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Rajesh Srinivasan

The Rise of the Remote Working Model
Rajesh Srinivasan General Manager, Digital & Analytics | September 10, 2020
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The world is facing a pandemic, and these are uncertain and challenging times. Social distancing and lockdowns triggered across the world have shaken up every enterprise. HCL has been at the forefront and has been very successful in invoking a BCP to have its employees work from home.

The objective of the blog post is to provide a point of view and share some of the challenges and opportunities that open when remote working is enabled.

Remote working: Is this as path-breaking as it sounds?

Remote working, or work from home, is not something new; the open-source community has been contributing via remote working and providing top quality products for a long time. So, what are we really saying when we say remote working and work from home– is this just hype?

To put things in perspective when Waterfall was in vogue across all enterprises, Agile came as a breath of fresh air, broke all conventions in enterprises, and brought in fresh thinking. However, enterprises took a very long time to adopt Agile though start-ups were the first to adopt.

Enterprises who adapted Agile in the mainstream have completely brought on to the idea of co-located teams and for them moving to distributed Agile and finally to work from home and remote working, which is a big change management journey. The pandemic has provided a major impetus and with the help of competent IT service providers, organizations can enable this journey.

Enterprises who adapted mainstream Agile have ushered in the idea of distributed Agile and remote working now.

The impact of remote working

One silver lining from the current situation has been that enterprises are forced to adopt remote working for employees as well as partners. Some of the benefits that are now surfacing include productivity gains, reduction in project cost due to talent availability, and possible cost reduction in the office real estate setup.

For IT Service providers this is also a new inflection point and a new norm where customers will be open to having partner employees working remotely. This is the biggest benefits for HCL, talent availability without location constraint.

Journey from co-located teams to remote working

Below is a phase-wise approach to move from co-located teams to remote teams. The duration to transition from co-located to distributed depends on the customer maturity and maturity of the teams:

remote working model

S No Phase Objectives Focus Areas
1 Co-Located
  • All the benefits of agile Faster feedback loop, Fail Fast etc.
  • People Mind set change most important followed by Process and Technology enablement
2 Distributed Agile– Local Distribution to Distributed Locations
  • Build Trust
  • Faster identification and resolution of collaboration issues
  • Define and Agree Working Agreements
  • Distribution of teams needs Process to be streamlined followed by People Competencies and Technology enablement
3 Remote Working
  • Highly discipline team members
  • Near Zero touch DevOps Automations
  • Remote working needs Technology as a key enablement followed by People and Process

Can Agile teams go directly to remote working?

A phased approach to move to remote teams is preferable.

The two-by-two quadrant below provides a quick snapshot of the approach to moving to remote working based on the customer and HCL’s maturity.

A phased approach to move to remote work is preferable for Agile teams.

remote working model

Remote working brings in its own set of challenges that needs to be managed both by customer and HCL.

Below are some of the challenges as highlighted by people/companies that has been working remotely for years:

  • Customers may expect physical in-person oversight driving micromanagement
  • Employees expecting to prioritizing work due to lack of oversight.
  • Managing interruptions at home
  • Psychological impact due to lack of human connect and interactions leading to productivity impact as well
  • Lack of water cooler conversations and connects
  • Communication issues
  • Time zone differences
  • Technology Issues primarily connectivity
  • Health issues due to sedate lifestyles
  • Work-life balance

We are also sharing some customer escalations received post remote working, for you to get a sense of the real-world challenges:

  • John Doe does not seem to contribute to the squad. I hardly see any GIT commits from him.
  • John Doe does not seem professional in video calls. He was not dressed properly and the background was not something that I would want to see
  • John Doe does not come in video calls inspite of asking him to do so.
  • John Doe used WhatsApp to share confidential information to the team group chat.

Enabling remote working

The below are some of the good practices that teams can start leveraging for remote working:

Ways of working:

  • Video call by default to connect better and address psychological impact of lack of human interactions
  • Accessible, structured, and documented team meetings are critical as remote teams needs to be able to access meeting/discussion points at any point of time
  • Document, document, document, which may sound anti-Agile but recording every WIP and decisions preferably on agreed tools that everyone has access helps empower and enables people
  • Leverage a digital white board for discussions/meetings and brain storming
  • Good practices, which include responding to meeting invites and joining meetings on time they are practices that need to be followed always but becomes more critical when driving remote work
  • Check-in code multiple times a day
  • Create at least 1 merge and 1 pull request per day
  • Send a proactive daily update to your customers even if not asked for

Planning:

  • Get into the morning routine like regular office work time; this helps to start the day well and on positive note.
  • Planning becomes critical- Going by what is critical and important than what is easy as there is not one to provide oversight.
  • Schedule all parts of the day- This is critical so there is no overwork and plan your breaks including lunch time in calendars so that the teams knows and plans accordingly.
  • Be clear with your team on when you're leaving- People may tend to assume you are available all the time, so it helps to set expectations with the team.
  • Control your social media - This may sound silly but get into the office groove and use social media only during breaks.

Physical well-being:

  • Choose to eat well, which is very important as eating right helps maintain a healthy body and mind especially when you will be locked into your seat.
  • Connect with people face to face, so you do not feel lonely.
  • Find your office spot at home, which may also sound silly but having a space to work helps one to mentally check in and check out.
  • During crisis avoid looking at news, use breaks or the end of day so it does not throw you off.
  • Take breaks, and set up a mental and physical calendar for breaks, including lunch
  • Ergonomic furniture as having ergonomic office furniture helps physical well-being

Tips/techniques:

  • Create physical boundaries between you and your workspace
  • Communicate with people, so that people know when you are available
  • Pomodoro technique is crucial as taking breaks every 25 minutes becomes more important when WFH
  • Eisenhower prioritization technique is important as well
  • Showing empathy for the employees as work from home can be pretty lonely especially for employees without families, new to a country or region, and/or for team members who are sick or fearing health issues, etc.

Summary

Remote working provides a set of unique challenges and opportunities to be leveraged. More than productivity benefits, identifying and on boarding the right talent where available is one of the biggest benefits of remote working. Remote working depends on customer and technology enablement. We are all humans and would love and prefer personal interactions. One option could be a hub and spoke model, the hub will be couple of locations which will have majority of folks co-located and the spokes will have people working remotely across locations.

References

https://zapier.com/blog/remote-work-challenges/

https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/tips/