integrates well with other apps.

Slack organizes your conversations into channels for different projects, teams, or topics.

Slack supports voice and video calls, so you can also use it to hold team meetings.

There are more than 650,000 custom apps available that you can use to extend Slack’s capabilities even further.

Hubstaff Tasks

Hubstaff Tasks is a project management solution built for Agile teams. Remote Agile teams specifically have struggled to recreate Sprints and automated Stand-ups in the virtual space.

With Tasks, you can flip between Sprint, Kanban, and Gantt views to manage workflows better for your team.

Plus, the Stand-ups feature that we already talked about helps you knock down any roadblocks that might be getting in the way of productive work.

If you’re not sure where to start, there are nearly 40 project templates available in Hubstaff Tasks. Use one as a jumping-off point and customize it to your liking later on.


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Fireflies

Fireflies

Fireflies is an automated transcription system that creates thorough meeting notes for you. Add it to your meetings and start talking — it’ll take care of the rest. It currently has a 90% accuracy on English translations.

Some of its top features include:

  • Smart search – Fireflies lets you search for more than just keywords. You can also search for dates, times, KPIs, and other action items.
  • Topic trackers – If you find yourself frequently referring back to the same highlights meeting after meeting, you can create your own custom topic trackers.

Unfortunately, Fireflies is only available for English speakers at the moment. Foreign language support for Spanish, French, and other languages will be available soon, though.

2. Pace yourself and your team

Agile Manifesto core belief: Working software over comprehensive documentation

What good is Agile project management if the product suffers?

Whether you’re in development, marketing, or another field, rushing through tasks with blazing speed is not the sign of a great project manager. On the other hand, dragging projects out with extensive documentation won’t work either.

Focus on finding a comfortable, realistic pace that helps you produce the best results possible. Pushing teams too hard can lead to burnout and ultimately high turnover.

Since you don’t get as much face-to-face time, you might not see the signs of burnout until a team member starts to show major performance issues.

Learn to rely on your project management and productivity management software to keep workloads balanced and reasonable.

Use due dates to keep remote team members focused on the right priorities at the right times.

Team Sprints

3. Provide transparency for clients and stakeholders

Agile Manifesto core belief: Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Remote project management is not just about managing teams internally. You’ll also be a liaison between your company and any clients and stakeholders involved with your projects.

These external teams have a vested interest in your success, so they’ll want to see progress reports and other details on how their money is being spent. Unfortunately, time zone differences can make it difficult for them to see this data in real-time.

In-office teams can schedule meetings, conference calls, and other progress updates much easier than remote teams can. In some cases, clients may even drop by in person to check on things.

In a remote setting, you need a clearer way to see that data.


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Use a time tracking tool

You can use a time tracking tool like Hubstaff to create more transparency on your team. Hubstaff allows you to see where working hours go and provide excellent proof of work with features like screenshots and app and URL usage reports.

This data also comes in handy if you need to explain adjustments or ask for more resources from stakeholders.

With clear, unbiased data, you have the information you need to explain exactly what has happened and what you expect.

Even co-located teams benefit from this kind of tracking and reporting. As a remote team, it’s a necessary part of doing business.

4. Embrace scheduling techniques

Agile Manifesto core belief: Responding to change over following a plan

Change is what Agile is all about — and how it got its name, obviously. But that doesn’t make it any easier to plan for the unexpected.

The harsh reality is that plans change pretty frequently. In fact, 37% of PMs cited unclear objectives as the reason for failed projects.

Another one of the biggest challenges of managing remote teams is that you don’t know who will be available in an emergency.

A lot of remote work is asynchronous. Remote Agile teams work around the clock from various time zones, so it can be difficult to find the right team member to contact during a crisis.

Choose a technique

You might find that embracing some unique scheduling techniques can help. A few examples include:

  • Create a standby pool – This helps you identify team members looking for extra hours that can jump in at a moment’s notice.
  • Facilitate an open dialogue – Keeping a steady dialogue is a great way to identify team members that have extra capacity and are both willing and available to take on extra work at the last minute.
  • Look at working patterns – If your team works a flexible schedule, odds are that most people still have a routine. Some people prefer working during evening or weekend hours, and some like to get started early so that they finish sooner. When something comes up at an odd hour, take a look at history to see who is normally online at this time. A tool like Hubstaff helps a lot.

Global teams are especially effective because they’re located in different time zones. Despite the challenges, you have the advantage of constant coverage. Work never stops because someone on your team is always online.

Instead of derailing weekend plans or forcing a team member to work late, remote Agile teams can communicate and cover for each other. After a quick discussion, you can simply reassign work to teams who are available.

The best way to do this is with an agile project management tool for remote teams.

5. Introduce Virtual Agile Stand-ups

Agile Manifesto core belief: Responding to change over following a plan

On traditional Agile teams, managers are able to optimize schedules to their liking.

Unfortunately, that may never happen on a remote team that works across different time zones.

Remote Agile teams embrace the fourth core belief of the Agile manifesto on an even deeper level than in-office teams. Beyond responding to change within a singular workflow, they’ll need to adapt the way they work too.

This is why a lot of remote Agile teams have embraced asynchronous communication in the form of virtual Stand-ups.

Stand-ups vs. virtual Stand-ups?

Stand-up meetings are meant to be conducted — you guessed it — standing up. They are short and focused, so your team shouldn’t have time to sit down and chat.

Traditionally, teams huddle around their workspace and conduct a quick, on-site meeting.

There’s no need for a conference room.

Agile Stand-ups are even more efficient.

On a remote team, it’s tough to simulate the actual standing aspect of a stand-up. But why would you want to? After all, most of us are probably in our pajama pants anyway.

The real challenge is working across different time zones, which can make scheduling meetings complicated.

But according to a study by the Harvard Business Review, teams are meeting too much anyway. In fact, Facebook, Asana, and our team at Hubstaff have begun to schedule no-meeting days to increase productivity.

Virtual Stand-ups tools are the best of both worlds. Instead of trying to get everyone online at the same time, each team member submits their update at the end of their workday. Everyone can see updates from their teammates, even if they work different shifts or in different time zones.

The “autofill Stand-up” button lets team members populate Tasks directly from their Sprint for a concise overview. They can also fill in what they’ve been working on manually:

Stand-up

Whether you choose to meet virtually or have teams submit their Stand-ups, technology is the key to ensuring that your distributed teams work hard and produce results.

You might want to do both live and asynchronous meetings — but it’s a good idea to set some ground rules for face-to-face communication.

Checking the backlog: next steps for remote Agile teams

Like all things, adjusting to remote Agile project management gets easier with practice.

As a project manager, you’ll learn that the work is never really done. When your team completes a big project, there isn’t much time to celebrate — it’s usually back to the grind.

But before you start pulling your next project out of the backlog, remember these remote Agile best practices. They could be the key to your most successful project yet.