Corporate America vs. Work From Home

At the beginning of summer, Fred Lambert, writing for electrek, broke the story about Elon Musk’s recent controversial Tesla policy. The communique prescribed all Tesla employees stop remote work and return to the office for 40+ hours per week or they will be let go. This story spun up social media and mainstream media alike for weeks.

Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.

Scrum and Remote Work

A vital part of a Scrum Team’s success has historically come from continuous, in-person communication and collaboration of its members. Before March 2020, when the US first shuttered its storefronts as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in America, this level of interaction was so integrated into our workspaces that continuous, in-person communication and collaboration was a non-issue. Group work, pop-up huddles, and Scrums were effortless for the majority of collocated teams. Once more than half of the workforce in the US began working from home, those effortless moments of Scrum teamwork became a challenge.

A pre-pandemic perspective on successful Scrum

In February 2013, an Applied Frameworks colleague of mine, Carlton Nettleton, shared his observations on the challenges faced when doing Scrum remotely. Carlton’s piece addresses the Agile principle of productivity, relying more on face-to-face communication and less on documentation. He notes that when teams are distributed or work from home, information sharing and the quality of the end product is diminished. Carlton closed his piece by pointing out that “in Scrum, the Team comes first. When the Team needs people to be present, in their seats to do the work of the Team, then you need to be there for your Team members.” While an avid supporter of full work-from-home, I believe Carlton’s concerns hold true even more so today. What is different today is that we now have systems and solutions in place to better support distributed teams.

The rise of remote-supportive solutions and mindsets

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Successful remote working teams

For the United States, once pandemic lockdowns began, a powerful demand for flawless, effortless remote work facilitation erupted. By the summer of 2020, solutions like Zoom and Slack became ubiquitous for face-to-face and asynchronous communication. Google Docs and miro became workplace staples by offering user-friendly collaboration tools for all levels of tech users.

To optimize collaboration, Scrum has historically expected teams to be physically collocated as much as possible. However, today’s workforces have grown increasingly distributed. This is due in large part to support by vast improvements to online solutions, business processes, and leadership style. Conventional concepts of engaged work culture like water cooler chat, social mixers, and Gemba walks are evolving to include spaces supported by online-powered facilitation, collaboration, and engagement. Though it is true that people have to be in the work environment for things to change, the definition of being in the work environment is shifting.

Virtually Evolved

At this point in our remote working evolution, some aspects of successful Scrum best-suited to in-person collaboration remain. Online solutions now have immense capability to support most collaborative exercises. However, nothing yet created can take the place of the feeling of unity and alignment we get after spending a day on-site planning a Sprint or working through a Retrospective.

I again reflect on Carlton’s closing in his 2013 piece. He observes that “when the Team needs people to be present, in their seats to do the work of the Team, then you need to be there for your Team members.” I feel this will always be true as an essential theme of Scrum. What is changing is how we are present, supportive, and engaged within our Scrum Team.

Pandemic-Powered Innovation and Excellence

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Excellence in the face of change

Over these past couple of years, I have found serendipity in this pandemic. During this heavily-measured, closely-watched time, US workers have demonstrated a capacity for more sustainable productivity in remote work. Sometimes this is a hybrid mix of work-from-home and work-from-office. I’ve also watched companies struggle with and overcome challenges presented by remote onboarding, support, facilitation, and management. I have watched teams form, evolve, and perform. While some folks have struggled with fully remote working, I have watched colleagues and co-workers continue to adapt and thrive, marked by promotions and raises. The growth and innovation coming out of the American workforce right now is inspiring.