6 Tips for Fostering Engaged Remote Scrum Teams
By: Nikki Dent
With the onset of the novel Coronavirus, companies across the country and around the world are trying to navigate how to work remotely. Many developers are already accustomed to working remotely; Aptera has several full-time staff members who work from their homes. But if it’s new to you and your Scrum team, it can feel challenging to hold Scrum events and collaborate with your teammates across distances. To help, we’re sharing our top tips for collaborating and holding Scrum events when some or all of the team is remote.
1. Everyone Uses a Webcam
This is our number one tip for successful remote teamwork. When you’re on a call, everyone should have a webcam turned on. It’s much easier to connect and build rapport with your teammates when you can see their facial expressions and cues.
If you’re calling in with your webcam from your home, setting up your workspace to be webcam friendly is a good idea. For example, finding an area of your home with good lighting and a professional-looking background can help make you feel more confident turning your webcam on for meetings.
Having everyone on camera when the whole team is apart seems natural, but it’s also incredibly helpful when the team is split with a few in the office and a few remote. It can go a long way in making the remote workers feel included in conversation if everyone in the conference room turns on their personal webcams. They can set their individual audios to mute and all talk through a central speaker, but it provides the remote team members with a view of everyone’s facial expressions which can be key to understanding each other.
2. Connect on a Personal Level
Working remotely can feel isolating without coworkers to have casual conversation with throughout the day. A great way to promote team members connecting on a personal level is to finish your Daily Scrum with an icebreaker game, question of the day, or any other round robin style activity where each team member gets a chance to answer. This can help people not in the office feel connected with their team on a deeper level and spur more conversations to combat loneliness.
3. Get Creative with Collaboration & Camaraderie
When you can’t all sit down in a conference room and draw ideas out on a whiteboard, you’ll need to use a little creativity to recreate the experience. Luckily there are many collaboration tools teams have at their disposal. For example, Slack or a similar chat app is a great resource for asking teammates those quick questions that pop up throughout the day.
To recreate a group whiteboard session, Zoom offers a built-in digital whiteboard where team members can type or draw out ideas. Another option is for the team to share a Microsoft Word document in Office 365. Everyone can add their thoughts and see where others are typing.
Another creative solution that some of our team members are instituted is to have a Zoom room open all day to recreate the sense of walking up to someone’s desk. If your team needs to have a quick meeting, if you have a question for a particular person, or if you just want to have some watercooler conversation a dedicated Zoom room can facilitate all these things.
4. Encourage All Voices
It can be easy to zone out or sit back and not actively participate on conference calls, so it’s critically important to keep everyone engaged. Take the time in your Sprint Planning or Backlog Refinement meetings to ask remote team members by name if they have anything to add.
Another great way to make sure all voices are being heard is to take the temperature of discussions using a simple thumbs up or down in the camera. For example, in a Lean Coffee style Retrospective, you can ask everyone to hold their hands up to the camera with a thumb up or down if they’d like to continue discussing the current topic or not. It’s an easy way to not talk over one another and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
5. Explore Video Conference Features
Explore the features your video conferencing solution offers out-of-the-box and then set up organization or team best practices for how to use them to help meetings be more efficient. Zoom, for example, has a built-in chat feature which is a great tool for sharing links or asking a question to a specific person without interrupting or sidetracking the whole group. There is also a “raise hand” feature in Zoom, so anyone can indicate that they’d like to speak next, which can help make sure that everyone has their voice heard without awkwardly talking over one another.
6. Use a Remote Retrospective Tool
Team Retro example. Image c/o Team Retro.
The Retrospective seems like the most challenging Scrum Event to have partially or fully remote because it requires such openness from the team. Luckily there are now tools you can use to help make the Retro process easier across distances. Azure DevOps now offers a built-in retro tool where you can anonymously collect feedback from the team, group items into like talking points, vote on which you’d like to discuss, and even sync action items directly to your team board.
Another great tool that we use at Aptera is Team Retro. This software requires a subscription but includes a couple nice extra features not included in the DevOps boards. Team Retro offers retrospective templates you can use to mix up the format of your meetings. It also lets you set timers, perform team health checks, and will publish action items to a variety of team boards or Slack.
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About Nikki Dent
Nikki is a technical copywriter for Aptera. With a bachelor’s degree in writing from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., she has been honing her craft of marketing copywriting for the past six years. In her role at Aptera, Nikki enjoys learning and writing about the technology and strategy at work across the company.