When the pandemic hit, many companies were suddenly required to work from home, ushering in a new era of remote work. In fact, the number of employees doing their job from home all or most of the time jumped from 20 percent before the pandemic to 71 percent by the end of 2020.
Our engineering and development team also underwent vast changes as we had to move from operating a mostly in-person workplace to a fully remote environment. This shift spurred us into accelerating operational changes that we had already considered implementing to improve our efficiency and adaptability.
Below are tips for adapting your own engineering and development teams for remote work while improving operational velocity.
4 Tips for Improving Operational Velocity
- Establish ground rules.
- Run efficient and effective meetings.
- Set times for deep work and collaboration.
- Adapt to remote agile processes.
1. Establish Ground Rules
It’s critical to set guidelines regarding team structure, culture, rules of engagement and collaboration for the remote environment.
These are a few simple ways you can help your teams become accustomed to the new remote routine while also maintaining a common developer culture:
- Minimize friction in setting up the development environment, debug and troubleshoot steps for common problems. Create prerecorded knowledge sessions and comprehensive developer onboarding documentation.
- Communicate decisions across all the teams during regularly scheduled overlapping, ship-room meetings and Scrum of Scrums (SoS).
- Define the precise definition of “done,” including acceptance criteria, testing, user acceptance testing (UAT) and visual quality acceptance (VQA).
- Encourage your teams to use collaboration tools like Slack instead of sending emails or scheduling unnecessary meetings. Set up Slack channels per pod, ship-room and pull request.
2. Run Efficient and Effective Meetings
A prevalent challenge I’ve often experienced at various companies is inefficient meeting strategies. We’ve all been there: meetings that happen too frequently, run too long, don’t cover relevant topics and end without conflict resolution. A work-from-home environment can exacerbate these issues.
To have meetings that produce results, it’s key to develop a brisk meeting culture with guidelines. Some suggestions for achieving that include:
- Choosing ideal meeting times that work for the entire team across time zones.
- Committing to a predetermined meeting agenda and time duration.
- Sending the meeting agenda or presentation 24 hours in advance to give people time to review and formulate questions.
- Also, consider introducing a no-meeting block where scheduling meetings should be avoided. At InStride, for example, our no-meeting block is before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m.
3. Set Times for Deep Work and Collaboration
Engineering and development work requires a great deal of focus. The ability to disconnect and concentrate on deep work is essential to drive efficient results and improve velocity. Ad hoc meetings, unnecessary chats or texts, changing priorities and other work-from-home distractions all impact productivity.
In a remote environment, engineers and developers can organize their days to maximize their most productive hours. This can be done by setting specific team collaboration and individual work time blocks. To start:
- Dedicate a few hours each day to focus on individual deep work, without distractions.
- Consider designating an entire day once a week as a deep workday. At InStride, every Tuesday is a no-meeting day for all developers to stay focused on deep work.
- During deep work time, use Slack features to indicate when the team should avoid interrupting you.
- Establish a dedicated time for daily team meetings and collaboration. For example, our engineering and development team reserves 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for team meetings and collaboration time.
4. Adapt to Remote Agile Processes
Traditionally, engineering and development teams in an agile environment benefited from in-person contact and instant communications that helped build trust and streamline problem solving.
In a remote environment, there may be fewer interactions with management and fellow teammates. Therefore, agile teams need to put a greater emphasis on communications and flexibility. It’s particularly important to adhere to agile principles including:
- Be transparent. At InStride, we do sprint and release retrospectives, as well as partner launch retrospectives. Combined, these company-wide and retrospective meetings provide our team with complete visibility into the quarterly and annual roadmap, which builds trust among the team members and strengthens our team culture.
- Take it one step at a time. Ensure that measurable, action-oriented steps are taken for every retrospective outcome before jumping onto the next retrospective.
- Keep all team members well informed. Conduct annual and quarterly planning meetings where the product owner, engineering managers, scrum managers and tech leads jointly review the product and tech roadmap and conduct project t-sizing and prioritization.
- Maintain an improvement mindset. Continuous improvement to a dev process ensures that methods and practices are evolving while resolving issues of all kinds. It’s important to keep in mind that this is a continuous process for improving the overall quality, automation coverage, communications and defect tracking.
- Divide and conquer. Establish clearly defined roles and responsibilities. For instance, engineering managers should be accountable for reducing meetings; improving documentation, processes and product quality; developing deep work and defining strategies. Scrum leaders should be responsible for team collaboration, process improvement and enforcement, planning, release management, cross-functional collaboration and all retrospective meetings and action items. Finally, product owners should be responsible for sprint backlog refinement and feature commitments, the level of effort (LOE) estimate and defect fixing.
These best practices lay the groundwork for engineering and development teams to thrive in a remote work environment. Overall, it’s key to embrace structure, openness, collaboration and transparency to scale efficiently and effectively while delivering the highest quality product.