How to keep teams up and running when everyone is working from home
With travel bans enacted, office closures, and many avoiding large gatherings, how can we stay connected and productive as more people work from home? Collocating key stakeholders is a common and beneficial practice in product development to create alignment and accelerate discovery and decision making. By removing the distractions of our typical day to day activities and creating focus through facilitated conversations, a small autonomous team can make significant progress beyond what can be accomplished through asynchronous emails and shorter meetings with partial participation.
While it’s not quite the same, a Lean Requirements workshop can be facilitated remotely with the right tools and the right rules of engagement. Below I’ll share what I’ve learned from working with distributed teams in hopes it can be helpful to others who are exploring this working model for the first time. There are many articles out there already that talk about general remote meeting etiquette, so here I’ll focus specifically on how to facilitate a Lean Requirements workshop) with a distributed team.
Share the schedule in advance and at the beginning of the meeting. Include scheduled breaks the same way you would if you were all in the same room. Keep in mind that at home, people may have additional distractions and responsibilities (in particular if team members are working flex hours in a different time zone). Sharing the schedule in advance should help team members plan for managing childcare, pets, and other interruptions - as well as feeding themselves and taking a bathroom break.
Select the right tools to power your team. Some free tools are great if you’re looking to have a single person present or act as a scribe. Other tools are designed for more robust collaboration. If you’re doing an activity that you would usually facilitate with sticky notes, where each person individually contributes, try using a tool like Miro. This tool allows multiple collaborators to add to the board without writing over each other, and inputs can be easily reorganized, much like their paper counterparts.
Do a dry run of all of the tools you plan to use with all of the participants. Schedule a shorter meeting in advance where you leverage the same tools you’ll use for the workshop. This way, you won’t consume the first hour of the meeting on making sure everyone is ready to collaborate. You can also use this pre-meeting to set expectations for the workshop, align on the goals of the larger session, or provide a demo of an existing product or prototype. At a minimum, send out links and access credentials to all shared tools in advance and confirm with participants that they’ve installed any new tools and can log in.
Work as a team to facilitate the meeting, much as you would in person but with different roles. One person should be sharing their screen with the collaboration board so that all participants can see where the focus is (Miro boards can be easy to get lost on when you zoom out). One person can act as a scribe to catch ideas that come from group conversations and add them to the board or parking lot. One person should serve as the primary facilitator, guiding the group through the activity, and actively managing the conversation.
Recalibrate the number of participants and length of the session that is viable for remote participation. I always recommend 8-11 participants as the ideal group size for a workshop. However, in particular, with remote meetings, groups larger than this can result in distracted participants. Likewise, sitting on a video call for more than 2 hours at a time can be draining physically and mentally. Insert small breaks (10-15 min) every 60-90 minutes and a longer break at lunch (45 min) to allow people to get up from their desks and avert their eyes from the screen. During breaks, facilitators may also need to reorganize the board before the group moves on to the next activity.
Leave the video call open throughout the meeting. Don’t waste time opening and closing the call. Don’t mute all participants during breaks, but do stop sharing the screen. During an in-person meeting, some of the best ideas or breakthroughs can come through side conversations, which are less likely to happen remotely. Leaving the meeting open encourages participants who come back early from breaks to socialize with each other and reduce the feeling of isolation that can come from being remote.
All of the basic rules of remote meeting etiquette apply. Here are a few especially essential tips to keep in mind:
All participants should be on video to encourage everyone to stay engaged, reduce participants talking over each other by reading non-verbal cues, and level the playing field.
All participants should log in individually. Doing so improves audio and video quality and reduces side conversations
Ensure all participants have a stable internet connection and dial in from a setting that is free from distractions
If you’ll be sharing your screen, make sure you’ve closed any applications you’re not using to facilitate the meeting and that you’ve turned off notifications that may pop up on your screen from email and messaging applications
If you have more questions or are looking for help in facilitating a remote lean requirements workshop for your team, drop me a message via LinkedIn. If you’re looking for more information on working as a distributed team, check out this article from Aurimas.
Devbridge builds custom enterprise applications that deliver measurable results for Global 2000 organizations and their customers across all industries. Our teams are distributed across global offices in Chicago, Toronto, London, Vilnius, and Kaunas. Our cross-functional teams use deep expertise across product, design, and engineering to solve some of the most complex business challenges with elegant software. We take ownership of results and ship mission-critical, user-centric software fast.